Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hop Shortage? GROW YER OWN!

Howdy once more, dear readers.
I had a very rare opportunity this last week. As many of you know, hops are vital to brewing and said hops have become somewhat scare and very expensive. Well, a few years ago, I planted some hop vines around our brewery in Polson. I wanted them more for the visual impact than the actual hop cones. These vines have been, well, growing like a weed every summer. The oldest one achieving over a foot of growth per day at peak growing time! Well, these vines have also beer producing a respectable crop of hop cones every year so, of course, I thought "Why don't I harvest these and use them in a specialty beer?"
That's just what I'm doing. Before I use them in the brewkettle, however. I wanted to get them into a form that would allow me maximum utilization. Normally I use hops in a pelletized form. But I lack the equipment to force the whole hops into tight little pellets. I do have the ability to make the next best thing; hop plugs!
So, after I spent a couple of beautiful, Montana afternoons harvesting the hop cones, I began the process of converting them into plugs:
First. I dried the hop cones in my food dehyrators for about five hours.
Second, the dried hops needed to be pulverized into a powderized form for better access to the ever-elusive hop oils.
Third, the pulverized hops were loaded into the plug form (aka piece of PVC pipe!).
Fourth, I compressed the pulverized hops in the plug form using a custom-made hop plunger (I love my wood lathe!).
Fifth, a 12-pound sledge hammer gently compresses the hops in the form tighter and tighter.
Sixth, I left the plug form full overnight to ensure the hops would keep the shape.
Finally, the new hop plug is extracted from the form and vacuum sealed for future brews!

So far, this process, while being very labor-intensive, has yielded some surprisingly good plugs! I'm pretty anxious to get these guys into a brew sometime this fall or winter. It'll be like a pint of Montana summer in the winter duldrums! We're also planning on erecting some hop poles in our beer garden and utilize that space as a "hop garden". It's gonna be a lot of work but it'll pay off visually and hop-wize!
Until next time,
Your Humble Brewer!