Hopping for Joy

We’re taking a brief break from the string of hot pepper updates to diverge into the land of vining plants, specifically one that could be considered one of the most important plants cultivated by humans, humulus lupulus, the hop plant.  This humble flower is responsible for the beer we know and love today, as it’s bittering properties impart a distinctive flavor and aroma to the beverage. Its antiseptic properties allowed for the long distance transport of beer before refrigeration was commonplace. These plants are truly wondrous things. We will be paying tribute to the hop plant and all that its done for humanity by growing one ourselves this summer.  I’ve been a novice home brewer the last few years. As I’ve gained experience, found a better feel for the process, the ingredients, and how you get them all to fit together in a way that gives you the beer you want, I’ve started experimenting a bit more.  In the past few years, I have brewed almost exclusively from kits but have recently been growing out of them. My last batch was made from grain and it turned out pretty well.  It’ll be cool to give my own whole hops a spin and see how they impact the beer.  I might try and do a side by side with one batch made of hop pellets and the other of whole hop flowers.

cascadehop.jpg

This year we are growing two varieties of hops purchased live from a producer in Michigan. Most healthy is the “Newport”, a variety I’ve never heard of much less tried. Second, we are growing considerably more popular “Cascade” hop.  The Cascade is a good all-purpose hop with a high alpha and beta acid content (alpha acid is what gives beer the bitter flavor and beta is used for aroma). As one of the most popular hops in the United States, it gives many of our pale ales and India pale ales their distinctive bite. They’re pretty easy to grow, just needing lots of sunlight and water and a trellis to grow on (they are what’s called a “bining” plant, which means the branches climb in a tight helix shape as opposed to using tendrils like a vining plant). We are hoping the vines will be loaded with hops by the fall.  Has anyone else given hops a chance in their garden? Aspiring brewers with some stories or recipes using whole hops?  I’d love to hear about them! Looking forward to home brewed pale ale this fall after bringing in another harvest from the garden. Cheers!

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