Hops are the female flowers (looking like very small green pinecones) of the hop vine Humulus lupulus. It is a vigorous herbaceous perennial vine – and will scoot up quickly to several metres high in one year. It dies back each year over winter, but will quickly re-establish itself in spring and summer. Hops flower over summer and are ready to harvest in early to late autumn. One hop plant should produce enough from a home brewer, but two different types will give you a bit of variety to play with when brewing. Victoria is good hops growing country.
Choose a sunny position with lots of vertical space as the twining vine will rapidly climb over 5m up strings/wires/ropes. Improve the soil with manure and compost. If the soil is not very well drained then mound it up 30cm or more to make sure drainage is sufficient. Hop vines can be very heavy, so construct a trellis or wire system that is sturdy and can take 10kg or more of weight. Plant in spring, after the last frost.
Once the hops plant is shooting well, take the best few shoots and twine them up the trellis/wires, they will naturally want to go in an anticlockwise direction in the southern hemisphere, so encourage them in that direction. Trim the rest of the shoots off and let the plant put its energy into the shoots you have selected. These shoots are referred to as ‘bines’.
With such a large leaf mass, the water requirement is correspondingly large, regular deep watering is needed. Drip irrigation is ideal. They will need around 5L a day over the warmer months.
You will get some hops to harvest in year one, but the main harvests will come in the second and subsequent years. Hops tend to ripen sporadically, and are best harvested as they ripen rather than waiting for them all to be ripened and harvesting in one go.
To determine if the hop cones are ready to pick, press them and see if they are papery dry, springy and release a good strong ‘hoppy’ aroma. Plus they may leave a bit of yellow powder on your fingers. To confirm, split one open – it should be filled with a rich yellow powder.
Dry the cones in a shady spot (must be out of the sunlight) and when dry store out of sunlight sealed in a vacuum sealed bag. Can then be thrown in the freezer if you are not ready to use them.
After all cones have been harvested the bines can be cut back to a metre or so above ground level, or you can leave them in place, but once the first frost has killed them off, cut back to just above ground level and mulch around them. They will now rest over winter in preparation for doing it all again next spring.
Keep an eye on the rhizomes, they can spread and you don’t want hops taking over your garden!
The hop flower is used as a flavouring agent in beer, as well as a preserving agent and assisting the foaming.
Can make tea out of the dried flower cones. Leave on vine as long as possible to dry. Brew one cone to around 1L of water. Makes a bitter digestive tea – VERY relaxing (from same family as marijuana).
Also steeped in alcohol such as Chartreuse or Vermouth, to make a digestif.
Varieties of Hops
(we have these, but not all of them, all of the time)
An aroma type. Good for aroma and flavouring as well as bittering. Used for pale ales, and IPAs
Aroma Profile: Intense Floral/Citrus/Grapefruit/Spicy
Average Alpha Acids: 5.5-9.0% (moderate to high)
For Pale Ales and IPAs
Aroma Profile: Spice/Pine/Grapefruit
Average alpha acids: 12-14%
Aroma Profile: Floral/Fruity/Herbal
Average alpha acids: 4.5%
Pride of Ringwood
Used by CUB to bitter all its beers. Strong aroma and earthy citrus flavour.
Aroma Profile: Cedar/Oak/Herbal
Average alpha acids: 9%
Highly disease resistant.
Aroma Profile: Citrus/Spicy
Average alpha acids: 9.5-12.5%
All round brewers hop
All round aroma and bittering hop
Average alpha acids: 3.5-5.5%