Beer Brewing and Hops, a Great Way to Utilise a Useless Plant

Beer Brewing and Hops, a Great Way to Utilise a Useless Plant

It is SPRING! Everyone is tuning up their brew systems, no matter how simple or complex, for the arduous, seriously fun and frequent brewing season that is soon upon us. The thoughts of many homebrewers in springtime turn to growing their own hops. Why not? It’s relatively simple. And it’s enjoyable! Here’s a quick breakdown on how to do it…

Determine your Variety of Choice

1. Check with your county extension service to find out which varieties do best in your area. Don’t forget to ask them about resistance to local pests and disease.
2. Look up a Hop Variety Chart to determine which of the varieties that do best in your location have the characteristics you are interested in. Not all hops are created equal, some are better for bittering, some for flavouring, and yet others for aroma. Not to mention the subtle note like spice and citrus. You can find hop variety charts online or in the books written by the premier brewing experts.

How to Order Your Hops

Unless you are fortunate enough to have a local source, you will end up ordering online from one of the big hops farms. Hops are usually only available for two months every year: March & April. They sell out fast, so many suppliers offer pre-orders in February. So, unless you can find a nursery nearby who has plants, you are probably already too late. Hops are shipped is what is called a cone; they resemble ice cream sugar cones. When your hops arrive, put them in a cool ventilated place until after your last frost. Check them for moisture periodically.

Where Should You Plant Hops

Although some have had success with hops in pots, it is NOT recommended due to the size of the root system on the plants. You can however, get away with potting them for a year or two if you use large enough pots. You should pick a southern exposure, but East or West will work (but the plants and hop cones will not be as large.) Hops plants LOVE to soak up the sunshine!
In choosing where to plant, LOOK UP! Hops can grow up to a foot a day! You will need some sort of support system 8 – 10 feet tall (old clothes lines work fantastic). You will run a twine from the ground up and over the top of your support and them across to another anchor somewhere. You need a total about about 30 feet of twine for the vine to grow on.

Soil Ph should be as close to neutral (7.0) as possible. Hops like moist to semi-moist feet. But they grow fast and need water to do so. You need a deep hole (12″) because the root system will be big, add a slow release organic fertilizer, then fill the hole and cover the new rizome with only 1″ of soil. It is most common to see hops planted in a mulched mound with a soaking moat around it. Young plants have fragile roots, don’t let them dry out. A generic fertilizer is ample, just be careful how much you use. Too much fertilizer will make BIG PLANTS, but they will have lower alpha acids (the good stuff we want) in the cones.

Harvesting the Hops

You hops will grow and be lush. They will hang so beautifully from the vine. And they will TEMPT YOU! You must resist. Resist the urge to harvest… prematurely.

Your hops will NOT be ready until late August or early September. When you begin to see the first signs of brown on the cones, pluck one. Squeeze the cone between your thumb and fingers. If it feels damp and stays compressed, step away from the hop yard and wait another day or two to check again. The cone should spring back when you squeeze it.

To harvest, cut the supporting twine at the top and lay the vine straight out on the ground. Let it dry there a day or two (some people believe this allows the moisture to retreat into the roots), then pick the cones. Dry the cones in a food dehydrator, on screen in the open air, on a rack in a sheet pan in a 150 degree oven. Whichever method you use, the goal is not to BROWN the cones, but dry them. You will know they are done when you pick one up and it loses a leaflet or two.

Storage of Hops

Hops are very sensitive to oxidation. Most hop growing homebrewers like the vacuum sealer machines. They remove the air and seal the hops in bags, then you can freeze them. Whichever process you use, the container should be airtight and freezer safe.

Second Year Growth

When sprouts start to do their thing, trim the earliest few off, they will be weak. Keep the hardiest 3 or 4 vines per plant so that all of the plant’s energy will go into these 3 to 4 vines.

A Brief History of Beer Brewing
A Brief History of Beer Brewing

A Brief History of Beer Brewing

As almost any substance containing carbohydrates such as sugar or starch can naturally undergo fermentation with the help of wild yeasts that are found just about everywhere, it is very likely that beverages not unlike beer were invented by many of the ancient cultures quite independently of each other soon after the domestication of cereal crops. The history of beer easily dates back to around 6000BC and references to beer are found some of the earliest records of Sumeria, which is often referred to as the cradle of civilisation.

In ancient Mesopotamia clay tablets indicate that brewing was considered a well respected occupation throughout much of the regions history and was a profession chiefly occupied by woman. Ancient Babylonia has also yielded traces of beer and the brewing process to archeologists, where it seems brewers were chiefly women and also priestesses, fittingly as many types of beer were used in religious ceremonies.

Beer was an essential part of the diet of Egyptian Pharoahs over 5000 years ago and was made from barley bread. Aside from being the most appropriate gift for pharoah, beer had a number of important roles in Egyptian society including religious practices and as a treatment for a number of illnesses. Historical evidence suggests that it was the Egyptians who taught the Greeks how to brew beer.

After the rise of christianity beer brewing grew tremendously as monasteries began brewing beer as a trade, monks built breweries as part of their efforts to provide food, shelter and drink to travellers and pilgrims. Saint Augustine of Hippo, Saint Luke the Evangelist, and Saint Nicholas are all saints considered to be patrons of brewing.

Old-fashioned brewery
Old-fashioned brewery

Beer was one of the most common drinks consumed daily in the middle ages particularly in those areas where grape production was difficult or impossible and beer was generally produced in the home. As water was seldom pure alcoholic beverages were favoured simply because the beverage had been boiled as part of the brewing process. Hopped beer was written of in 822AD by a Carolingian Abbot and was perfected by the 13th century in Germany. Prior to hopping beer spoiled quite quickly and was unable to be exported. Around the 13th century production of beer reached a new level of professionalisation in Germany and was produced on a larger scale with typical breweries having around 8-10 labourers. This type of production spread throughout Europe and reached England by the 15th century. Although initially unhoped beer was known as an ale while the use of hops made it a beer by the 16th century all ales and beer were hopped.

The industrial revolution brought about the industrialisation of the brewing industry and further innovations came about with the introduction of the thermometer in 1760 and the hydrometer in 1770, both critical tools for the production of beer. The invention of the drum roaster in 1817 allowed for the creation of very dark roasted malts and did much to remove the smokey flavour that was predominant in many types of beers. The discovery of yeasts role in fermentation was made by Louis Pasteur in 1857, a discovery that was paramount to improving the flavour of beer and also permitted the development of methods to prevent the souring of beer caused by infection by wild yeasts and other microorganisms.

The brewing industry is a huge global business today, consisting of several large multinational companies and an increasing number of smaller producers ranging in size from brewpubs to regional breweries that produce many different types of beer ranging from ancient styles such as the spontaneously-fermented lambics of Belgium; the lagers, dark beers, wheat beers and more of Germany; the UK’s stouts, milds, pale ales, bitters, golden ale and new modern American creations such as Chili Beer, Cream Ale, and Double India Pale Ales.

How to Brew Beer In the back garden

How to Brew Beer In the back garden

The practice of brewing beer has been performed for thousands of years throughout the world. In some cultures brewing beer was a specialised trade, in a few instances even reserved for the chosen few or only for priests and other religious figures. Knowing how to brew beer in those societies was a closely guarded secret and now you can do it in the back garden!

Beer could be considered one of the worlds oldest prepared beverages and may date back as far as 9500 BCE when cereal crops such as barley were first farmed by neolithic man. Early Sumerian writings contain references to beer and the famous Ebla tablets note that the city of Ebla in Syria produced a range of beers, including one named after the city itself. The tablets include instructions on how to brew beer in the form of a hymn to the godess Ninkasi, the Mesopotamian godess of beer. The middle east was not the only known consumer of beer at this time, Europe was introduced to beer by Germanic and Celtic tribes as far back as 3000 BCE.

How to Brew Beer In the back garden
How to Brew Beer In the back garden

For much of its history brewing beer and its early equivelents was performed in the home at a domestic level and learning how to brew beer was passed down through the generations through word of mouth. By the seventh century beer was also being produced and sold by monastries. The beer produced by early Europeans might not be recognised as beer today, it contained a basic starch source and was flavoured by fruits, spices, honey and other plants. Hops were not used in beer until around 822 AD and the uptake of hopping beer was slow and not considered an essential component of beer until the late 1400’s. Adding hops to beer prevented it from spoiling and was a key factor in allowing it to be exported.

The industrial revolution brought about great changes in the way beer was produced and beer brewing became less of an art as it started to produced on an industrial scale. After this time in many countries homebrewing was made illegal and domestic brewing of beer virtually ceased, only being legalised again in the later half of the 20th century. In most countries homebrewing beer is once again quite legal with no limits to the strength or quantity of beer produced with the only limitation being that it must not be sold but consumed in the household in which it was produced. Other countries impose limits on how much beer the household can produce and some, Japan for example, limit the alcohol strength of the beer yet freely admit that there is no way to police the homebrewer effectively giving them a free hand in whatever they produce.

A wise first step for anyone considering homebrewing as a hobby would be to determine if brewing beer at home is legal in the part of the world they reside and what limitations and regulations are imposed on them before they start.

The objective of this web site is to teach the reader how to brew beer. In the last twenty five years there have been great advances in homebrewing that have increased the number of choices available to homebrewers. Early homebrewing followed traditional methods of mashing malted and cracked barley and adding hops at a boil off stage. This is referred to as all grain brewing and it closely follows the way beer has been produced for centuries but using modern equipment. A later advancement came in the form of prehopped malt extracts that take much of the work out of home brewing. Prehopped malt extracts are a concentrated wort that has been mashed and hopped then boiled to reduce it to around 1.5 litres in volume. It is then sealed in a can and all the homebrewer need do is mix it with water and add yeast, taking much of the work out of brewing beer and allowing for a more consistant end result.

These days the majority of homebrewers prefer to use prehopped malt extracts as they are easy to make and cheap to buy. The end product rivals a commercially made beer in quality and the results are generally more consistant. All grain brewing is in decline as it can be somewhat more expensive and definetely more time consuming to produce a beer from scratch. Having said that I know many all grain brewers that take significant pride in their finished beers and produce a unique product that can be considered the work of an artisan.

Whether you choose to use a prehopped malt extract or kit beer as they are sometimes called or make your beer using grains is a personal choice. I advise beginners to start with malt extracts until they get the hang of things and then progress to grains when they feel confident, if they feel the need to brew their beer the traditional way at all. If you like a beer and just want to save a few dollars then malt extracts are all you will likely need or want. If you take your beer a little more seriously or would like a hobby that will provide hours of enjoyment then all grain beer brewing might be just what you need. Both of these types of beer brewing are covered on this website and we certainly hope that it helps you learn how to brew beer.