Ever wonder what gives beer its refreshing blend of bitterness and aroma? Hops! This climbing vine produces hundreds of flowers commonly referred to as “cones” that contain Lupulin glands that produce both Iso-acid and oil extracts. Iso-acid is used for bittering, and the oils are used for aroma. In combination, breweries can create the perfect blend to pair with any occasion.
Hops were first known to be cultivated between the 8th and 9th century in gardens located in Bavaria and Europe. The young shoots were harvested and consumed in salads but it was not until the 11th century that hops were used for flavoring beverages.
In the 1800’s, hops were grown in New York State in massive quantities nearing 21 million pounds of dried hops. But in the 1900’s, prohibition and powdery mildew that spread rampantly through the crop destroyed New York’s hop industry.
But in recent years, hop cultivation in New York States has grown along with local micro-breweries. With the aid of improved horticultural practices and disease resistant varieties, production has returned to New York State in a big way. Steven Miller, a Cornell Cooperative Extension expert on hops estimated, “…there is a need for 400-500 acres of hops in New York to satisfy the domestic demand.” In 2011, there were only 50 acres of hops growing in New York State.
Since then, Hop yards have been popping up across the state. Hops are grown on a trellis system comprising of 24-foot wooden polls that are placed in rows ten feet apart (15 in total). Each row is composed of poles placed every 50 feet. The poles are connected with high strength wire for support, with additional string tied to allow vines to climb. This produces a V-shaped support system. Hops rhizomes are planted every three feet with their buds facing up. These hops are normally irrigated using trickle tubs with water adapters at each plant.
Hops in the Pounder Garden at Cornell Plantations.
Depending on the varieties, harvesting begins in August and ends in September. Hops are ripe when a gentle squeeze loosens the scales, admitting a light aroma. Specialized machines cut the vines and supporting wires allowing the vine to fall into a trailer or truck bed. The vines are then transported to a stationary picking machine that is capable of picking 8 acres in 10-12 hours! A picking machine strips off the flower by sending the vines through a series of cleaning chambers to remove leaves and other debris. By the end of this process, the flowers are separated and transported by a conveyor belt to the hop kiln. This hop kiln is simply a heated floor or bench that has warm air flowing through it. The hops are spread to a depth of about 32 inches and dried with air that reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which is forced through the hops. It takes nine hours to reduce the hops to the desired 30% dried green weight. Then the hops are cooled for 24 hours and compressed into 200-pound bales. Before they leave the yard, each bale is inspected and taken to a warehouse for short-term storage.
Once the hops arrive at the brewery, the culmination of flavors and aromas begins! Cornell Plantations offered a class focused on local crafted beers. Frank Purazzi, head chef at the Northstar House, guided participants through the process of food and beer pairing using fresh, locally grown ingredients and a sampling of local beers from Ithaca Beer Company.
Learn more about our Garden to Table Series that will feature Taverna Banfi & Moosewood restaurants: http://bit.ly/1jrc9uP
—Edited by Sarah Fiorello