What Are Harvest Ales?

Freshly Picked Hops Go Into a Harvest Ale
Freshly Picked Hops Go Into a Harvest Ale

Sierra Nevada just released their Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale 2010, but what are harvest ales?

Simply put, when the hop cones are ready to be picked, normal procedure is to dry the hop so it has less than 10% moisture, and then the hops are stored in vacuum sealed or nitrogen-packed bags to prevent oxygen from getting to them.  With a harvest ale, the fresh hops are picked off the vine, and then added to the boiling wort right away without drying them, so instead of ounces there are pounds because of the extra water weight.  With a harvest ale, you still get the standard flavor you would expect from the hops, but you also get an overwhelming “grassy” hop flavor, because the hops were newly picked live plants.  Talk about fresh!

Most times, the harvest ales are done in the fall, when it is harvest time in the northern hemisphere, but Sierra Nevada has agreements with hop farmers in New Zealand that allows them to have the freshly picked hops delivered to them within 12 hours, and they are placed right into the brew pot.

If you like pale ales, be sure to try one of the harvest ales because I’m sure you’d like it.  If you’ve had a harvest ale, how did you think it compared to your normal pale ale or IPA?

Hop Growing Update

Yesterday I successfully put up my second hop trellis, for the Cascade hop bed and two Hallertau hop beds, bringing the total hop beds to six.  The two Hallertau beds used the “Jumbo” rhizomes from Freshops.

When I previously bought hop rhizomes, I got the standard size, but after seeing the viability of the Jumbo varieties (it looked like a small tree trunk), I would definitely recommend buying the jumbo rhizomes from Freshops.  In both cases, the rhizomes have vines over a foot tall within a few weeks.

As for the other three beds (Golding, Tettenang, and Willamette), I have one Tettenang hop vine that has already reached the top, and is about a foot above the trellis!

Stay tuned for updates, and I’ll see if I can snap a few photos of the setup, too.

Today I Hate Squirrels

Today during lunch, I dug through my recently planted Cascade hops, and I had a disconcerting find.  One of my rhizomes was missing.  At first, I thought I may have missed it, so I dug through the soil again, and couldn’t find it.

At this point, I thought about when I had last checked the rhizomes.  It was Saturday evening, and everything was good.  With both of the rhizomes, I took a couple of the sprouts and placed them above ground to reach the sun, to hopefully kick-start the growth cycle.  Perhaps the birds thought it was a worm and grabbed it out of the ground.  Then I remembered the dreaded squirrels liked to dig through my soil, mentioned in my last hops growing article.

I searched the yard, about 10-15 feet from the bed, and found the rhizome.  It had been split in half and chewed, most likely by squirrels.  I was devastated.  I decided to first soak what was left of the rhizome in some water, then buried the halves in the soil.  To try and repel the squirrels, I spread black pepper and cayenne pepper over the beds.

So, let’s hope for the best so the rhizome will grow, and today I hate squirrels.

Growing Hops in Iowa Part 2 – The Beginning

Early Hop Plant
Early Hop Plant

As you bring out your green thumb and decide to plant your own hops, here are the things you need to get started:

  1. Hop Rhizomes (obviously)
  2. A trellis system for the hops to climb
  3. Dirt (another obvious item)
  4. Protection from critters (this is optional, but I found out quickly that squirrels like to dig in the loose soil)

Let’s start by discussing each item one by one.  First, hop rhizomes are a section of the root of another hop plant.  What’s nice about rhizomes is they shoot off additional rhizomes each year, and those offshoots can be dug up and replanted, or given to friends.  As a matter of fact, that’s how the original rhizomes are harvested, and each one is genetically identical to the parent.  Each year around February or March, many homebrewing stores sell rhizomes to plant.  Unfortunately, if you miss this window, you may need to wait until next year to obtain a rhizome.  If you remember from my previous article on growing hops, last year I purchased Goldings, Tettenang, and Willamette hop varieties.  This year, I expanded my hop selection to five by also purchasing Hallertau and Cascade.  As of right now, the Tettenang hops are growing very well, and a couple of bines are over 2 foot tall.  I just planted the two new varieties this evening, but have heard good stories about how well Cascade hops grow in the Midwest.

Tying Up Hop Strings
Tying Up Hop Strings on the Trellis

Now that you’ve obtained the hops, the next step is to build some kind of a trellis system for the hops to grow.  There are numerous designs available, but, from the photo, you can see that I went with PVC pipes.  I found this design on the internet, but have had a hard time finding it again.  If you want details, let me know.

Each one is spaced 8 feet apart, and the PVC is 10+ feet high.  I have three eyelets for each vertical pipe, spaced 2-3 feet apart, screwed into the top pipe, and have strings tied to each eyelet.  Then, on the ground, I have a spike I tie the strings to.

The reason I went with this design is that if you notice at the bottom of the pipes there is a dark gray pipe sunk into the ground.  It is a bit larger in diameter than the white pipes, and each white pipe slides into the gray pipe.  This allows me to remove the white PVC pipes and store them for the winter with only the dark gray pipes staying outside all year.

Now that we have the rhizomes and the trellis, we need to plant.  You can simply place the rhizomes into the dirt and allow them to grow, or you can make the soil more hospitable.  For the most part, there are few nutrients needed, but I dig a hole and use garden soil or potting soil.  Some folks use regular soil mixed with manure.  I also use a liquid fertilizer.  Because the soil is loose to allow for water drainage, it’s advisable to put a fence around it to keep the local squirrels and chipmunks from digging in the dirt, thinking they left nuts from the winter buried in your hop bed.

So, that’s about all you need to plant hops.  They are hardy plants that just need a little attention and patience, and with time, you will have your own hops.  Look for my progress updates as growing season progresses.

What’s your experience with growing hops?  Have you had success where you live?

What is Dry-Hopping?

Hops
Hops

If you’ve been trying beer for a while, you may have heard the term “dry-hopping”, but what is dry-hopping, and how does it affect your beer?

Let’s discuss hops.  In the beginning of beer, hops were not the primary bittering agent or preservative.  Instead, other ingredients were used, including a mixture of herbs called gruit that was regulated by rulers, and was taxed heavily.

After some time of being excessively taxed, brewers began to look for other additives that would allow them to preserve and balance the beer without the excessive taxation of gruit.  That’s when hops were discovered for use in beer.  Initially, they were added mainly as a preservative, and were used in styles such as Pale Ales and India Pale Ales.  Also, at the same time, beer drinkers began to like the hop flavor and aroma, and brewers began to use hops exclusively, and even began adding hops during other parts of the brewing process to enhance the flavor and aroma.

Fast forward about a hundred years, when beer-lovers in America started enjoying these hop-accentuated styles.  After some time, we loved the flavor and aroma of hops so much, we expanded the use in hops even further.

Normally, hops are used in the brewing process during the boiling of the liquid, also known as wort (pronounced wert), to balance the flavor, so the finished beer is not overly sweet.  After the wort has been boiled, it is cooled, and the yeast is added to convert the wort into beer.

The idea of dry-hopping is to enhance the hop flavor and aroma of the finished beer.  Because the oils in the hop cone are volatile, the aroma tends to boil off during the boiling of the wort, and escape from the fermentation vessel when carbon dioxide is created and released.  By the time the beer is finished, there is still some aroma left, but to enhance this, brewers add hops to the finished beer.  This allows the hop oils to saturate the beer, and improve the finished hop aroma and flavor.

What types of beer styles are usually dry-hopped?  As just mentioned, Pale Ales and India Pale Ales are the usual suspects, but any time the brewer wants to enhance the hop flavor and aroma, dry-hopping is used.  Some of my favorites include Saisons and a few Irish Red Ales .

Personally, I recently created an IPA, and dry-hopped using Simcoe hops.  It ended up being my most hop fragrant home-brewed beer to date, and I can’t say enough great things about dry-hopping!

So, the next time you see that a certain beer is “dry-hopped”, you now know that you should expect to have a great flowery/citrusy/floral hop aroma and flavor to enhance your beer.

Now that you are an expert on dry-hopping, what’s your favorite dry-hopped beer?

Growing Hops in Iowa

Tying Up Hop Strings
Tying Up Hop Strings

It’s about that time of year again, when the snow melts, and the growing season begins.  If you have home brewed for a while, you may ask yourself, “What’s the next step?”

The easy answer is growing your own hops!  Hops are a hearty plant that thrive between the 30th and 50th parallels, which is roughly between the panhandle of Florida and just north of the great lakes.  Anywhere in this area can do well growing hops.

In the past, hops have been grown in several US regions.  Originally, many of the hop fields were in New York until several diseases ruined the crops.  The hop growing then continued west, occurring in Wisconsin and other Midwestern states, until several different diseases destroyed the crops in the Midwest.  Now, most of the hops grown in the US are in the states of Oregon and Washington, although many areas can support hop growing.  In fact, one Iowa farmer has grown hops outside the town of Oxford.

Hops are perennial plants, and usually take at least a year to develop and produce hop cones, the parts used in beer-making.  For example, last year I planted three types of hop rhizomes: Goldings, Tettenanger, and Willamette.  By the end of the growing season, despite my anticipation, I did not harvest a single hop cone.  Because it usually takes a year to establish, I have high hopes for this year.  In addition to these three types, this year I also plan on planting Cascade and Hallertau types of hops for the first time.  The description of each of these types of hops can be found on the home brew wiki.

In a future installment, I will describe what needs to be done to grow hops.

Have you tried to grow hops?  What’s your experience?