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Get Started Growing Hops

| 2/18/2014 4:40:00 PM

My interest in growing hops started back in 1984 when we were in the midst of remodeling our restaurant in Alsea, Ore. The grounds around the building were suffering from complete neglect. After we got rid of all the broken appliances covered with blackberries and created a kitchen garden on one side of the building, we removed overgrown yew bushes and sod to expand our herb collection on the opposite side. We constructed raised beds in an octagonal shape and built a gazebo in the middle as a center piece. To provide shade and aesthetics, we planted hops all the way around it.

Hops are perennial, which means they provide plenty of shade in the summer and then disappear in winter to allow light back in and expose the supporting architecture, thereby creating an ever-changing visual. After we sold our restaurant in 1989, we began growing hops organically at our new business, The Thyme Garden Herb Company, strictly for rhizomes to sell to our customers to start their own hops. We now offer 18-20 varieties of rhizomes on our website and in our catalog.

Thyme Garden Herb Company Garden

A Short History of Hops

Cultivation of hops in the Hallertau region of Germany in 736 may be the first known use of hops for brewing. Hop cones replaced the use of gruit, a mixture of medieval bittering herbs and flowers, including costmary or alecost, chamomile, yarrow, dandelion, mugwort and horehound (horehound is German for "mountain hops"). Some of these herbs have been proven to be good preservatives. Only the female hop flowers, cones or strobiles are used in brewing. They are added to the batch at different stages to add flavor, aroma and bittering imparted by the acids in the cones.

Alpha and Beta Acids in Hops Brewing

There are two main types of acids in the hop cone, alpha and beta. Alpha acids add the bittering to beer and have a mild antibiotic and antibacterial effect against certain bacteria. Beta acids add aroma and are added at the end of brewing to preserve the volatile oils. Bittering hops have high alpha, aroma hops have low alpha and high beta.  Noble hops used to brew pilsners have an equal amount of alpha and beta acids. Examples of nobles would be Hallertauer, Saaz, Tettnanger and Spalt. Saaz can be hard to find so I recommend Sterling, a cross between Saaz and Mt.Hood as a sub with an alpha/beta ratio that is close to equal.

Another group of hops that has distinguished the American craft beer and its Pale Ale’s and IPA’s are the “Three C’s”: Cascade, Centennial and Columbus (also known as Tomahawk or Zeus.) They are combined in varying amounts to add citrusy, fruity and earthy flavors with a balance of bitterness.

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