Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Hop Shortage? Grow Your Own!

If you appreciate good beer but don't brew your own, you may not be aware that there is a significant worldwide hop shortage that is driving up the price of hops, the main bittering and significant flavor component in beer. I just priced one of my favorite bittering hops varieties, Magnum, and found that in the past year this has jumped from around $1.00/oz. to a whopping $7.00/oz., a 700% increase. Brew Your Own magazine has a good article on how things got so bad, but the main question for homebrewers is, what can you do about it?

Well, one alternative is to change the varieties of beer you brew. There are lots of beer styles that use less hops or use hop varieties that are in greater supply. But another great way to face the hop shortage is simply to grow your own. I have been growing my own hops for several years, but until this year I have not been serious about cultivating, harvesting, and drying them for significant use in my own brews.

I'll be posting several more times on this as the season continues, but right now is planting and training time. First, planting. Hops are propagated from rhizomes, chunks of their robust root systems that send up spiny shoots called bines. Rhizomes are still available from a number of sources on the Web, including http://www.freshops.com/. And if you get them out soon, you still have time to get some hops started this year. Plant the rhizomes in cultivated, weed-free soil to which you've added some good organic fertilizer or compost. Above are three new "hills" that I've created on my place, with Liberty, Mt. Hood, and Nugget hops. I also have Cascade, Chinook, and Willamette planted elsewhere.

Then, when the hop bines appear above ground, you will need to train several of them onto some sort of vertical support, so that the vines can grow out to a length of twenty or even thirty feet and then set the hop cones which will be harvested and utilized in beer. On my place I have set a tall pole in concrete out in my garden area and each year I run lengths of baling twine down to stakes in the "hills" of hops. I train three or four hop bines onto each string and let them climb. (You might want to wear gloves for this, since hop bines will sting your hands and arms a lot like stinging nettle.) Cut off all the rest of the emerging bines so that the root system puts maximum vigor and productivity into just a few bines. Keeping the hops well watered will help ensure a good set of cones.

As the season unfolds I'll talk more about harvesting, drying, and using homegrown hops. An excellent resource on growing hops, as well as utilizing other garden-raised produce in your beer, is The Homebrewer's Garden: How to Easily Grow, Prepare, and Use Your Own Hops, Malts, Brewing Herbs. I'll be reviewing this book in more detail in another entry, but the book covers not only growing of hops, but also barley (including how to malt the barley yourself, which I definitely want to try sometime), and other herbs and spices that can be used in beer for bittering and flavor.


Ray from MN said...

I just came across a link to your very interesting blog on the Angel Queen Forum.

If you accept nominations, I would like to nominate beers from the Summit Brewing Co. of Minneapolis.

The Chairman of the Board is as Catholic, and as Pro-Life going back many years, as they come (well, he is a convert) and their beers are well rated in secular contests.

I think their India Pale Ale is excellent.

billvelek said...

I just found your blog and thought it would be appropriate to add a comment.

First, I don't really understand the purpose of the connection of Catholics with brewing unless you are focusing on monastic brews. But anyway, I'm a cradle Catholic, born and raised in Philadelphia where I received 12 years of excellent Catholic schooling. Came to Arkansas when I was 19 and in the Air Force, and was lucky enough to find a Catholic gal who also went through 12 years of Catholic school, too. We've been married for almost 35 years now, and we have eight kids (good Catholics).

I've been a homebrewer for well over 10 years, and do all grain batches. I am very big into this craft, and have started several homebrewing related groups. See my portal: http://home.alltel.net/billvelek/growhops.html

Last year was my first year to grow hops, and since I couldn't find a whole LOT of information and discussion on the Internet, other than a few discussion-threads here or there, I decided to form my own group -- Grow-Hops -- just a year and two days ago, and we now have 2,090 members including some professional growers, so I think that if you or anyone else have any questions, we are probably the best place to get help. We had a FREE rhizome distribution this spring in which I believe several hundred rhizomes were given away; I donated 52. We are also in the process of expanding our group a bit; besides the original Yahoo Group, we now have our own domain -- www.grow-hops.com -- where we are in the process of building a grow-hops Wiki. We have free personal webpages/blogs available for our members, the more popular type of forums for those who don't like Yahoo mail-lists, and we are planning a whole-hops exchange for our members this fall, too. If anyone is interested, the Yahoo group (our main group with most of the photos, links, etc.) is here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Grow-Hops -- and the Wiki, etc. is at our .com website.

I currently have 20 hop plants, but have a lot of room to expand if necessary. My son, who already owns half of a fairly large and successful nightclub in Little Rock, is attempting to obtain a license for a brew-pub in another location, so if that works out, life will be very interesting around here.


Bill Velek

PalmHQ said...

Thanks for the tip on the chairman of Summit Brewing, Ray. I'd love to interview him for the blog!

Bill, thanks for stopping by! I've subscribed to your hop forum before, but the volume of posting overwhelmed me. That's a good thing, though, since it means there's a lot of interest out there in growing hops.

Your question about the connection between beer and Catholicism is a good one. Here on CBR, besides the obvious focus on monastic brewing, I hope to spend time focusing attention on the various patron saints of brewing, on the current "politics" of the brewing industry as seen from a Catholic moral perspective, on the way beer has been used in various Holy Day dishes and celebrations in various countries, and even on topics like temperance. So I think that as the blog develops, its distinctively Catholic character is going to be more obvious.

Thanks for posting and God bless.