As some of you may know, I grow my own hops. I do it for a few reasons, none of which have anything to do with saving money. I love plants and gardening in general and like to think I have something of a green thumb. Also, as a brewer, it’s nice to have hop plants about the place. They are beautiful plants and grow extremely fast, so I constructed a trellis of sorts which stretches over my front patio deck to provide some shade during summer. Those of you who live in the UK will also know just how on top of your neighbours you are when you live in a terraced house like I do. My hops provide some welcome extra privacy as they prevent the neighbours from seeing directly into my yard.
I started last year from a small hop cutting, given to me by a fellow brewer from whom I bought some corny kegs. He told me at the time that it was a Saaz plant, from the Czech Republic, and since I am extremely partial to a Czech pilsner, I was very happy to have it. I immediately split it into two small hop plants in fresh soil, before reading online later that evening that I should really have kept it whole until it was bigger. It didn’t matter, it had done it’s job as I was now hooked on growing hops.
Through a fair bit of effort, I have since managed to acquire a selection of other hop varieties. I bought some from a lady on ebay who propogates them, and I got two more from other brewers. I now have seven large, second year hop plants in large pots (I don’t own my house, so as a renting tenant I’d like to be able to take my hops with me when I leave), namely two Saaz plants, and one each of the following: Mt Hood, Willamette, Sterling, Cascade and Hallertau.
I was told that I would be unlikely to harvest much, if anything from first year plants, but this turned out to be untrue. While my Hallertau and Sterling plants didn’t grown very fast or produce much, I got enough from my Mt Hood plant to brew a Homegrown German Pilsner, and enough from my Cascade plant to brew a Homegrown APA, both of which turned out pretty well. I also got enough from my Willamette and Saaz plants to brew two more beers, I eventually got round to using my Saaz last weekend (watch this space) but have yet to brew a recipe with my Willammette.
I found the the homegrown hops had an interesting, different flavour to their commercial counterparts. I believe, also, that the flavour is directly affected by when they are harvested (ripeness), as well as the terroir in which are grown. I live in Essex, right next to Kent, so I guess this is pretty ideal and the hops do seem to love it here.
Here are a few pics of last year’s growth for those interested. For a more complete write-up of last year’s harvest, visit the JBK Forum page here.