Summer is ending, and as we transition into fall, it is an exciting time for us brewers: the time when fresh hops, full on the bine, are ready for harvest and use! We have many customers who grow their own hops, from rhizomes that we sell by pre-order at the beginning of each year. It usually takes two years to get a usable quantity of hops from rhizomes, but once they start coming in, a little knowledge can go a long way. Our own resident hop master, Brady Smith, has come up with a few tips on harvesting and using fresh hops that are helpful for every homebrewer wanting to brew with fresh hops. In addition to having a certifiably green thumb, Brady has been growing, harvesting and using fresh hops for close to 15 years. In fact, he is the author of the Great Fermentations Hop Rhizome Growing Guide. Below are some of his notes on brewing with fresh hops:
- Knowing when to harvest your hops is equal parts art and science. Most hop varieties are forgiving and have a 5-6 day window of peak maturity. Cones should feel fairly dry and papery when pinched. Often, the bracts on each cone will flare out and/or begin to turn a pale brown color. You may also notice yellow lupulin covering the bracts– a sure sign that it’s time to harvest.
- When picking by hand, try to limit the amount of stem and foliage that gets collected.
- Fresh-picked hops are likely to be teeming with small bugs. Place the hops on a screen or sheet for 30 minutes, give them a few good shakes, and this will encourage bugs to crawl away.
- Fresh hops should be used within 48 hours of picking. Store them in a sealed plastic bucket in the refrigerator. DO NOT FREEZE fresh/undried hops.
- Depending upon the hops variety and growing season, fresh hops will tip the scales at four to six times the weight of dry hops. A wet:dry ratio of 5:1 is a conservative value to use when designing a recipe, meaning 5oz of fresh Cascade hops will yield approximately the same IBU’s as 1oz dried Cascade cones/pellets.
- Fresh hops may be used at any point during your brew day, even in the mash. Mash-hopping, a traditional English technique, produces great hops flavor and the IBU equivalent of a 15-20 minute kettle addition. Mash-hopping also limits wort absorption (and some mess) in the kettle.
- A conservative rule-of-thumb is to use pellet or dried hops in the kettle for 75% of the desired IBU’s and fresh hops in the mash or as a late kettle addition for the remaining bitterness, flavor and aroma.
- Whether fresh or dried, whole cone hops yield best when they’re allowed to swim freely in the kettle. After the boil, use a steel strainer to remove the cones, but press out the absorbed wort into the kettle with a large sanitized spoon or mash paddle.
- Fresh hops will produce slightly different results from year to year, but if your brew day procedure is sound, the worst case scenario is fresh, vibrant beer!
There you have it, straight from our master gardener! Have fun with your fresh hops, and may all your fermentations be Great Fermentations!