Simple and Basic Homegrown Hop Drying – (1st Harvest of 2009)
So far this year, I’ve harvested hop cones from my Nugget vines twice and new fairly Cascade vines once.
I harvested an initial 4 ounces of Nugget cones (the Cascades were still a bit behind) and after drying them they ended up being only 0.75 ounces. Ripe hops are about 70% moisture at harvest, and they drop down to the teens when prepared for brewing.
The second harvest of hops gave me another 4 ounces of Nugget and 1 ounce of Cascade. They are still drying so I don’t know their final weights just yet.
Interestingly, here’s a visual comparison of the two hops. The Cascade is on the left, the Nugget is on the right:
If you’ve happened upon my blog hoping for some high-tech methods for drying your homegrown hops, I am going to disappoint. I don’t have an expensive food dehydrator where I can hold my cones around 100° F for a few hours and dry them to perfection. And I haven’t (yet!) constructed a complex homemade system involving fans, thermometers, heating elements and flux capacitor.
I’m still pretty lo-fi, but my method has worked for me for many years. I simply grab the batch of hops off the vine and put them on a screen that I take off of one of the windows of my house. I clean that screen up, spread the wet hops across it, and put it in my garage for a few days. The reason this works is because my garage gets into the 90s everyday during the summertime (or hop harvest time for present purposes), and the screen lets air flow above and below the hops and allows them a better opportunity to dry.
This process only takes two or three days, and it will be necessary to go out there at least once a day to stir ups the hops and rotate them a bit on the screen. The dried hops will become more brittle and the stem will break more easily when they are done since that is the center of the hop and the last to dry out.
But before you do this at home, look at the condition of your garage. Does it get into the 80-90 degree range? Is it free from bugs that might feast on your cones? Does it get windy in there enough to cause problems?
What does your garage smell like? I used to store my lawn mower in my garage, and there was an obvious gasoline smell that transferred to the drying hops. Needless to say, lesson learned. Look around your garage and smell for things that you DON”T want to taste in your homebrew.
After that, I jam as many cones as I can into sealed bags, I suck the air out of the bags and I store them in the freezer with the type of hop, weight and date written on the side. I know that some home hop growers cram the cones into stoppered PVC pipes and make their own hop plugs out of them. That sounds like a fun thing to try in the future, but mine are fine as is.
And what is the alpha acid for my homegrown hops? I really have no idea. I’ve read articles from Zymurgy that estimate that homegrown hops are up to 50% more bitter than commercial hops, since they are subject to less processing, but that is seems like some fuzzy math. Until I figure out a better way, I will just be using my hops as late flavor and aroma additions.
Hopefully, I will be able to harvest enough Cascade hops this year to let me do a wet hop ale. We will see.