Saturday, April 5, 2014

Planting Hops

We now grow hops!  Today my dad and I planted four hop rhizomes in the planting bed in the lower field at the Watts Estate.

This idea was planted last year when I found out my friend Elise's family has two hop bines at their house.  They originally planted Hallertau and Cascade when her brother was homebrewing a few years ago.  As they love German beers, we put together a recipe for a roggen/alt inspired wet-hopped rye ale that turned out pretty well.  When he heard about it, my dad said, "They grow hops in their yard?  That's pretty cool."  I'm not sure how serious he was, but that was all the opening I needed.  I looked into it--found some good resources on growing hops and some rhizomes at the local homebrew shop--and next thing he knows he'll be tending four out of control hop bines.

In choosing the varieties, I tried to picture what types of beers I would be brewing with them--specifically what kind of fresh-hop beers I could brew with them.  While it is possible to dry and homegrown hops, it's certainly a whole lot easier just to plop them right in the boil, plus wet-hopping is really a unique opportunity that I can't get any other way.  So first off the bat, I plan on rebrewing the rye ale again this year.  We were a little short on hops last year--even with their powers combined Hallertau and Cascade were no Captain Planet--so goal number one is to top up this beer.  Hallertau are a family of German noble hop varieties from the Hallertau region, and like all hops, they don't do as well when transplanted to the opposite side of the world.  For our hopyard, I instead chose Mt. Hood.  This one is an American descendant of the original Hallertau Mittelfruh, that is well adapted to the climate and soil conditions of the Pacific Northwest, and from what I've read best matches the character of its progenitor (there are other similar American varieties such as Liberty and Crystal).  If this plant grows well, I'm hoping we can pull the Cascade from the recipe and use all Hallertau and family.

Not that the Cascade will go unloved.  Not only loved, but I planted two more Cascade rhizomes to keep it company.  The other wet-hopped beer I'm planning is more of a classic American IPA, and since Sierra Nevada transformed pale ale in 1980, there is no more classic American hop than Cascade.  I'm not sure how using them wet will change the beer flavor, but I also planted some Columbus to go along with them.  I imagine Columbus--another classic American hop and member of the "3 C's" club along with Cascade and Centennial--will lend that dank, grassy character I associate with fresh hops whether or not skipping the drying process actually makes a difference.  This won't necessarily make the ultimate IPA, but it should be fairly robust to changes in hop volume, so whatever we grow we will be able to use and enjoy.

Long story short, we should have fresh homegrown hops this fall and some delicious wet-hop beers as a result.  Will the bines survive in rainy Bothell?  Will the hops taste as good as I imagine in my head?  Or will something go horribly awry as it tends to when you don't know what you're doing?  Stay tuned to find out.

UPDATE 5/16/14:  Well nothing sprouted.  I have a feeling it's far too wet to grow hops in our yard--there is standing water surrounding the planting bed--so I'm giving up hope.  Good thing my brewing skills are better than my gardening skills.

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