If you count yourself among those who cultivate their own Humulus lupulus, then you may already be the proud owner of several pounds or kilos of fresh hops just waiting to enrich your homebrew. The following suggestions can help you get the most out of this year’s harvest.
Wet Hop What You Can
Wet hopping is an excellent way to showcase the season’s freshest hops. While the vast majority of hops cones are dried before use, wet hops go straight into beer within 24 hours of harvesting. The brief shelf life of freshly plucked hops means wet-hopped homebrew is a fleeting seasonal luxury to be savored and remembered.
The difference between wet hops and dried hops might be compared to that between fresh and dried basil: The subtle nuance of fresh basil is a must for a late summer insalata caprese, while dried basil’s herbaceous intensity is just the thing for a pasta sauce that simmers for hours on a cold winter’s day. Similarly, fresh (wet) hops are pleasantly grassy, while their dried counterparts are more concentrated and—well—hoppy.
Use wet hops just as you would dried hop cones or pellets, but keep in mind that wet hops contain a lot of water, so you need to use more of them by weight. One ounce of dried hop cones is equivalent to about 4-6 ounces of wet hops. Add another 10 percent by weight if you're substituting for pellets:
- 1 ounce dry cones is about 4-6 ounces of wet cones
- 1 ounce of pellets is about 4.4-6.6 ounces of wet cones
Dry the Rest
Hops that aren’t used within a day or two of having been picked need to be dried (I am using the term “dried” hops to differentiate from “dry” hops, which are added to beer after fermentation). The most convenient drying option is to use a food dehydrator, but a box fan can also do the trick. Place wet hops in a single layer between two window screens or furnace filters, tape the screens or filters together, and direct the fan’s airflow through the porous rig. When the hops feel like paper, they’re ready. All dried hops, whether purchased commercially or grown in your own garden, should be stored in the freezer in airtight bags.
Using Your Homegrown Hops
Homegrown hops are better used in homebrew for flavor and aroma than for bitterness because alpha acid levels vary from one crop to the next. Bittering with hops of undetermined alpha acid percentage is a bit like pitching yeast of unknown age: It introduces a variable that is unlikely to be in your favor. But homegrown hops are ideal for late kettle additions because short boil times extract little to no bitterness.
And dry hopping, which spotlights a hops variety’s aroma, is perhaps the best way to show off the fruits of your labor. Use your homegrown hops as you would any other dry hops, and let the compliments roll in.
Whether wet or dried, homegrown hops offer yet another way to make your homebrew uniquely your own.
Hops cone photo: Matt Graves