By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
As homebrewers, we enjoy all things related to homebrewing. This includes, but is not limited to, drinking, enjoying the company of good friends and, of course, growing hops. There is nothing more satisfying than brewing a single-hop IPA using hops from our own gardens. You can use them wet, if wanted, but there are also cheap and easy methods for drying our bounty for the homebrewing adventures that lie ahead.
Before we can brew with our homegrown hops, we must first get them off the bine. The process is very easy, but very time consuming. Now is the time to summon the help of those good friends, who will likely be game as long as you promise them the role of taste tester once your brew is ready.
In order to tell whether the hops are ready to harvest, take some time to feel the cones. They should have a texture that’s almost like tissue paper — not the stuff you blow your nose with, but the tissue paper you wrap birthday presents with. You don’t want to let the cones sit for too long because they will begin to lose all of their character, so the faster you can harvest the better. Once the hops are ready, you begin the harvest by cutting down the bine. Next, grab a beer or two to help the time pass as your pick each cone, one at a time. This is that part where the friends come in handy.
Once you’ve harvested all of the hop cones, they can be immediately thrown into a batch or dried. If you’re making a fresh-hop beer, it’s best to use them as late additions or for dry hopping. These methods will allow you to retain all of the lovely flavors and aromas.
However, drying is another option. If you’re looking for a low-budget method and have a smaller harvest, all you need is a paper bag and some sunlight. Add hops to the bag until it’s about half-full. Roll it up, leaving a bit of empty space at the top and then place it in the sun.
Approximately every half hour or so, shake the bag allowing the hops to breathe. Continue the process for several hours. To determine when the hops are done drying, place them on a scale before you start. Once they’ve lost about 70 percent of their weight, they should be good to go.
If you have a much larger harvest or prefer a more legitimate alternative, you can build a drying rack. It’s not very spendy or complicated as long as you can make a trip to the hardware store and a secondhand shop.
To make a drying rack, obtain two-by-fours, some screen door material, a thin piece of plywood and staples. Of course, that you’ll be able to find at the hardware store. All you need from a secondhand shop is a hair dryer that has an optional “cool” setting.
Use the two-by-fours to make frames that are a few inches smaller than the size of the screen material. Stretch the screen over the frames and use staples to secure them in place. Remember, you’re going to be putting what will likely be a couple of pounds of hops on the racks, so be liberal with the staples. It’s important to ensure that the frames are the same size so that you can stack them. When you feel like you’ve built enough frames, construct a lid using the plywood. The lid should fit over a frame with no air gaps. Cut a hole in the lid that’s big enough for the hair dryer. Use a zip tie to hold down the dryer’s button so that you can plug it in and begin drying the hops. Since the hops on the bottom rack won’t get as much air, it’s best to cycle the frames through different layers for even drying. Again, weighing the hops beforehand will help you determine when they’re finished. For storage, place the dried cones in a vacuum-sealed bag and freeze them until you’re ready to brew.
Fire Crochet [AG]
Fire Crochet [Extract]
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.