The hop harvest is upon us!
Hops come but twice a year: once in the northern hemisphere and once in the southern. Whether you grow hops in your backyard, purchase in bulk from the farm, or buy as you go at ye olde homebrew store, knowing how to store those bitter cones of joy is key to keeping them fresh and in top condition. Here’s what you need to know.
- Keep hops away from oxygen. Oxygen is bad, bad, bad for your hops, and limiting exposure to O2 is critical to long-term storage. Professional growers and distributors store and ship hops in nitrogen-flushed or vacuum-sealed bags. Nitrogen probably isn’t an option for homebrewers, but if you keep a lot of hops around, it’s well worth investing in a home vacuum sealer. Some models can accommodate a mason jar attachment, which will suck the air right out of a glass jar, a good option if you need to get in and out of your stash frequently. Vacuum sealers are also great for storing leftovers and playing pranks on your co-workers. Imagine the hijinks that will ensue when Bob from accounting comes back from vacation to find his mouse, pens, stapler, and employee-of-the-month award all safely vacuum-sealed and floating in the aquarium.
- Keep hops away from heat. Generally speaking, the colder you store your hops, the longer they’ll last, not just in terms of aroma and flavor, but also with respect to alpha acid preservation. The best spot is in the bottom of a chest freezer, one that you haven’t modified for fermentation. The freezer in your kitchen fridge will work, too, but today’s frost-free models go through cycles of cold and relative warmth to keep frost at bay. Try surrounding your hops with frozen water bottles or ice packs to stabilize the temperature.
- Keep hops away from light. If you keep those hops in the freezer, which you should, then light shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Nonetheless, it’s worth considering, especially if you have energy-inefficient loved ones who like to stand with the freezer door open as they evaluate their snacking options. The easiest solution is to just keep your vacuum-sealed hops in a trash bag or other opaque container. A higher-tech option is to use Mylar-lined oxygen-barrier vacuum bags, which have the added bonus of being completely impervious to oxygen.
Along with avoiding oxygen, heat, and light, remember that if you grow your own hops and aren’t using them right away in a wet-hopped beer, you’ll also want to dry your hops before storage.
Properly stored hops will last for at least a year, and with the right attention to detail, it’s not uncommon to get several years out of them. Just get them right back into a cold, dark, oxygen-free environment right after you use what you need.
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Dave Carpenter is editor-in-chief of Zymurgy magazine and author of The Illustrated Guide to Homebrewing. He is an avid homebrewer, an inquisitive traveler, and, despite his surname, an ineffectual woodworker. Dave lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, with his wife, two cats, and countless unfinished projects.