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In summer 2009 I came across a splendid hop garden in Kent, part of a multi-purpose farm with an attached shop. They said they'd have some fresh hops in September, so I duly called back and surprised them by saying I wanted some for brewing! Apparently it's more profitable nowadays to sell the bines whole, so that people can hang them up in their living rooms, presumably to remind them how beer used to smell! Anyhow, I bought one and sat down on a wall to pick off the cones, to the amusement of the other customers. I filled a large carrier bag, hiked back to the rail station and, a few hours later, emptied my catch onto a kitchen worktop.
I'd picked 3lb of a variety called Phoenix, which I gather is a seedling of
Yeoman, and similar to Challenger. I clearly had enough for
several brews, so most of them would have to be preserved by drying. Rather than
use heat, I decided to try the dark, well-ventilated environment of my loft
for the purpose.
I stapled an old length of net curtain to a piece of wood which, resting on a pile of boxes, provided a central support. Garden wire threaded through the hem (and woven through the other, unhemmed, edge) completed a double "hammock" which I slung between the purlins, with the hops spread out in a single layer. Fortunately the weather that week was mild, dry and breezy - ideal for my makeshift oast house.
After 2-3 days the weight of the hops had dropped to 40% of its initial value,
and after 7 days it was down to 30%. You're supposed to dry them until the
central stem of a cone snaps when bent. This wasn't reliably the case, but they
looked dry enough to me - any lighter and they'd start flying about in
I used one-seventh of the harvest in a trial brew, and bagged the rest, after drying, as six separate lots of 50g - with a few small cones left over for a pot-pourri. Not that I needed the latter, for by now the whole house was filled with the wonderful cigars-and-garlic perfume of hops!
Less wonderful was the sticky
yellow resin that coated everything they'd come into contact with.
In future I'll take care to wear old clothes, keep the "wet" hops in a
disposable bag, and stock up with Swarfega for hand-cleaning - ordinary soap
doesn't even begin to shift the stuff.
50g dried hops for a 5 gallon brew is my standard rate, but these were high-alpha hops, reputedly good for bittering but not so good for aroma. So I used 25g (slightly less than the usual amount) for a full 80 minute boil, and added the remaining 25g just a few minutes before the end. The grist was 96% Maris Otter pale malt, 4% light crystal malt, O.G. 1037, fermented to absolute dryness with Safale US-05 yeast.
The result was an incredibly refreshing drink, with a powerful marmalade bitterness dominating the flavour. Pictured is the first pint of - it just had to be named thus - Headless Phoenix. I'm pleased to say that the final brew, in April 2010, was every bit as good as the first.