Sunday, 15 February 2015

Growing Hops in Ireland - FAQ


Introduction

Peter's Oast House in Kent, one of
the few traditional Oast Houses in
England still in use

Long story short, a few years ago I was interested in growing hops commercially in Wexford with my buddy Fergus. As part of our research I visited the some lovely people in Kent who are involved in the industry and have been for quite some time, including Peter Hall, a fascinating gentleman who has been growing hops on the family farm for decades. Peter has the largest "tall hop" organic hop farm in the UK with over two thousand Target plants in a hop garden of around one hectare. The information I gathered while I was there I have gathered and compiled into this FAQ. I hope you find it useful!


I want to grow hops. Where can I buy them?
I have used Eickelmann in Germany and Essentially Hops in Kent. I have visited Essentially Hops at Chalkpit Farm and met with the owners Amanda and Mike Barker and I highly recommend them.

Corridor in Peter's hop garden.
Target is the only variety grown.
What are rhizomes?
Technically bulges or lumps in the roots that are food stores, but people use the term to refer to a section of root that has a rhizome or two, i.e. a root cutting.

Is it necessary to buy/acquire rhizomes?
No. Transplanting root cuttings during the growing season will work just fine.

What's a root cutting?
The easiest way to propagate a plant is to do a root cutting: Find a shoot that is 25-50mm above soil and gently dig back the soil around it. When you have around the same length of root exposed, snip it and transplant it to a medium sized pot of good quality compost. Place the pot somewhere where it will get lots of sunlight and easy conditions, like a kitchen window or a greenhouse. Do not let it dry out. When it has outgrown the pot then it's time to move it outdoors to a more permanent location.

What varieties will grow well for me?
If growing outdoors: English varieties do well, German do surprisingly well, American don't do so well. New Zealand varieties are nearly all proprietary. All will grow, but with varying amounts of success. The further north you are the shorter your day, which in theory will affect growth, but for an amateur grower in Ireland this is unlikely to matter. Alternatively anything will grow well in a poly tunnel!

Hold on, what are "proprietary" hops?
Varieties which are genetically "copyrighted", and cannot be grown without a licence from their owner. Hops marked with a ® or ™ means a licence is required (and in many cases not available) and as a general rule the New Zealand varieties are proprietary. Most of the US proprietary varieties originate from a small number of farms/breeders but unfortunately the own the majority of the "hipster" hops. Fortunately the venerable Cascade is not proprietary, as it was developed by the USDA, a public body. Most recent English hops were developed at Wye College, also a (formerly) publicly funded institution, so most are also free, e.g. Wye Target, although Charles Faram is breeding new proprietary hops in England.

What sort of conditions do I need to grow hops?
Hops need shelter from the wind. This is critical. They do need air circulation though, to help prevent mildews. After that they need plenty of sunlight and unless you can grow them in a southerly or south westerly aspect they may not get enough sunlight, in which case they won't produce any cones.

How big will plants grow?
Hops have a tendency to wind themselves around something and full height plants ("tall hops") will typically grow to 20 feet/6 metres. There are however some dwarf varieties which will only grow to between 8 and 12 feet/2.5 to 4 metres.

Do I need to erect wirework or some sort of trellis for my plants to climb?
That depends. Bines will need something to climb: They will climb up other vegetation, like trees, and on fences etc but you may need to provide them with something more suitable to climb on if they're not doing very well.

I'm going to put up some ropes or wires for them to climb. What should I used?
Traditional growers in England use coir rope, a rough rope made from coconut hair, but that's not readily available here. What works fine is any sort of rough rope like clothes-line rope (nylon) which can be had in any Tesco or Woodies etc. Coir rope has the advantage of being bio-degradable, so when cutting down bines the coir rope can be cut down too.

How many ropes should I provide?
Commercial growers provide each hop hill (i.e. plant) with typically four ropes and will train three to four of climbers up each rope. Your mileage may vary, especially in year one and two.

Will they grow in pots?
Yes, but not well, and will be pot bound (i.e. the smaller the pot the smaller the plant). This limits their chances of producing cones. If potting use John Innes No.3 compost, available from good garden centres (The Orchard in Celbridge has it).

What sort of soil do they need?
Deep, rich soil, on a dry bottom. Brick earth over chalk is ideal. Good soil moisture and fertility are essential in order to sustain growth of the hop plant each year. The ground should be generally well pulverised and manured to considerable depth by plough or spade before planting.

When do they need to be planted?
Like any other perennial plant, they're dormant in the winter, and come to life around March.

What kind of fertilizers do I need?
They should be planted in manured soil, and in February treated with a fertilizer rich in phosphorous and potassium before the plant begins the growing year. During the growing season they need to be fertilized with nitrogen. (I cannot recommend any particular fertilizers, but I see mention of tomato plant food which can be had in any garden centre or Tesco, Woodies, etc)

My plant has started growing and the first shoot is growing very fast!
Pinch it out, i.e. cut it off. The first grower has very long internodal gaps (i.e. the length of stem between nodes, where the hops will appear), and for its size it will give less cones than slower growing ones. Commercial growers pinch out the first grower and then will cultivate 12 to 16 growers from each hop hill (i.e. plant), training them as required. Additional growers are also pinched out, as they only use up resources.

The tip of a grower has been broken off, what now?
One of the laterals (i.e. sideways growing shoots) at the node below the break will take over, and will start to grow up. i.e. don't worry, it'll sort itself out.

What pests am I likely to have to deal with, and how do I deal with them?
Very small green spiders called aphids. These are very common, and usually hide on the bottoms of the leaves. Less common is greenfly. Fortunately the treatments are simple. You can spray the whole plant with soapy water when it's raining (when it's not raining it can be difficult to cover the whole plant). This drowns the buggers. You can also use a domestic pesticide. Or the most environmentally friendly way is to make sure your garden has a good stock of ladybirds, as they eat all the various pests.
Powdery mildew
(photo from Wikipedia)

What diseases am I likely to come across?
Damp conditions and poor ventilation will lead to mildew. There are two types, downy and powdery. Both are white, powdery looking, look like they will rub off, but won't rub off. Downy mildew occurs on the bottom of leaves, powdery occurs on the tops of leaves. The conditions that encourage mildews on hops will also encourage them on other plants.

There is white stuff on my leaves, help!
It's mildew. See the above.

There are little green things that look like tiny spiders all over the bottoms of my leaves, help!
Aphids. See the bit on pests, above.

My leaves are poorly and turning brown/black at the edges, help!
Not limited to, but probably wind burn. The location is not sheltered enough from the wind.

What is verticillium wilt?
Also known as vert and wilt, and officially known as Verticillium dahliae. As we have no native hops industry in Ireland this does not exist in hops in Ireland. That's not to say it doesn't exist in Ireland as it does on many plants including strawberries. The isolate which affects hops though is not common here (and is not the same as with strawberries) so you're very unlikely to be affected by it. It is a fungus in the soil, and it destroyed large swathes of the English hop industry. It still exists in pockets in England, but is treated very seriously, like TB in cattle is treated here.

How will I know when it's time to harvest?
Hops are generally ripe for picking around late August to mid September. Different varieties are early, mid, or late-season croppers, so all your plants may not be ready for harvest at the same time. You will generally know as the cones will still be green, will have stopped growing, and the texture will have started to turn papery.

How should I pick my hops?
You can pick them by hand off the bine, or you can cut down the bines completely and bring them into a shed or garage and pick them there. The latter is really a necessity with tall hops.

How much can I expect to get per plant?
A plant will take three years to establish before it produces a full crop, and then with good growing conditions you could expect between 2 and 3kg of wet hops per plant.

What are wet hops?
Wet or green hops are fresh off the bine and have a very high moisture content.

Can I use wet hops to make a brew?
You can, but if your recipe calls for a certain amount of dried hops you will need approximately five to six times as much wet hops.

Should I dry my hops?
If you plan on storing them for a while then you must try them.

How can I dry them?
It's easy to get carried away with elaborate systems for drying hops, but left in a paper bag
in the hot-press ("airing cupboard") for 24-48 hours will usually suffice, and is cheap and simple.

How will I know how much Alpha Acids are in my homegrown hops?
You will need toluene and a UV-vis spectrophotometer. If you don't have those you won't know for sure but expect it to be within the typical range of the variety. If there was good sunshine and general growing conditions that alpha acids are likely to be a bit towards the higher end, and conversely the opposite applies if conditions were poor. Also, if you're going a US variety our really good summers are their average to poor summers so you'll need to take that into account.

What should I do with my plants for the winter?
If in the ground they will usually survive the winter without any problems. However if there are signs that we are going to have winters like those of 2009 and 2010 then it would be advisable to cover the hills with plastic. If you are growing in pots then move the pots inside to protect from hard frost.

What is vernalistion?
Vernalisation (from Latin: vernus, of the spring) is the acquisition of a plant's ability to flower or germinate in the spring by exposure to the prolonged cold of winter. After vernalisation, plants have acquired the ability to flower, but they may require additional seasonal cues or weeks of growth before they will actually flower. Ironically this means if we have a very mild winter then there is the risk that plants will not flower the following year. Some hop plants are more sensitive than others and it is the considered opinion that Boadicea (bred to be aphid resistant) for example will not grow in Ireland as the winter is too mild.

Are there any wild hops in Ireland?
Yes. There was a hop growing programme in Ireland which started in the 1960s and was centred around Bennetsbridge in Co. Kilkenny. However a century or two earlier some large estates would have had their own beer brewed and some would have grown hops (not all as a lot of beer in Ireland didn't contain any hops). Indeed Arthur Guinness's father, Richard, was employed by the Archbishop of Cashel, Arthur Price, and used to brew beer for his estate in a brewery close to where the RC church in Celbridge now stands. Price is buried in St. Mary's CofI church on Main St., Leixlip, down the street from where Arthur's first brewery (in his own name) stood.

(I plan to do a more complete history of hops in Ireland a bit later)

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Gelatinisation of a Nation

I've been getting ready to do brew my next lambic brew so I've been reading up on gelatinisation again as I'll be using Gain Feeds whole wheat that I bought from my local Glanbia Farm Shop in Rathcoffey. When using raw cereals (wheat, oats, or even potatoes) in brewing a cereal mash is required to release starches which can later be broken down into sugars by enzymes during the sacchrification rest in a regular mash. This is done using water and heat to break up starch granules. The minimum temperatures for common adjuncts are
  • Barley: 60-65°C
  • Wheat: 58-64°C
  • Rye: 57-70°C
  • Oats: 53-59°C
  • Corn (Maize): 62-74°C
  • Rice: 68-78°C
  • Potato: 57-65°C 

Wikipedia defines it as so:
Starch gelatinisation is a process of breaking down the intermolecular bonds of starch molecules in the presence of water and heat, allowing the hydrogen bonding sites (the hydroxyl hydrogen and oxygen) to engage more water. This irreversibly dissolves the starch granule in water.

You can bypass the cereal mash by using flaked or torrified grains as they've already had their starches exposed.

I stumbled across a few YouTube videos showing the starch granules physically breaking up during gelatinisation and releasing their contents. If a picture speaks a thousand words...

Potato lambic anyone? There's an idea.


Thursday, 29 January 2015

Galway Sour Beers

While I was in Galway recently I took the opportunity to hook up with Tom Delaney, home brewer turned pro brewer, and full time employee with Galway Bay Brewery. Tom is like myself with an interest in sour beers, but is lucky enough to have an employer that allows him limited scope to experiment with sour beers, the first of which was a "dark sour", or a sort of black Berliner Weisse style beer titled "Heathen", released shortly before Christmas 2014. Crossed wires and an unwillingness to travel too far from the bus or train lines have so far conspired to prevent me from sampling Heathen, but the reports from t'internet so far seem to indicate that even at a diminutive 3% it is a very good beer indeed. To date it is only the second intentionally sour beer brewed commercially in Ireland (the first being Scarlet from White Gypsy).

Pellicle forming on Tom's next brew
The head space is kept full of nitrogen gas
I met Tom at the brewery in Ballybrit Industrial Estate in Galway city where he gave me a tour of the facility and explained his process. Tom makes up a starchy wort of mostly barley malt and torrified wheat, and then spikes it with a couple of scoops of Weyermann acidulated malt. Acid malt has undergone a process at the maltster whereby lactic bacteria that naturally occur on-grain are encouraged to grow and produce lactic acid. The process is halted once the desired levels are reached. This lactic acid then remains on the grain and can be used to all sorts of effect in brewing where lowering pH is required. It's not strictly speaking wild, as it's restarting a process Weyermann had put a stop to, but it produces some fairly good results, and it's reasonably predictable (read: repeatable). Tom relies on taste to determine when the acid levels are to satisfaction rather than measuring pH, sampling every couple of hours. He makes sure the wort is protected from an onset of latent acetobacter by keeping head space filled with nitrogen gas. When he's happy with the level of sourness, usually within 20 to 30 hours, the boil will take place to kill everything and halt the progress of the lacto (and anything else). The boil is 15 minutes and the hops are added once the boil starts rolling.

Heathen

50% Weyermann Bohemian pilsner malt
30% Weyermann torrified wheat
17% Weyermann malted oats
3% Weyermann acid malt
8 IBU Goldings

SG 1.032
FG 1.005
(Heathen actually finished at 1.008 due to temperature slippage near the end of fermentation)

Long single infusion mash at 65°C (simpler than a step mash to save time, but if you wanted you could do a step mash at home), wort is transferred to kettle and cooled to 40°C, where it's kept till nice and sour as outlined above.

An unusual feature of Heathen is its colour, which was the idea of Chris Treanor, the head brewer at Galway Bay. Tom says
For blackening I cold steeped 25kg Carafa III for 16 hours. I used a very large fine filter hop bag in my mash tun. All this thick black syrup gets added to the boil kettle. That full bag blackened 1300 litres of pale wort. Not sure what that works out at on a 5 gallon level.
Gordon Strong would be proud! (Gordon advocates not mashing dark grains) For a 20 litre batch that works out about 400g.

After the 15 minute boil is finished the wort is chilled to 26°C and Wyeast saison yeast is pitched to finish the job, as it's one of very few yeasts that can operate at such a low pH. (Danstar Belle Saison tried and failed!)

This is the kind of beer that doesn't benefit a lot from ageing so it's force carbonated to a fairly high level and served fresh in the brewery's tied bars.

Other Sours

During my visit to the brewery it was nice to get a taste of a sour IPA from the fermenter, another one off, this time Chris's concept, soured in a similar way to Heathen, and only missing a name at this point. Full of grapefruit and orange citrus tang, this quite tasty brew should be making its way to Galway Bay bars soon.

While Galway Bay Brewery is not set up for full sour production, replete with barrels and brett, it is great to see experimentation and a willingness to venture outside the holy trinity that so many other breweries are constrained by.

Wishing Tom and the rest continued success!

The man himself in the brewhouse
Shiny tanks. The one in the foreground second from right has the sour IPA.


Sunday, 18 January 2015

Lambic: Brewing Up A Barrel - Part 1

One of the benefits of being involved with like minded people in the locality is that a project which is out of reach for one person is not necessarily out of reach for a group. In fact it might be perfectly suited to one.
Our first barrel, a whiskey barrel
filled with imperial stout

We had previous experience as a group brewing an imperial stout and ageing it in an ex-Bushmills whiskey barrel (itself and ex-bourbon barrel from the US), which I had the pleasure of homing in my garden shed for around 8 months. Indeed it surpassed all expectations and gave me the determination in January 2014 to reach higher with the next brew: a bona-fide, barrel aged lambic. The first barrel of lambic anywhere in Ireland ever.

So I asked around as to what would be a suitable barrel. The Bushmills barrel was ruled out straight away as being too flavoursome. Ironic, but nonetheless true. Following up an imperial stout which itself had followed up cask strength whiskey would result in too much flavour being imparted into the lambic. What we needed was a wine barrel.



The barrel in GG's minivan.
Sourcing a wine barrel
A quick Google lead me straight to Kelly Wine Barrels in Tipperary who stocked a wide variety of fresh barrels in very good condition. A quick call to Tom, a fellow sour beer fan from Tipperary and one of the local home brewers was dispatched to Tipperary in his Citroen minivan. €90 and a few hours later he arrived back at my house with a fantastic Spanish oak barrel. I'm not sure what was in it beforehand, whatever it was, it was red. Probably wine but it might have been port. Either way the barrel was perfect.

Yeast
While the barrel was being sorted research was going on into a suitable "yeast" to use, eventually settling on East Coast Yeast as a supplier. ECY is a relative newcomer to the scene, and well received in their native US. I say "their" but it appears ECY is a one man show as the only person we dealt with over the next few days was Al Buck. Al had never shipped to Ireland before and we had never bought yeast directly from the US before so there was a bit of flaffing around before we eventually found expedited shipping for a reasonable cost. Once we did we fired off our order to Al, and simultaneously ordered our oud bruin barrel pitches.

Two days later ECY01 BugFarm (and ECY23 Oud Brun, more on that later) arrived, packed in a well insulated box with cool packs. Receiving goods from outside the EU can raise a demand from Customs & Excise for duty and VAT, but fortunately such a demand didn't materialise in this case. Each pitch is 125ml and as we bought one pitch for every 20L that would be in the barrel we didn't need to make a starter. It's important not to make starters with pitches like this or with White Labs WLP655 for example, as to do so will throw the ratio of organisms out of kilter.

ECY01 BugFarm, fresh from the US

Al describes BugFarm as
A mixed culture of wild yeast and lactic bacteria to emulate sour or wild beers such as lambic-style ales. Over time displays a citrus sourness and barnyard funk profile. Contains yeast (Saccharomyces, Brettanomyces) and lactic bacteria (Lactobacillus, Pediococcus). The Brett population is typically >50% of the culture pitch. The blend of strains change every calendar year for those who like to blend or have solera projects.   The 2014 version contains a wild Saccharomyces yeast, four brett strains, various lactobacilli and Pediococcus. 
Interestingly ECY01 changes every year (and our 2015 lambic barrel is about to start!) and that's the description of the 2014 version. Unfortunately I didn't save the description of the one we bought but while it's not the same, it's broadly similar (mental note: ask Al and update).

Recipe & Ingredients
Once we had the pitches sorted it was time to decide on the recipe which for a lambic would be very simple: just do what the professionals do: two thirds pilsner malt to one third unmalted wheat, neither of which are too exotic. Most of us had lager malt from the Malting Company of Ireland in Cork, but sourcing unmalted wheat required a trip to the farm shop as it's frequently used in animal feed. (Sometimes I hear silly statements about animal feed not being "food grade" which is ridiculous -- if the animals can eat it and we can eat the animals, then it's food grade). Fortunately there's a Glanbia farm shop in Mullingar where a 25kg bag can be had for the bargain price of €5.75. Glanbia farm shops are located all over the country except really for the Dublin area, but are well worth a visit if you're looking for grains. The only other requirement was some old hops, which wasn't a problem between us.

Popcorn
I think it's appropriate at this point to mention "popcorn". The lady in the shop said the wheat might have acid on it, that he would know when he opened the bag if there was a waft from it. This was news to us and generated a bit of consternation. I phoned my college buddy and farmer Fergus in Wexford to ask him what that was about. Fergus informed me of propanoic acid which is better known in farming circles as "popcorn". Propanoic acid is a harmless naturally occurring acid which is applied grains to stop them from sprouting in storage and was nothing to be concerned about. You can read more about it on Wikipedia

The Mash
What a lambic gains in terms of grist simplicity it loses again when it comes to the mash schedule. A turbid mash is what's used by most lambic brewers, seemingly to make a cloudy wort with plenty of long chain carbohydrates. With that in mind and after doing a lot of research, this mash schedule was was basically copied from Wyeast. (Edit 01/01/15: In hindsight, this is needlessly complicated)

Cereal/single infusion mash for a 22L batch:

  1. Dough in with 1.76kg Wheat, 0.352kg Pilsner malt and 8.91L water @ 60°C.
  2. Increase to 100°C, and hold for ~30 minutes.
  3. Add remaining 3.168kg malt and 2.97L water. Adjust mash to 70°C, and hold for ~2 hours, stirring continuously, and rest for 30 minutes.
  4. Sparge with 19.4L water at 95°C.
  5. Two hour boil with ~55g hop addition @ 60 minutes.


Step 2 requires applying heat directly to the mashtun so would only work for those brewers who had the right set-up, namely metal pots. Roger didn't, so he designed a multi step infusion mash schedule which is a lot simpler as each step just requires adding the right amount of water.

Step mash:

  1. Dough in at 45°C for 15 minutes
  2. Rest at 50°C for 15 minutes
  3. Rest at 65°C for 45minutes
  4. Rest at 70°C for 30 minutes
  5. Mash out 76°C and sparge with 88°C water
Of course the actual quantities added depend on the the size of the grist.

Coming up Part 2 - The Brew Day

Monday, 12 January 2015

Introduction

Well, I've been meaning to do this for a while. Start a brewing blog that is, but I didn't want to do a blog if it was going to be just another blog about brewing. There are enough of those already!

My esteemed home brewing (now pro brewing) colleague Matthew Dick introduced me to sour beers in Dublin's WJ Kavanagh's in early 2013 and the beer itself was a revelation. Since then I have found myself obsessed with sour beers, with a matching thirst for knowledge. Little did I realise at the time how fascinating a world it would be, with the multitude of organisms far beyond Saccharomyces Cerevisiae. It happened almost by chance. And for that I thank you Matty my man.

Through this blog I plan to chronicle my experiences of brewing sour beer. I plan where possible to do as the Belgians do and kick off some spontaneous fermentations for some truly local brews, some of which I started before this blog, in the hope that it would be useful to other brewers of sour beers, especially Irish ones.