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Friday, April 16, 2010


Last year Sierra Nevada Brewing donated the Chinook and Cascade varieties of hops to the UC Davis Good Life Garden to grow in our "Malting and Brewing" demonstration bed.

Hops are a hardy climbing perennial vines that can grow 20-25 feet in a season. We are currently in the process of building a make shift trellis for the vines right now, but it is a race against time as a couple weeks ago they showed no signs of life and now are rapidly crawling up the blue stakes our garden supervisor Ed Nordstrom installed last week!

In beer making the brewer essentially extracts the sugars from barley malt from the hop flowers and then ferments them. The hops, with their bitter oils are used to counter of the sweetness of the fermented malt. Hops are also used as a natural preservative - beer with hops keeps fresher longer.

From what I understand these vines have been known to grow a foot in a day under ideal conditions. They will die back to the crown each fall and hop back again each spring!

BEFORE (A better before photo would just show a brown stump which is what this looked like a couple weeks ago!):


I just love the texture that the leaves have, don't you?


Rick said...

Hops are an amazing plant. Not long ago our region was one of the hop-growing capitals of the world! Prohibition & low prices drove farmers to pull the hops out, now there is only one commercial hop farm in the entire region (Jordan Family Farms in Penryn). Brewers traditionally used hops as a preservative, but today they're used primarily as a bittering agent (as mentioned, to contrast the sweet malt) and as a flavor additive - hops lend floral, citrusy, piny, earthy, spicy notes depending on the variety. When boiled extensively they lose their aroma & flavors and only offer bitterness. Boiling less (15 minutes or less) they lend more aroma & flavor.

Technically, hops do not have 'vines', but 'bines' - they affix themselves using stiff hairs vs suckers. Also technically - brewers extract acids from hops (Alpha & Beta mainly) & offer nothing to the actual fermentation of beer (which is just a reaction caused by the yeast consuming the sugars extracted by the malted barley).

Beautiful plants, they can still be found 'wild' throughout the region by creek beds. They love the sun and grow beautifully here in NorCal. They're edible, make wonderful tea and, yes, are great additions to beer. There's a great local homebrew club there that I'm sure would love to do a demonstration with fresh (wet) hops this fall if you're keen to that.

Steve said...

Any chance there might be an opportunity for a cone harvest at maturity like the herb harvest you have offered in the past? This local homebrewer would like to produce with some locally grown ingredients!

UC Davis Good Life Garden said...

Sounds like a great idea. I'll speak to our grounds supervisor about it and get back with you!

How much is required? We only have about 10 plants--6 cascade and 4 chinook. (I may have that backwards.)

Steve said...

Well, lets do some math...

Each hop plant (bine) will produce anywhere from 0.5 to 2.0 pounds of dried hops. A typical homebrew batch of beer will use about 3.0 ounces of dried hops. If the Good Life garden has ten bines, and we assume a bine yield of 1.25 pounds each, then that means there will be enough for 66 batches or 330 gallons of beer!

As an aside, it takes about 1.25 pounds of "wet" or freshly harvested hops to reduce to 3.0 ounces of dried hops.

More info on determining the readiness and harvesting of hops from Norm Pyle's Hops FAQ on

Hop blossoms start out looking like large sand burrs, and then take on a characteristic cone shape as they grow in size. The size of a fully developed cone depends on the variety, varying from 1 to 2 inches long by 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter.

The hops are fully mature and ready for picking when two changes take place. First, immature hops have a damp, soft feel and when squeezed slightly tend to stay compressed. Mature hops feel more like paper, spring back when squeezed, and feel noticeably lighter. The second key test is to pick an average example hop and cut it lengthwise down the center with a knife. When ready to pick, the yellow powder (the lupulin sacs containing the essential oils and bitter compounds) will be a dark shade of yellow, like the stripes on a highway, and it will be pungent. If a light shade of yellow then its likely the hops are immature.

When ready to pick it is best to snip the stems of the cones with scissors or a knife to avoid jarring the hops and knocking lupulin powder out or worse, pulling the center of the cone out with the stem, causing a great loss of lupulin. Touching hops plants can cause skin irritation in some people; gloves and long sleeves can help in this matter.