Wet Hop Beer

Right now (September-October) on hop farms around the world, farmers are picking this years crop of hops. The hummulous lupus is a bine where hops grow on the female plants. Hops grow best between the 38º and 51º parallel. The shortening days combined with the cooler evenings cause the hop cones to develop and ripen. Hops are best picked when they are papery dry, but the tips have not turned black yet. Sadly an entire years growth can be ruined if the hops are picked too early or late. Most of these hops will be dried and packaged for storage to be used in beer production through out the year. When picked hops have a moisture content of about 40% they will be dried down to a moisture content of 6-4%. A small portion of the just picked hops will be used in what is called wet hopped beer.

Wet hop beer is different from dry hopping where hops are added during the cool side of brewing in either primary or secondary fermentation. Using these wet hops require an adjustment to the brewing calculations because wet hops are so much heavier than ones that have been dried. These hops are normally used for aroma and flavoring in beers. Brewers will generally put these wet hops in at the end of the wort boil to ensure that the volatile oils are not lost to the heat. They can also put them in the dry hop for even more aroma and flavor. The bittering hops will generally be done by hops that have been dried. There is nothing that says you couldn’t use wet hops for bittering but you would be boiling off all of the beneficial flavors from the unique wet hops. Some beer fans rave about the hop flavors that comes from these fresh hops. Other complain that there is a stronger grassy flavor to them.

In addition to beer and brewing I also like to garden. I do not think that I have a green thumb by any stretch of the imagination so I garden by attrition. The idea of “Plant them all let nature sort them out” allows me to at least have some plants survive. If it lives it lives, if it dies it dies. For several years I have enjoyed growing hops. I have had varying luck in growing in the Arizona desert, Costal North Carolina, and northern New Jersey. With the exception of New Jersey, where I would regularly get over a pound of hops, all other locations I considered it a good year if the plant didn’t die. Now living in Okinawa Japan I tried to grow hops in a tropical environment. I originally tried to order rhizomes from US brewing supply companies, but customs and agricultural inspections proved to be too difficult. I would have had to order 300 rhizomes for some companies to ship to me. For a brief moment I thought about smuggling in a rhizome but thought better of the idea. I finally found a Japan based supply company who were selling rhizomes. I planted a Perle rhizome and initially there were good shoots that sprouted. This grew to about 18 in and then the summer heat came and all growth stopped. Luckily it did not look like the plant was dying but no upward growth appeared. Then about a three weeks ago new shoots sprouted from the base of the plant. This also coincided with cooler temperatures returning in the fall.

I had hopped to brew a wet hopped beer this year from the hops I grew. I was able to do this for the past two years when we had plenty of hops from our plants. I have had difficulty in finding good beers in Okinawa, so I am pretty confident that I won’t find a fresh hopped beer. The original intent was to write about harvesting the cones and brewing them in a beer. Sadly I just have to write about wet hop beer this year. With the new growth it will be interested to see if I will get hops outside of the traditional growing period.

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