Hops and Dreams…follow your blisters
Submitted by Colby Deighton with editing by L.Gallant
Okay, we will play a short word association game. I say one word and you say the first word that comes to your mind… Clear your mind of all other thoughts… Ready?
Did you say beer? Bitter? Hipsters? How about asparagus? How about herbal anti-anxiety medicine? As it turns out there are many little known facts about this biney (not viney) perennial crop.
It has been just over a month since we began our internship here at Hazleton Hops and with harvest time fast approaching we thought we’d lay down our latest blog topic, the one you’ve all been waiting for, all you could have hopped for…
Why grow hops?
To most it is no surprise that as a commercial operation, Hazelton Hops’ main customer is the emerging micro-brewery market. Along Highway 16, 5 new microbreweries have or are in the process of opening their doors. And even though hops are grown commercially in many parts of the world, the supply is not meeting the growing demand and availability of fresh hops is non-existent in Northern BC.
Stan Heironymus (2012) discusses, in an overture on the history and use of hops, the two main commercial types of hops: bittering and aroma hops. Furthermore, he illustrates the economic consequences of treating bittering hops as a commodity. In global markets, the concentration of Alpha- acids (the stuff that makes beer bitter) has been identified as the main determinant of a plant's quality and the price paid to farmers. A higher concentration of alphas per gram of hops means you get the same bittering effect using less hops per batch. Economics, sweet.
This also means that there is an incentive to specialize in hi-alpha strains of hops. Which is probably why, for decades, humanity has had to dredge its way through an industrial tidal-wave of barely-bittered, soda-cracker malt Buds. And because of this trend, commercial production and distribution of a wider variety of aromatic hop varieties has taken the back seat.
But the tides and tastes are changing, and independent brewers are seeking a variety of bittering and aroma hops to make such sweet nectars as only the Gods have known. It seems only fitting that there should be a local response to a local problem, and small scale commercial start-ups like Hazleton Hops are only the beginning of a shift towards local production of a a wide variety of both aroma and bittering hops.
Where can you grow hops?
And yet, one of the most common things we hear when we tell people what we are growing is, “isn’t it too cold that far up north to grow hops?” To which we respond: KNOW YOUR MICRO CLIMATE!
In all fairness though, hops truly do love heat. However, I’ve always said that "latitude attitude is crude dude". While we are at 55 degrees North, here is our more permaculture response: Hazleton Hops is located in zone 4 growing conditions, we have long sunny days in the summer, receive plenty of rain, experience above the average recommended growing degree days for hops crops and our soils are well draining and slightly acidic pH 6.4.
Resilience in Permaculture: Every element should serve multiple functions and be supported by multiple elements.
This may seem off topic, but when I was a kid and training to be a Pokemon master, I had a tendency to favour multi-class types. My favourite was when I found a water/ground type. Water Pokemon are super vulnerable to electric type Pokemon, but because it was also a ground type, that weakness was eliminated and meant that I had effectively 2 Pokemon in one. You can only carry 6 at a time so if you have a party of multi-classers your efficiency doubles! I always looked for those type of complementary functions, and still do today.
So what other functions does the hops plant provide? Well Sarah Cussom (2011) wrote in an article in Permaculture magazine that hops are used for:
Decoration: Hops can have a variety of decorative functions because they can be woven and they smell nice. Wreaths, garlands, head dresses and pot pourri are all fun suggestions for post harvest bines
Food crops: Very popular in Europe, hops shoots are considered among the world's most expensive vegetables, commanding a much higher price than prized white asparagus.". Also known as bruscandoli, luppoli and jets de houblon the shoots from hops plants in the spring can be prepared just like asparagus in recipes such as mussels steamed in cider with hop shoots, risotto of hop shoots or even pickled and served as a cocktail garnish.
Medicinal properties: This is my favourite part. The Beta Acids in hops can be used as an herbal sleep aide and anti-anxiety remedy, similar to melatonin. Folks have been known to fill a pillow with dried cones and simply refill as the effect wears off. Another method is to make a hops tincture: the essential oils that strengthen and sedate the nervous system can be dissolved in alcohol by mixing 1 part dried hops cones and 2 parts 100 proof vodka. Tinctures are also helpful because they preserve for years instead of months, take up less space, and can be administered easily by dissolving a few drops into tea or a glass of water.
So if you are starting a brewery, and losing sleep trying to figure out where you can get fresh hops in the variety of your choosing, you might want to add a bottle of our “Hops and Dreams” tincture to your next order from Hazelton Hops (coming soon).
Cussom, Sarah. (2011) . Hop It: Sarah Cussom writes in praise of this productive and versatile plant . Permaculture: inspiration for sustainable living . issue 67 .\
Heironymus, Stan . (2012) . For the Love of Hops: The Practical Guide to Aroma, Bitterness and the Culture of Hops . Brewers Publications . Boulder CO. USA