Malted Barley Appreciation Society

Malted Barley Appreciation Society Newsletter

Vol. 6, No. 2                           February 1999

Hop Into Spring

by George De Piro

It's almost freezing today, but it's the perfect time to start planning your hop garden. "What, are you nuts?" you may be saying. "I live in the city! I don't have the space to grow hops. Even if I did, I'd just kill them anyway. I'm no good with plants." While I (GD) may have a few eccentricities, it is perfectly reasonable for me to suggest growing hops in the big city, even if you don't have a green thumb.

I (BR) have a very vigorous Chinook plant that grows on my balcony, and some Tettnang and Hallertau plants that are on the roof of my office. Hops are happy to grow on fire escapes or roofs, but check with your landlord before planting anything. Potted hops will not grow as tall or be as prolific as those grown in the ground, but it is still possible to get a decent sized harvest and reap the satisfaction of using your own hops in your beer. Since hops are also used as ornamental vines; be sure to buy rhizomes from a homebrew shop (I ordered mine through the William's catalogue) since most garden supply catalogues aren't aware of which variety they carry.

Lets discuss a bit of general information about hops.

Hops are a climbing, vine-like plant, referred Humulus lupus in botanical circles. They are perennials, meaning they are reborn each spring without you doing anything special. The long, climbing stalks of the plant are properly called "bines." (That is not a misprint; "bine" with a "b," not "vine.") They have broad, green leaves and nasty little spikes on the bines. These spikes cling to whatever the bine is climbing and help support it as it reaches for the heavens. The inflorescences (flower-like structures) of the hop plant are cone-like, green, and contain the lupulin glands that provide the essential oil and bitter resins that we brewers so greatly prize.

Hop plants are outrageously hardy and easy to grow. They are the only plant in my (GD) yard that can out compete the native morning glory that strangles every other plant I try to grow. Their requirements are simple: lots of sunlight, lots of water, and lots of food. If the weather is hot and the above requirements are met, they can reach a height of 25 feet by June, and be ready to harvest by mid-August. They will grow in less than optimal conditions, but the yield of cones is likely to be reduced.

Hops exist as separate male and female plants. The inflorescences of the male plant are much smaller than those of the female and contain very few lupulin glands. They are therefore not grown. This also serves to keep hop varieties pure: there is little pollination because male plants are eradicated, except in England, where they seem to like seeded hops.

Hops are normally propagated by cutting off bits of root-like material called rhizomes. These can be obtained from many homebrew suppliers. Another source of rhizomes is a person who has been growing hops for a couple of seasons. Hops grow like weeds, and after just two seasons most people have rhizomes to spare. I (GD) have rhizomes to spare! Just ask at the next meeting.

As soon as the ground is soft enough to work, you can plant your rhizomes. Place them in well-drained, rich soil about 4 inches deep. Plants of the same variety may be placed as close as 2 feet, but plants of different varieties should be at least 4 feet apart to prevent confusion at harvest. Cover the rhizome with earth mixed with composted manure and water it.

If you don't have a yard, you will need an adequately sized pt (or two). A 5 gallon plastic bucket is ideal (it fits 2 plats comfortably), but any large container is fine. The pot shold be at least 12" in diameter with adequate drainage holes inthe bottom. (A word of caution about clay pots: they are mor attractive than plastic, but they dry out much faster.) Hopsaren't picky, so any type of potting soil can be used (I (BR) ake my own using a 3:1 ratio of potting soil and peat moss). f the weather is warm you will see the first shoots in about 2weeks.

The young hop shoots bear a slight resemblance to aspragus. In Belgium (and some other places) these shoots are prized as a delicacy. As a home hop grower it is hard to have enough shoots at the proper stage of development at the same time to make a proper meal of them, but if you do try steaming them and serving with a little butter.

Hops are fast climbers (up to several inches per day) and need something sturdy to climb. Nylon or hemp twine works well. The young shoots must be trained to climb the desired structure (or they will quickly find their own). The bines follow the sun, and therefore wind clock-wise around whatever they are climbing (in the northern hemisphere).

The climbing trellis can be arranged in a number of different ways to fit the space you've got. On a balcony, one can rig up a rellis using strong string. The string is tied around the top of the bucket (there is a lip that holds it in place) and runs stright up about 6 feet. Then, for ease of harvest and care, run another piece of string horizontally. This requires a bit more attntion than the vertical line (the twining of the vines has to be done by hand since they try to grow straight up), but is easier for some) to manage; plus, it looks attractive to have hops draping across a window just above eye level.

Be mindful of phone ad cable wires; hops bines send out secondary stalks mid-summer and they will attach onto anything nearby. If a trellis or string is impractical, another solution would be to let the hops twine around a fire escape railing (decorative and practical!). For roof hops, any sort of vertical support will work (on my roof, I've run twine from the buckets to a higher point on the wall of another building).

All of the above techniques will also work in a hop yard. The hops can be trained to grow vertically to a roof, or horizontally to form a beautiful green ceiling over a patio.

Hop plants will send out shoots from the base all season. It is best to allow only two or three shoots to grow into full-size bines, though. The other shoots must be trimmed back regularly, or you will end up with a reduced yield and an impenetrable mess of a garden.

Water hops well when they are first planted, but don't over-water. Once established, water only when the soil is dry (which can be every day if the temperatures are very high) since they don't like moist feet. I've (BR) found that a good soaking (and allowing the soil to dry out between waterings) is better than smaller but more frequent amounts.

The hop bines grow quickly once they emerge. If the weather is warm and they are given plenty of water they can grow more than 6 inche per day! Monthly feeding with composted manure or other fertilizer is strongly recommended, although I (GD) have abused my hops by foretting both water and food and they have still grown quite strongly. It is the harvest that suffers most from neglect. I (GD) prefer "rganic" fertilizers to synthetics. Both types are easily found at garden stores.

Harvesting the hops is perhaps the trickiest part ofgrowing them. If you have trained your hops up a tall, vertical wire, the majority of the cones will be 10 feet above your head. Whileyou can risk your health by using a ladder to harvest, it is far easier to cut the bines down. Some of the cones may be a tad off peak,but it will make little difference in quality (commercial hops are harvested this way).

The other challenge is knowing when they are rpe. Ripe hop cones will be pale green, springy, plump, moist and closed. The cones start to open, dry out, and turn brown as they overripen. The cones are easily removed from the bine by gently pulling them off. Be sure to wear long sleeves: the aforementioned spikesthat are on the plants can cause an unpleasant inflammation of human skin (a rash). It doesn't last long, but it is best avoided.

Theyellow powder that is in the cones is not some bizarre form of insect or fungus; it is the lupulin that you worked so hard to get! If you rub the fresh cones between your hands you will note that the lupulin is sticky and very fragrant. Have a beer nearby, because the aroma is sure to make you thirsty.

After harvest the cones should be dried. They can be used them fresh, but they will start to mold in 2 or 3 days, so use them quickly or dry them for keeping. I have found that they will dry quickly enough to prevent mold if they are spread out in a thin layer in a warm room. The drier the air, the faster and more completely they will dry. If you over dry them the cones will become very brittle. This is not that big a deal for a homebrewer. It is a concern for a commercial hop grower, because the cones will shatter during subsequent handling.

Your home grown hops are best used for dry hopping and late kettle additions because you won't know the alpha acid content of them. You can use them as bittering hops by brewing some experimental batches with them and keeping careful notes about the quantities used and the perceived bitterness of your beer.

Once the hops are harvested, the vines are cut back and the rhizomes are covered with an inch or 2 of pine bark or mulch. Both authors have found that hops are quite resilient and can be ignored all winter and still come back strong. One of us (BR) left some plants for dead with no water or winter protection after a devastating spider mite infestation. The next spring they grew like crazy.

As for problems, the aforementioned spider mites have been the worst problem for both authors; generally hops are quite healthy. Aphids are attracted to young, tender shoots but tend to avoid the older, slightly prickly leaves and bines. They are easily controlled by crushing them by hand.

If you don't have much of a green thumb, it is still recommended to grow hops since they are very forgiving and tolerant. As for which variety to choose, I (BR) have found that American strains do better in a restricted growing environment than the European varieties, but all varieties will happily produce enough hops for several batches of beer.

Bopping Around in Belgium, Part Three

by Bill Coleman

The next day, we were sticking to Brussels. Our first stop was Cantillon, which was a quick 15 walk from our hotel. It was a little hectic over there, as they were having a school trip, and problems with their furnace. We mentioned our American connection, who was supposed to have set up a visit, but they were not very interested, aside from complaining about some money owed. Anyway, we got to sample some of their beers, do a self-guided tour of the amazing vintage lambic equipment, and purchase some beers for the cellar. It was amazing to me that they get any work done over there with people wandering around the brewery by themselves. However, I realized after talking with several lambic brewers and blenders that it is very hard to support yourself making this kind of beer these days, so I guess the museum aspect is how they support themselves at this brewery.

After this, we headed back to the Grand Place, and went to the Brewery Museum. It was not very special, a little slide show, a few bits of old equipment, and a mystery beer to try. The most important part of the visit was the chance to get a copy of Tim Webb's Good Beer Guide to Belgium and Holland, which was an invaluable guide to the country, though it soon turned out it was out of date.

Did I say "soon"? Actually, it was immediately after this that we walked and bus-rode over the Bieres Artisanes store, where we met Nassur, a smart, opinionated guide to the local beer scene. We picked up bottles of interesting beers, and I also noted that he had a more recent edition of the Tim Webb book, but I decided, at the time, to not purchase it. We also gave Nassur a T-shirt (remember, only 15 bucks), and a xeroxed comic book of Salty Dog strips. He mentioned that he was opening a caf´┐Ż soon, and to send more Salty Dog comics for reading material. If you every go over there, look out for Salty!

What did we do next? My notes are very vauge, but I believe we went to Ultimate Hallucination, where we had Sezoens-spicy, hoppy clean, and Westmalle Dubbel.

The next day, October 28, we set a record: we stopped at 4 breweries, several beer bars and one whorehouse! No, wait, I'll explain....

We had been getting pretty good at finding breweries, so I suggested trying a couple of more in addition to our scheduled stop, Rodenbach. Looking at the maps, I suggested Verhaeghe, a brewery that produces a lot of good Flanders Red beers, including Duchesse de Bourgogne and Caves, and, if we had time, the Van Honsebrouck Brewery, makers of the quite wonderful Casteel Biere du Chateau, Brigand, and some other beers. Well, our first stop was Verhaeghe in the City of Vichte, which was a no-go. They wouldn't let us in; I'm not sure anyone there really understood English. On to Rodenbach, in Roeselare, where we were due for a tour at 2:30 p.m.-and, if we had time, maybe another stop. On the way out, we noticed this weird sign for a bar called "Linda Bar" with this weird neon sign of a woman undressing. Hmm.

Well, on the way, we passed the Bavik Brewery, makers of Bavik White, Petrus Old Bruin (Oak-aged in the US), and other beers. What the hell, let's knock! Well, the brewer wasn't there then, but if we could stop back in a couple of hours...(now, that would've been while we were at Rodenbach, but let's see if we can squeeze it in).

Since we had time to kill, we decided to head for Von Honsebrouck, in Ingelmunster, not far from Roeselare. We had to dodge a detour, but we made it to the Castle, owned by the brewery and pictured in the "Casteel" beers, in reasonable time. It was closed, but there was a tavern downstairs. We asked the waitress, whose command of English was limited, where the Von Honsebrouck Brewery was. She eventually explained it to us, and we found it. Unfortunately, it was another no-go; no visitors. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained---it was time to go back to that tavern and get some beer, and maybe a bite to eat.

I ordered something I thought was sausages and turned out to be little baby chickens, which I gave to Warren. The beer, however, was quite wonderful; 1989 Casteel Biere de Chateau, sitting in the cellar of the Tavern since it was made! It was the first year of brewing for the Casteel Biere, and it was quite wonderful; there was incredibly complex malty, sherry notes, full carbonation, and very subdued bret character, if any, in comparison with some bottle we get here in the US, which at amuch younger age exhibit huge bret notes. We picked up three to go, and a four-pack of the regular chateau beers, as well as a bottle of K-8 a bizarrely packaged 8% alcohol Kriek (brown ale, not Lambic-based) beer, which turned out to be quite delicious, with the cinnamon-like flavor of whole cherries with pits.

Now it was time to head to Roeselare. We got there, only to be told the tour group we were to go with had cancelled! And Rodenbach only does group tours! However, ____ told us she would give us an individual tour, and did so, apologizing throughout.

It was an amazing tour. You can look at pictures of those huge oak barrels all you like, but until you've seen them in person, you have no idea what it's like. The Rodenbach beers are aged 18 months in them. Like Liefman's, I was told that Rodenbach never recultures their yeast, but just keeps repitching it. We got to see an old wood-burning stove originally used in brewing, and to check out a barrel that was being scraped in preparation for a new batch. Of course, the highlight was a sample of the beer.

We drove back toward Brussels. Our tour at Rodenbach lasted longer than we had expected, to by the time we reached Bavik for a second time that day, it was after 5:00 p.m. We met the brewer, but he told us "what you are asking for is impossible!" we told him we knew we were late, but we got lost (not totally a lie!), and that we would try to make an appointment for another day. With that we gave him our card.

As we drove back, we passed the "Linda Bar" again. Having heard Warren's account of trying craft beers at a strip joint in Portland several months earlier, I thought it might be amusing to do the same in the Belgian equivalent. We had to enter through the back, according to the signs. Okay, well, let's see...when we knocked, the door was opening by a frightening-looking elderly woman who shooed us in. When we entered, we saw a younger woman in a bathrobe doing ironing. On the side was a room with a bed, and a little bar-which included Rodenbach-quickly realizing we weren't really in a bar, we backed out, not really having time for an event like this on our schedule!

As we drove back towards Brussels, I realized, by looking at our map and the Tim Webb book, that we could make a quick side-trip to the city of Gerardsbergen, to the bar/restaurant called Saf. It was a wonderful place, with a very good selection of beer. Unfortunately, we had to drive a ways afterwards, so we didn't make to much of a sampling there, having one beer each: Eylensboch Gueuze (see comments above about the status of the brewery) which was a sour, though not very bret-ty gueuze; and La Galouise Brune, a strong, dark, spicy, malt beer, rich and sweet, at 8.5% alcohol.

At this point, we went the hotel for some much-needed rest for the remainder of the trip. Tomorrow, Jim Simpson would be joining us for some amazing brewery visits...

Continued in the Next Issue...

New Malted Barley T-Shirts!

Be the first on your block to have the latest edition of the Malted Barley T-Shirt. It comes in gray with a small picture of Salty in the "Yo Brooklyn" mode and a logo on the front, and then, on the back, is a complete, tabloid-sized reproduction of the off-flavor comic strip used in our competition in February. The shirt is only $15 ($25 for 2) if you pick it up at a meeting or a Hop, Skip and Brew. Otherwise, order it via the mail (add $5 for postage & handling, from Hop Skip and Brew, 50-07 Metropolitan Avenue, Ridgewood, Queens, NY.

The Next Meeting of The Malted Barley Appreciation Society will be on Wednesday, February 10, at 7:30 p.m. We are expecting Rick Suarez of the Unibroe of Quebec! As usual, the meeting will be held at Mug's Ale House, 125 Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, which will be serving 2 of the beers on handpump. And, as always, there should be lots of good homebrew. See you there!

Return to the Malted Barley Home Page.

Any comments should be sent to Our E-Mail Address.