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Homegrown hops, not happy with them

I am ready to give up using my homegrown hops. I’ve been growing for 5 years now. Cascade, Centennial, Horizon, Columbus, and just planted Chinook last summer.

I’ve have mixed results with these hops. Cones seem to have good aroma but it doesn’t come through to the beer. Bitterness seems to be there. Flavor is in the ballpark but “coarse or rough” except the Columbus which just plain nasty. A garlic/onion flavor. I typically use +20% to account for the lower utilization with the leaf hops.

In frustration with inconsistent results in the past, I completed 4 small single hop IPA batches with last fall’s harvest. They didn’t pass my simple taste test: “would I order another at a brew pub?”

I live just east of the Twin cities so the growing season is short. The plants are shaded until mid-morning. I think I take good care of the plants: fertilize early and mid-season with organic manure. Water daily. I’ve read everything on could find on when to harvest. Each plant gives reasonable yield. Cascade (2 bines) yielded almost 2 lbs dry so I think the plants are doing OK.

I am ready to take this variable out of my brewing and leave the hop growing to the professionals. I’ll grow them just for kicks but doubt I’ll use them next year.

Any thoughts, similar experiences, suggestions ?

So just use them for bittering pale ales and IPAs (where you don’t need to know or care about alpha acids so much). No need to let them go to waste, and you can save a lot of money not having to buy bittering hops.

I use mine for bittering my heavier beers and I LOVE dry hopping with them. There is something that makes my heart cringe every time I put $12 worth of hops in the bag to dry hop, but when I use the homegrowns, I don’t care about the cost- there is none!

My experiences have been somewhat similar. I have a Sterling, a Cascade, and two Centennials. Just not getting the pop from them that I want. However, I’m also struggling with getting good hop flavor and aroma in IPAs and I don’t think it’s water profile related. I’ve been using Mosher’s profile for most of my hoppier beers.

I’ll be curious if others can weigh in on this topic and give some guidance as to what it may be.

I think it’s cool to use your own, but not if the product ends up being subpar.

Mine always have a green onion note to them, and are very grassy, so I treat the plants as ornamental.

to me, growing hops is akin to home-malting. Could I do it? Sure. Is it worth my time and potential of making 5 gallons of onion juice instead of beer? No.

Don’t get me wrong, I have always wanted to do it, and one of the reasons I didn’t prior to this past fall is we lived in a 1000sqft rowhome with no yard and a small patio. Now we have a decent sized house with a pergola over the deck…so I may eat my words this spring. Not sure if my wife will want me to eat them though :cheers:

Do you send your hops out for alpha iso/cohumulone analysis?

Your beer will turn out just fine if you use them for bittering.

I don’t send mine out for testing, but I do estimate the alpha acids everytime I use them. The first time for a particular harvest, the alpha acid is a wild guess. The second time it is an educated guess. By the third time you use them (if there’s any left!), you should be able to have the alpha acid figured out within 0.2-0.3%, in my experience, and then you’ll know and can use them freely for additional batches (if there’s any left). It works, and heck, it’s kind of fun figuring all this out!

I haven’t had problems with late hopping either, except that they sometimes taste more like grass and hay than storebought hops. Not always, but sometimes. So now I usually use them for bittering as described above.

My first thought is that you didn’t leave them long enough on the bine to mature and develop alpha acids and aromatic oils. Under-ripe hops will tend to be more grassy. I try to leave my on the bine until I cringe at how ratty they’re looking.

I have not yet brewed a beer with only my home grown hops, but I have use them as FWH, bittering, and late addition as well as dry hops and I have not detected any real grassy or wild flavors. Could be the soil or it could you your water.

Do you love your IPA’s with store bought hops?

I was deeply disappointed with my cascades last year. The taste just never came through. They were definitely ripe enough.

Depends on what you mean by ratty though. I let mine go and pick as they become nice and dry (some brown is fine) and the aromas are at their max. This takes a lot of patience and timing. I typically don’t pick an entire bine but just do the flowers that are ready or wait until the last flowers are at their best. I dry them immediately and vac-seal them immediately after that. Some varieties of mine have been consistently good (mostly the American varieties) while others I’ll probably dig up this year after 4+ years of trying them out. I’ve got 13 varieties and finding 5 or six that will be keepers.

Depends on what you mean by ratty though. I let mine go and pick as they become nice and dry (some brown is fine) and the aromas are at their max. This takes a lot of patience and timing. I typically don’t pick an entire bine but just do the flowers that are ready or wait until the last flowers are at their best. I dry them immediately and vac-seal them immediately after that. Some varieties of mine have been consistently good (mostly the American varieties) while others I’ll probably dig up this year after 4+ years of trying them out. I’ve got 13 varieties and finding 5 or six that will be keepers.[/quote]

+2. I use a lot of homegrown hops, and have some beers that are all homegrown. I pretty much started growing hops so I could make Dennys RIPA after the zombie hopocalypse. :lol:

I have the same experience as chinaksi…started with a lot of varieties, and testing out which ones will actually produce good hops. Some are totally lame and I never get a good harvest. My major players are Cascade, Mt. Hood, teh Zeus, Cents, Columbus, and the Nugget (although I have yet to use it).

One other aspect that I thought about is your rhizome stock…not all plants are the same, and I wonder if perhaps you got some questionable rhizomes? I know I have one cascade that is crap, but I got one of those cascade crowns from Freshops a few years back that throws amazing flowers.

The question of which varieties do well for home growing comes up all the time. I think it would be cool to crowd source info like mine and pinnah’s to help.

Pinnah- do you have data on how much the varieties you’re trying produce over time? I’ve been tracking dry yield of processed hops per hill for ~13 varieties at my place in Vermont. Interestingly, my data match pretty well with a rigorous study of hop production going on at the University of Vermont. If others have similar data, I could easily see creating some on-line data table to share. Maybe this is something to pitch to the AHA Research Fund. I don’t have the inclination to create the on-line structure to let folks add their own data, but that would be pretty nice to have.

I don’t have much empirical data other than what is in my head
but I do know what works in my place.

IMO, sounds like the OP bwmac2 has varieties that should work.
The American C hops all should do well
but it seems homegrown hops can be a crap shoot.

Not sure why they would smell good at harvest but not do well in the beer.
Do they change flavor and pungency from year to year?

I love using my homegrown but I will be the first to admit it is often hard to compete
with the bags of Amarillo, Citra, Simcoe, and Mosaic in the freezer! :slight_smile:
I grow a lot as ornamentals as well.

My experiences since the late 80’s-early 90’s are similar to chinaski and pinnah’s, and have grown probably 20 different varieties in 3 different states and the results are all over the board. Thinking that my Agronomy degree and love of home grown ingredients (read ‘cheapskate’) would enable me to master hop production has been kind of a moving target.

Probably the biggest factor that will determine your success is the soil. Not talking about the soil mix that you come up with to amend your planting hole with, (yes, this type of amendment will be beneficial in the short term but the plants roots will outgrow that soil within the first season), but how deep your soil goes and what natural forces created your soils will have a huge impact on your long term overall success. Generally, areas where you see centers of grape production, you will have soils that are very deep and well drained and are suitable for hop production (Finger Lakes in NY and Willamette Valley in OR). I believe that if this major part of the puzzle is in place, it will enable the plants to grow with less stress such that other parameters like disease & insect pressure will only be minor obstacles for the plants to overcome. Conversely, growing in areas with 5-10 inches of soil above solid clay, bedrock, etc, will stress these plants and magnify any other secondary problems that may arise during the growing season leading to less than optimum performance.

Climate/terroir or whatever you want to call it is also a huge factor that will impact what varieties are successful for you. Some like it hot (CTZ), others prefer a cooler climate with plenty of moisture (think British varieties grown in a maritime climate).

Some other practices such as when to string them up is variety dependent. Are they early, mid-season or late varieties and pinpointing the exact time to harvest are two other things you have to keep in mind. You may have done everything right up until harvest, but if you pick a little early or late, it can be all for naught.

So in a nutshell, hops perform best when grown at a certain latitude with decent soil and appropriate amounts of water/nutrients, with certain varieties being more vigorous than others(look at the differences in yield/acre for the same varieties when grown in different locations … 012-13.pdf). The further away you get from these optimum conditions, the further away your success may be from optimum results. Too many variables to make a definitive claim as to what will do well where. Sorry to sound like a politician but sometimes you just can’t help it. Hop On~

B-hoppy, excellent points as always.


Good input gang, thanks.

I have to admit when I started growing the hops, the ‘cool’ factor was a big influence. The more I worked with them and the more I brewed with them, the coolness factor wore off. I still find using whole hops in the boil to be a PITA. I do enjoy growing things but considering the work involved and the inconsistent results, not worth it.

I am guessing based that the soil may be a factor along with the short season.

The plants grow on a sidehill so the area is well drained. The soil is heavily amended but not deep. I use about 20 lbs of organic manure on each plant and use some slow release fish emulsion fertilizer each spring. There is a heavy clay base at about 12" depth that the roots can’t penetrate. The roots spread horizontally. I do water heavily.

The other factor I think may be the short season. I’ve had hops on the bine and apparently not ready to harvest even when the first frosts appear.

Nothing to lose so this year I’ll let them go until they look like pine cones …

You are all scaring me… I am sitting in the snow awaiting my pre-order rhizomes, thinking I’ll be flush with free hops in a couple of years.

Can’t win if you don’t play! Stick 'em in the ground and chime back in about 3 years from now, you should have a good idea of what’s what by then. In the meantime, enjoy the ride and don’t sweat it . . . and, if you do start sweating, make sure you have plenty of ale on hand, it’s all good~

I just ordered a Cascade rooted rhizome a couple of weeks ago. I read that they are one of the easier/beginner varieties to grow and I like their taste. I’ll have to remember to chime in about three years from now!

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