Fresh Hops with BEERMKR
It’s now early September, and in the northern hemisphere, that means it’s hop harvest season! More and more people are growing hops in their home gardens and with a BEERMKR, you can use these hops in your beer! It’s really easy to do, just follow the following steps:
First is to know when to harvest. It’s best to harvest your hops when you have a beer recipe ready to receive them. Don’t pick them and let them sit out. They should go right into a beer within 24 hours of being cut from the vine. If you don’t have a beer ready for them, it’s okay to dry them out and store them in your freezer. More on that below. Just don’t freeze fresh hops, they’ll turn to mush.
Now find a recipe that will work with your hop varieties and choose how you want to use them – as a brew hop for bittering, a brew hop for aromatics, or as a dry hop. If the hops are going into your BEERMKR, they should be chopped up first. You can do this with a chef’s knife or with a spice grinder. Using a chef’s knife is preferred as the lupulin of the hops can gum up your spice grinder and you’ll lose a lot of hop oil. Using a knife, cut the hops to a fine brunoise cut or finer. This will prevent the valves from getting clogged if any hop matter gets into them.
Fresh hops weigh 6-8 times more than hops that have been dried and/or pelletized since they are still full of water from the growing season. So if you’d normally put in 30g for a hop addition, you’ll want to add around 200g of wet hops to get the same effect.
If you’d like to bitter with your hops, you’ll brew your beer like normal. When it’s time to pitch yeast and add hops, you’ll pull your waste bag first. Empty the waste bag into a small pot on your stove and bring the wort to a boil. Add your hops and boil. You can use whole cones for this, no need to cut them or grind them up. Be sure to top up with fresh water to prevent your liquid from boiling off. You’ll be aiming for 20oz of liquid to be poured back into your BEERMKR. When the hops are done, remove them with a slotted spoon. Head back to your BEERMKR, open the brewtub lid, and pour your hop tea into the brewtub. Give the bag a few pumps to circulate this hot wort, then pitch your yeast.
If you are aiming for flavor or aromatics and not bittering, then you can either add the hops with your yeast, or you can add them as a dry hop. Make sure they are finely diced and toss them in. You don’t need to sanitize your hops by heating them, they are naturally antiseptic, so just toss them in! Adding them with the yeast will produce a deep hop flavor but won’t be very aromatic since the fermentation off gassing will drive out a lot of those aromatics. If you want big aromas, add your fresh hops as a dry hop.
The last option is to add your hops to the waste bag during brewing. This is a “best of both worlds” situation. Putting the hops in the waste bag at the very beginning of the brew, before you add your water, will give the hops plenty of time to steep with your wort. It will also bring the hops up in temperature so their acids isomerize and make your wort bitter. However since BEERMKR doesn’t boil, the wort won’t get hot enough to drive off all of those special low temp oils like myrcene and farnesene, resulting in a robustly flavorful, slightly aromatic, slightly bittered hop profile. It is directly comparable to a whirlpool or hopback addition. If you go this route, remember to finely cut your hops with a knife or spice grinder before adding them to your waste bag. This method adds about the same bitterness as an 8-minute boil addition so if you’re calculating your IBUs on a recipe program, just use 8-minutes.
If you don't have a beer ready to receive your fresh hops and it's time to harvest, then you can do what every other hop farmer does and dry your hops for storage and later use. To dry, use a food dehydrator at temperatures below 140ºF/60ºC. Any higher and some of the oils will volatize, muting the hop aromatics. A convection oven works well if it can go that low in temperature, but a dedicated food dehydrator with low temperature settings is best.
Once dried, it's best to vacuum pack them in a food saver bag. These are special bags that have an oxygen barrier and can have all the air and oxygen vacuumed out of them. Don't use standard zip top bags, these don't have an oxygen barrier and your hops can get overly oxidize which will give them an additional bitterness through oxidized beta acids and could go rancid. So be sure to keep that oxygen out!