It's Hops Season!
It’s that time of the year when hop bines produce the delicious hop cones that will be used to bitter and flavor beers in Asheville and elsewhere for the next year.
What Are Hops?
Hops are the flowers of the plant, humulus lupulus. The hop plant is itself what is known as a bine. And when I say bine., that is bine with a B and not vine with a V, not a typo. The difference the two is in how the plant grows. When a bine, like hops, grows the main stem of the plant winds its way up the trellis. When a vine, like grapes or cucumbers, grows the plant sends out little tentacles that grab onto the trellis. Botanically this difference is a big deal, and it goes by a different name. As you will see, they look like vines. 😊
Brewers are only interested in the flowers of the hop plants. Inside the flowers are a bunch of different compounds that are useful for making beer. Some compounds, like alpha acids, are what lend bitterness to beer. Other compounds, such as certain oils and resins, lend flavors and aromas to the beers in which they are used. The rest of the plant is really just vegetable matter, and garbage as far as brewers are concerned.
How Do Hop Plants Grow?
Hop plants are perennials, which means they come back each year. In April or May, the plants start to sprout out of the ground. The hop farmer will train the plant to a piece of twine staked in the ground that runs up to a cross beam above the plant. Throughout the spring and summer, the bine will wind its way up the piece of twine. In late summer, the hop plantsl flower. Commercial hop farms in the Pacific Northwest have plants that will grow up to 20 feet tall. During those long summer days in the northern latitudes, the plants can grow as much as six inches to a foot per day!
At a commercial hop farm, once the plants flower, a big machine will be brought in and the plants will be cut down at the ground. The entire plant is then thrown into the machine where the bine is separated from the flowers and discarded. The flowers then go through a processing machine that dries them out to preserve them. From there, the hops are either packaged as whole dried flowers or an extra step chops up the flowers and runs them through a die to create hop pellets. These products are now what the brewing industry has to for the following year.
Hops are interesting in that the entire northern hemisphere flowers around the same time each year, in late August to early September. The southern hemisphere harvest is opposite, April to May. Most produce is grown somewhere, year round. You can go into the grocery store any time of year and find blueberries. Hops are different. The entire planet gets its harvest in just a few weeks.
Hops in Downtown Asheville
Because hop bines are easy to grow, and the plants are pretty, many breweries have hop bines growing in their outside areas. These plants are just decorative, as they produce too few hop cones to be useful to brew with. But, they are always a conversation piece on a brewery tour.
Learn More About Hops on a Brewery Tour!
If you’d like to learn more about hops end enjoy some great local beers that incorporate this fascinating plant, come join us on a brewery tour! We’ll point out some hop bines growing right here in downtown Asheville and share some great stories along the way!