A Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine reader recently asked us the following question:
I grew some fresh hops in my yard this year, and I’m about to harvest them. What’s the best way to use fresh hops in my beer?
You have two options for using fresh hops in your beer. Most commercial hops are picked and then immediately dried down to a moisture level of about 8–10 percent, which puts them in a form where they can be sealed, stored, and used later. One method for drying hops is to use a food dehydrator as it operates at low temperature but keeps a good airflow around the hops, or you can build your own hops drying rack (see beerandbrewing.com/diy-hops-dryer/). Keep the temperature below 140°F (60°C) and avoid exposure to sunlight. Dry hops until they are brittle enough for the cone to snap in half.
The other option, which can be more interesting, is to immediately use the hops in a beer. Hops in this form are often called “wet hops” because they haven’t been dried. In fact, a wet-hops cone has about 80 percent water by weight versus only 8–10 percent for dried hops. The downside is that wet hops are highly prone to molding and oxidation, so you should plan to use your wet hops within 24–36 hours of picking if at all possible. Also, your brewing schedule needs to be flexible because you want to time the harvesting of hops for peak ripeness.
When brewing with wet hops, you need to take the high water content into account. This means using six to eight times as much hops as you normally would. Another challenge is that your wet hops don’t have a data sheet with alpha percentage, so you probably need to use an approximate value for the variety of hops you have grown. While you can use wet hops during the boil, whirlpool, and dry-hop phases, it is difficult to use the same fresh hops for both brewing and dry hopping due to the extremely short shelf life. Wet hops have a large concentration of fresh plant material that will often impart some vegetal, grassy, or even tobacco flavors.
While this can be problematic for some beer styles, it can also give you a fresh hoppy finish if balanced properly in the beer. Wet hops are best used in something like an IPA, where the fresh green flavors might accentuate the hoppy finish, or perhaps in a traditional English ale where the complexity of the beer complements the wet-hops flavors.
Growing hops at home is a bit of an adventure, and experimenting with freshly picked wet hops is a new avenue to pursue as both brewer and hops grower.