harvester

On the surface, they are attractive if unremarkable flowers, the strobiles of the humulus lupulis, or hop plant. It's what you cannot immediately see that is most marvelous about them—lupulin, a yellow, resinous powder tucked down in the folds of these thumb-sized cones that proliferate and mature on the rank vines about August 1 on the Front Range of Colorado.

So harvest is immanent and for a brewer, this is a happy time. Hops are relatively expensive to buy—up to $5 per ounce—but they are also ridiculously easy to grow. In fact, a hop plant is a monster, willing and able to climb almost any vertical surface. I've seen them cling to a telephone pole and climb more than 20 feet up. Unrestrained, they will take over any patch of ground and overwhelm anything nearby. I cut mine back at least twice a week during early spring and summer, and stricly confine their roots.

My 12' row of hops is profuse with cones and so later today, I will select the choicest ones, those that are perfectly ripe and heavy with lupulin. I will spread them out on sheets of butcher paper in a cool, dark room and let them dry for 3-4 days before vacuum-sealing and freezing them in 2 oz. packages.

Last year I pulled about 30 oz. of dried hops from my garden, saving myself perhaps $150. This was enough to supply most of my brewing needs for the year. I grow two varieties: Cascade, a mid-alpha (bitterness) American hop, for flavoring my beers, and Tettnanger, a mild German variety similar to the Czech Saaz hop in its spicy quality—my favorite choice for creating a fine hop aroma in my ales and lagers.

Like any produce I grow in my humble patch, the most satisfying thing about this process is not the cost savings. I most enjoy the absolute freshness and quality of the ingredients I generate, which shows up as Epicurean delight on the faces of family and friends who enjoy a meal here at our house. Or in this case, a frosty cold Bock, which is what I have on tap at the moment.

The Bock is a lager, cold fermented over several months, and it comes forth deep amber color, malty and strong—very strong, at more than 6% alcohol. It took me five years of experimentation and effort to coax a true Bock out of my homebrewing equipment but I finally managed it this past March. But why am I telling you this when I could show you?

Consider the soporific effect—the calmness and even drowsiness that occurs when one downs a cold draught of beer. Most people attribute this to the alcohol, and to be sure, the depressant effect of alcohol is well known. But a homebrewed ale or lager, spiced with freshly dried hops, conveys a synergistic calm to the happy consumer, courtesy of the dual effect of alcohol and lupulin.

But again, why tell when you can show?

I suppose you couldn't really taste that but I promise you—delicious and refreshing. And here comes the buzz, mild and warming. Words like "hammock" and "a good book" come to mind. It's going to be a good day. I'll leave the patrolling of the garden to my friend, the cat. He doesn't care for Bock so I'll have to finish the glass myself.