According to the American Homebrewers Association (AHA), there are currently 1.2 million homebrewers in the United States. This should surprise, well, no one in Colorado. Boulderites don’t need to look far to find beer made locally. In fact, our brewery selection rivals New York City’s Starbucks-on-every-corner. Overpriced lattes step aside, this is beer we’re talking about. And if we’re talking about beer, we’re talking about hops. Fueled by both the homebrewing and grow-your-own-food revolutions, many city residents have taken to growing their own hops and bringing their favorite brew even closer to home.
Why grow your own hops? Many homebrewers find that planting, growing, and harvesting hops at home is much cheaper, easier and more rewarding than picking up from a store. Since hops are perennial plants, they will return every year and bestow a harvest. They need little space to flourish, and allow for an important connection to be made between the brewer and the final product, the beer.
Hops are perfect for novice planters and green-thumbs alike. They need 6-8 hours of sun per day (no problem for Colorado residents), and ample water (this one is important). With proper care, hops can grow up to 20 feet in their first year. Plant hops on a trellace or arbor and watch them “climb” throughout the summer. Some plants can generate up to 6 pounds of cones in one year! It is important to note that hops can be dangerous for dogs and other pets, so grow away from where man’s best friend(s) will be hanging out.
Just as there are numerous varieties of beer, so are there with hops. Deciding which hops to grow based on your particular tastes is crucial to getting the beer you want. There are dozens of different types of hops, sometimes separated by region. For simplification purposes, these hops are divided into two categories: aroma hops and bitter hops. Aroma hops are used primarily as a finishing hop and produce, well, aromas. Bitter hops are used to flavor the beer and are extracted in the boiling process. The addition of hops is a creative process as well as a ‘step’ in the brewing recipe, and brewers often find new and exciting ways to flavor his or her favorite beer.
More about Hops:
- Hops grow on bines (not vines). Bines need a support in order to grow upward, while vines can climb on their own.
- Only female hops are used in brewing.
- The hop bine can take up to three years to mature.
- At the end of the growing season, hop bines can be made into wreathes and other crafts.
- An old Appalachian folk remedy for sleeplessness involves stuffing hop bines into a pillowcase.