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Hops at the heart of every beer
Craft beers are enjoying a renaissance somewhat similar to B.C. wines, and all this production has actually led to a chronic hops shortage – which is ironic because when I was growing up in Chilliwack, there were massive hops farms everywhere.
But most of these went broke for a lack of a decent market price. It seems that the demand for this humble plant has come full circle, so much so that many home gardeners have taken to growing their own.
I came across one such ingenious planting while doing a Coquitlam landscape consultation recently. The homeowner was growing four different varieties of hops on the southwest side of his house, using stringers tied up to his fascia and countersunk boards to control the suckering root systems.
He harvests the hops for use in his own craft beers and each variety has distinct flavouring characteristics.
Hops are the unfertilized seed cones of female Humulus lupulus vines and are originally native to many regions of Europe, North America and southwestern Asia.
The only other species in this genus is Humulus japonicus, or scandens, which has become a noxious weed in many parts of the United States and is not useful for flavouring beer.
There was a time when European beers were flavoured with many different herbal concoctions called ‘gruit’ – some of the plants used included Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Scotch heather (Calluna vulgaris), Sweet Gale (Myrica gale), Juniper berries, Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) and Horehound (Marrubium vulgare).
Then along came the Reinheitsgebot, or German Beer Purity Law, which standardized beer production across the Holy Roman Empire and was officially adopted in 1516. This strictly limited the ingredients to water, malted barley and hops, which is why German beers are among my favourites.
Hops were first used for brewing beer in 822 AD in Germany and were mainly adopted due to the antibacterial properties that preserved the brew, allowing it to be shipped.
Of course, if you want to try growing your own, you are going to need some sort of support system or wire for this herbaceous vine to twine around.
Start by purchasing only female cultivars (‘Centennial’, ‘Nugget’, ‘Willamette’, ‘Fuggle H’, ‘Hallertauer’, ‘Northern Brewer’, ‘Cascade – all available from Richters Herbs of Ontario), as these are the source of hops cones and the males would only pollinate them, which makes seed and ruins them for brewing.
Humulus lupulus needs six to eight hours of sun, rich well-drained soils, daily watering in the heat and extensive root pruning in spring to keep them from taking over your garden.
You can also find complete instructions on harvesting and curing hops at www.brewersfriend.com, under ‘Fall Hop Harvest Guidelines’.
Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author.