So you have these hops growing on the side of your house. Its harvest time. Now what? First off, you should do a Fresh Hop Brew on harvest day. Nothing beats a beer made with those fresh picked hops. But for the rest? Lets protect these fragile cones as best we can! In previous years after the harvest, I would just take my dried hops, and put them in a zipper bag in the freezer. This is a bad idea. The shelf life of hops is limited, and this just shortens that life dramatically. We just spent all summer growing these little guys, so lets protect them better than that!
Hop suppliers use nitrogen to purge oxygen from the sealed bags you get at the local homebrew store. A nitrogen purge probably isn’t practical in your kitchen. So what can we do on a small scale? Vacuum Seal! It removes as much oxygen as possible with available cheap technology you may already have, and uses a double barrier plastic bag to keep oxygen from permeating back into the bag once sealed. But first we gotta dry them cones out!
Below you will see my poor man’s hop drying oast. Yep, that’s a screen door spread across two folding chairs and a fan. No heat needed here. We want to keep those super volatile oils from escaping, and on this scale we are not in any rush to get the job done. So pick your crop, spread them out thin, and get air flowing on both sides ASAP after picking. Those wet cones will start to compost in a matter of hours if left in a big pile, bag, or container. Once you have the air moving, keep the sun away from them and shuffle them around a little as they dry. I don’t think you need to get real crazy about making sure they are perfectly dry as we will be stashing them in the freezer. Just make sure they feel like soft tissue paper, super light weight but don’t fall apart or crumble as you handle them which indicates they are too dry. Microwave a few and you will get the idea of what too dry is like. Pull a few of them apart and feel the interior, as the stem inside takes the longest to dry. There actually is a technical procedure for measuring the optimal moisture content for dried hops, but lets not get too crazy here since you are not selling these. Let them go for 24 -36 hours, feel how they are, and then let them dry a bit longer if needed. Ambient air temperature and moisture content will all effect drying time.
Once dry, you are set to pack them up for a cold hibernation. I like to divide mine out into 2 or 3 ounce bags, so that I’m not opening and resealing bags with larger quantities. Use the good brand name bags. They are a multi-layer barrier construction, which offers the hops protection, and they are easier to vacuum with good air channels and seal evenly.
You don’s need a high end vac-sealer. JMan and I got ours in a tip from a homebrewing message board, that with a certain code, you could get the discontinued low end sealer direct from FoodSaver for $25 and free shipping. I have been using mine quite often. It works great for repacking larger bulk bags of hops, or sealing bags of grain etc. The chef in your household will love it too.. Sous-Vide Salmon anyone?
Once vac-packed, the hops take up a lot less space in your freezer, and will last a lot longer than regular zipper freezer bags. If you don’t have a vac-sealer, the next best thing you can do at home is get as much air as you can out of the container you are storing them in, and keep them in a thick walled, seal-able lid container, like a screw top glass jar. That will keep the oxygen out for a bit longer but use those up fast. Try and use your vac-sealed hops within 6 months of the harvest. Whole hops don’t last as long as pellet hops, so their quality degrades rapidly. Now get brewing those mash hop, first wort hop, dry hop, hops in your teeth, triple IPA Hop Delivery Vehicles!
Brew on Friends! \m/