First Post, first hop harvest
Welcome to the blog! My first post is to record a happy, hoppy event, my first hop harvest! I recently returned from a holiday in Belgium and France, where I gazed at the hopfields that surround Poperinge. Not surprisingly the area is home to several excellent breweries, including St. Bernardus and Van Eecke in Watou, and of course the iconic St Sixtus abbey where Westvleteren is produced.
Poperinge has a hop museum, where I found this postcard. I was amused to learn that the flemish for the hop harvest is “De Hoppepluk”, and the harvesters themselves are referred to as, you’ve guessed it, hoppeplukkers! I returned home to see my own pride and joy, my Fuggles bine which had grown so impressively all summer in full flower. Several weeks later and I decided that it was time for my very own hoppepluk. Here I am, intrepidly scaling the bine.
This being a test run, I decided to collect only some of the flowers. I was not entirely sure that they were ready. The guidelines I had found in various places recommend that the flower should not stay compressed when squeezed. Check. They should feel drier than young cones, even papery. Check. They should perhaps be browning around the edges. Check. Lupulin (the yellow powder that causes the bitter taste and smell of hops) should be apparent. check! So off I went. I guess that I took about a quarter of the largest flowers off the bine, mostly around the top. These were being battered the worst by our windy weather lately in any case, so I thought better off than on. One other issue was that my Tettnang bine, which is new in this year had made a very close acquaintance with Mr. Fuggles, so I’m not sure there aren’t some Tettnanger interlopers in there too. I tried to stick to the other side of the plant though. This is how much I harvested. When I removed all the flowers that little 5L bucket was about half full. I was very happy with the yield of the Fuggles bine this year, since last year it only grew about 4 ft, and produced nothing. I got it in the ground too late. This spring it started sprouting in early march, I think, and grew voraciously. Apparently next year will be even better. I read that the first year a plant produces only 30% of its potential, while year two gives more like 70%. I have some German varieties (Halltertauer, Taurus, Norther Brewer) that were new this year from Eickelmann which have produced a good cluster of flowers near the top. When the hop is picked I think it is about 70% or more water, and this should be dried down to 10% or so before storing, or mould may set in. I considered building an oast, and I may next year, but after extensive (30 mins) testing I decided my oven was up to the job, since on the lowest fan setting it can hold 35°c . I read that some commercial oasts use more like 60°c, so I decided to go with 45°c.
I used baking cooling racks, which were actually slightly too large, the smaller hops kept slipping through. I think Hessian sheets or some other coarse material might be better in future. They dried overnight, about 17 hours in all, which may have been a little too much, as they were quite brittle. I think I will go with less time or a lower temperature next time. When I weighed them there were 55 grams. I put them in two ziploc bags, and squished the air out by placing the bags under a large book (times atlas) and pressing down hard, then zipping while all the air was out. almost as good as a vac pac!
Here are some more pictures of the final dry yield from my first dry pickings, my hop-squishing method, and the finished package, which I popped in the freezer.