Hop Rhizomes: Getting to the Root of Brewing
Part 1 of 3
Hops come in an industry stable form, nicely pelletized, vacuum sealed on nitrogen and include the alpha and beta acid levels right on the package. There are over 70 varieties of hops in a climate controlled freezer at Northern Brewer just waiting to be purchased.
So why grow your own hops? Because For starters, it is a darn cool plant. Hops will grow 6 to 12 inches a day, topping out at 16 to 20 feet by July 1st. It is also a beautiful and resilient plant once established. If you treat them well, a freezer full of freeze-dried hops will allow you to laugh in the face of variety shortages and the possibility that everybody will be making a Cascade or Centennial IPA this summer.
In my case, it is a salute to my heritage. When my family emigrated from England to Oneida, New York, resting in Sussex, Wisconsin in the mid-1800s, the first crop they grew was hops. It was important to me to get hops re-established on the same land my family homesteaded in 1840. The Sussex/Lisbon Historical Society archives include correspondence my ancestors wrote to relatives in Peasmarsh, Sussex County, England where the hop harvest and wholesale prices were discussed. A good year here was $13 per hundred weight versus $11.
Shortly after the Civil War, Weaver Bros. Hops Brokers and Dealers (upon hearing of a hop blight in Europe from relatives) bought all the hops futures they could get their hands on. They made enough money that some hop farmers were able to pay off all their debts in one season. However, this market boom was followed shortly by the inevitable glut when the price collapsed, and many moved on to dairy farming to supply milk, butter, and cheese for Milwaukee.
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Cool. I like the history in this story. I am about to order some hops as well. Looking forward to parts 2 and 3.
The pictures show our 16’ hop stand which is also a raised bed (very recently built in the picture). We received Cascade and Columbus last year. We only had (1) of the (4) Columbus rhizomes take to the vine but all (4) Cascades grew perfect. I used the same water, soil and obviously weather conditions were exactly the same. The only thing you can’t see is the divider I built to separate the varieties. I wish I had a picture to share of the hops in full growth. They all met at the top of the and had to start hanging (16’ just wasn’t enough). I’m curious if the varieties have the potential to become hybrids because they meet at the same point at the top? Anyways, you can get an idea from the picture of how many hops we were able to harvest at the end of the first year from the massive vacuum bags.
My brew buddy and I were blown away at how fast they grow and how much we yielded in the first year. We are going to add to our varieties (Chinook & Willamette) and do some better planning for the next hop bed. It was more work than expected and I was really religious on the watering schedule and hops are pretty cheap. But it’s cool as F*&% and visitors seemed impressed. I think they would have been just as good without my diligence (OCD’s) and I can’t wait to grow more, use them for home brewing and learn more about them.
I am related to the very same Weaver clan that you mention in your article and have heard this story of my family before. I wonder if we are related Robb? I am also curious about the photo and who the people in it are. I am a home brewer and have been growing my own hops for 4 years now ( Cascade and Nugget). I recommend that everyone who brews try growing hops. Harvesting and drying your hops is easy but nothing beats making a Wet Hop brew using your own fresh hops. I look forward to harvest time each year now. Cheers!