I’m consistently surprised at the number of home brewers who casually mention that they’re growing hops in their backyard. And if there’s not a hop bine in their backyard, there is at a friend’s place. Access to fresh homegrown hops has become commonplace, which is just awesome.
Given all the interest, it’s not hard to find information out there on drying hops post-harvest. You can use a food dehydrator, or if you want to get a bit DIY, the classic home brewer innovation is to put your hops on window screens or air filters with a box fan below. Both methods work – the hops dry out – but it’s difficult to dry a larger quantity.
There’s also the question of the quality of the hops dried with these methods. Sierra Nevada has been doing some interesting studies with the Hop Quality Group, and has found that factors such as temperature, air speed, and hop bed depth greatly influence the quality and the hop oil content of the batch.
For most home brewers, this kind of fine-tuned control is not possible. Or is it?
We’re all about precise climate control, so we’ve been making our malting technology also work as a “hop oast.” This is the traditional term for a hop drying facility, and it is equivalent to a malt kiln. In fact, they do exactly the same thing: extract moisture through the proper combination of heat and airflow. So we thought, why not kill two birds with one kiln.
It’s a fun addition to the brewhouse, and the hop kilning aroma is hard to beat. We’ve been able to dry up to 9 pounds of wet hops at a time, which can mean 2 or 3 bines, depending on the yield. At harvest time, this efficiency is important. Because when it rains hops come September, it really pours.