One of the four primary ingredients in beer is today’s featured letter: Hops!
Hops or hop, depending on who or whom you ask, is the cone flower bearing plant that’s included in beer making to add flavor, aroma or both as well as stability in beer (read this). It’s an extraordinary plant to witness live. Growing on bines 18 to 20 feet in the air, spiraled around their supporting lead, all the way up to the sky!
Have you been to a hop farm before? Do you grow hops at your home? Have you ever smelled or rolled fresh picked hops in your hands, still sticky and damp? It’s ethereal.
The connection with beer and food here is that hops can accent different foods differently. Think of the crisp bite of a well balanced beer and how it pairs deliciously with cheeses, can liven up a mild dish and can mellow out a hot and spicy one. Like any ingredient, the hop profile will best complement food when intensity is matched.
This fragile ingredient must be either used almost immediately after harvest from the hop yards or dried as a whole cone flower or pelletized for storage. Cold is needed to best preserve this beer beauty as with any agricultural crop, it starts to degrade as soon as it’s picked.
The hop farmers and growers are some of the most hospitable, smart and thoughtful people I’ve encountered in the beer community. Some exclusively grow hops, some grow other complementary crops. You can learn more by visiting the American Hop Museum too – check it out!
Support your local hop grower if you have one. Support your own hops should you choose to plant and grow them. They’re rhizomes and spread in the right setting so plant them accordingly (read: provide LOADS of room to climb and spread). They make great sun shade on a South facing rise, properly trained with twine.
One tip colleague Gayle Goschie, of multi generational Goschie Farms told me in growing my own: when you see the heads popping up in the spring time, cut them off – behead them. If you let them grow in that first blush, you’ll get lots and lots of leaves, which takes energy away from the flowers. Beheading them forces the plant to regenerate and send up more efficient bines focused on flower production. So if you want leaves, let them grow. If you want cone flowers, behead them.
While I can go on and on about hops, I’d also share that there is a growing faction of hop education opportunities. One example: I was invited to attend Hop & Brew School by HopUnion in Yakima Washington last September. What a fabulous treat and a big eye opener! Great people, passionate, plugged in, and passing the information forward. All to the end benefit of high quality hops in the beer we enjoy.
My glass is up today to hops and more especially the growers, farmers, brokers and researchers of hops.