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The Garden Guru

Wild about Hops

Jim Boxberger
Posted 7/2/21

Well the inspiration for this week’s column comes from a conversation I had with a couple of friends I hadn’t seen in quite a while, Carol and Roger Brucher. Carol had asked me if I had …

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The Garden Guru

Wild about Hops

Posted

Well the inspiration for this week’s column comes from a conversation I had with a couple of friends I hadn’t seen in quite a while, Carol and Roger Brucher. Carol had asked me if I had any hops left this year as she got one two years ago and really wanted another as hers was doing so nicely.

I told her we didn’t get any hops this year, and it is totally my fault because I forgot to order them. But anyhow, I told her that I would remember to get some for next year, and she was going to remind me in January to make sure I didn’t forget. She wasn’t sure exactly what variety she got, but was sure it had something to do with Australia.

So I dug through my invoices from 2019, yes, I keep old invoices just for this reason to see what variety we had that year. And Carol was pretty close, the variety she got was AlphAroma, which is a rare hop to find in the United States.

AlphAroma is a hybridized variety that first appeared in New Zealand in 1970 and didn’t even make it to the states until the mid 1980’s. It has an acidity content between 5.8% to 10.9% which serves as a dual purpose hop with uses from Pale Ales all the way to Lagers. The hop contains bold flavors with citrus and other tropical fruit nodes and has a bold aroma.

So as long as they are available next year we will get some more AlphAroma hops in as well as a couple of other varieties. Cascade is the mostly widely used variety in the states today. Cascade hops, released in 1972, were the first commercially accepted American-bred utility aroma/flavoring hops with a relatively low bittering value.

They continue to be popular with craft brewers and are ideal for dry hopping. Their acidity level ranges from 4.5% to 7.0% with aromatics that provide a spicy character with a hint of floral flavor.

Another popular variety here in the states is Willamette hops, named after Oregon’s Willamette River, which runs through the state’s hop-growing region. Willamette hops are a cultivar developed from the English Fuggle hops.

They are known as the king of aroma hops in the U.S., and deliver modest bittering while imparting a blend of flowers, fruit, earth and spice notes. Acidity ranges from 4.0% to 6.0% with this hop. The original seedlings were released by the USDA in 1976, and it has become a favorite flavoring for most English, Brown and Golden Ales.

There are plenty of other varieties out there as well, and you can check out most of them online as there are plenty of places selling the hops for around twenty dollars a pound depending on the variety. No matter which variety you choose the growing habits of hops are pretty much the same. Hops prefer to grow vertically.

Effective support methods range from simple lengths of sturdy twine to sophisticated trellis systems. Just make sure that whatever you choose is strong enough to hold a full-grown, heavy plant: Commercial hops farms feature trellises as tall as 20 feet high. Hops are perennial and can grow ten to twenty feet in a single season.

By late August or early September, the hop cones will lighten in color and begin to dry and feel papery. These visual and tactile clues are your indication that it’s time to harvest. One thing I wasn’t sure about that Carol had asked me was when to prune and how far.

Upon doing some further research it seems that when you would harvest your hops, you could lay them on the ground if you had them growing on a trellis or twine system, and just leave them there until the first frost starts to curl the leaves, then cut them back to about one foot above the ground.

They will grow back up to an even greater height the following year. So even I learned a thing or two this week about hops, and Carol shared another story with me about her hops. Apparently after buying her plant, she had it in a container on her porch and a skunk dug it up.

Later after she had planted it by an arbor she wanted it to climb on the skunk dug it up again. She said it didn’t look like the skunk had eaten anything, it just dug it up. Hops do grow from rhizomes and maybe the skunk was after that or maybe the skunk just didn’t like the smell of hops...

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