800px-hopfendolde-mit-hopfengartenThey say timing is everything. Which is why I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t make a good farmer. Because if I were, my family might never eat.

Last year about this time, I had the epiphany that “Hey, I’m a homebrewer. I buy a fair amount of hops throughout the year for my various recipes. Why don’t I save some money, become a little more sustainable in my brewing practices, and actually grow my own hops in the backyard?”

Good idea. But I was a little late to the game.

Midwest Supplies and Northern Brewer had already sold out of their allotment of hop rhizomes — the living root of a female hop vine (or bine, to be technical) — and weren’t accepting any more orders (I’m sure a result of the hop crisis that the industry was dealing with at the time). I wasn’t able to find anything else online, either. So instead of watching in anticipation as my crop of fragrant hop cones blossomed throughout the late summer months, I was stuck using commercially developed pellets at $3-4 per ounce. When you’re making something like a double IPA, it can get a little spendy rather quickly.

This time around, however, I wasn’t going to be shut out. I got my order in for three species — Cascade, Horizon and Fuggles — each variety offering different alpha acid profiles and aromatic characteristics that will give me some flexibility and choice in the various beers I make throughout the year. Now granted, I have no illusions that my three hop bushes are going to yield enough flowers to keep me brewing most of the year. A mature plant typically yields between one to two pounds of dried cones each year. And since I’ll likely be harvesting late summer or early fall, it’s going to be quite a while before I really get to use the cones for any recipes anyway. Even after I harvest, I’ll certainly still need to make primary use of hop pellets for bittering, as whole leaf hops usually have lower utilization rates compared to pellets, and are generally best used for dry hopping. But I’ll at least have a nice way to complement some of my recipes with a personally grown ingredient, which is my main motivation.

The rhizomes should arrive early May, just in time to hopefully get them into the ground once the soil thaws out and becomes workable. I have a sunny spot behind my garage that should work well for the viny bushes to climb, as they theoretically can grow as tall as 15-20 feet. I’ve read it can take the bush a year or two to really cement its root system before it takes off (especially in our short northern growing season), so I’m not expecting much out of this first year.  

Should be a fun little experiment. I’ll provide ongoing updates and photos on the planting process and how the bushes are shaping up over the course of the next several months.