We started brewing by purchasing an equipment kit (ale pail, carboy, siphon, capping device, etc) and an ingredient kit (grains, malt, yeast, hops). By following the directions and paying attention to detail, it's not too difficult to make very drinkable beverages. Brewing beer from kits is similar to making brownies from a boxed mix. It's easy and fun, but eventually you might want to try a recipe of your own. Growing hops made sense to us and seemed like part of the brewing adventure.
Hops are a perennial vine that flower in the late summer. They can grow twenty feet tall in one season and need sturdy structure. Pictured in the photo above are two of our three hops towers just after planting in July. We established three varieties---Cascade, Willamette, and Nugget---each in their own raised bed with a 12 foot tower. As the vines grew, we encouraged the strongest to attach to twine and clipped out the weak vines. Hops grow best in full sunshine.
At the end of the summer, all three of our hops plants produced flowers from which beer gets its aroma, flavor and distinctive bitterness. We carefully cut down the twine supporting the vines and pulled the flowers gently off the vine.
The flowers were dried in a 120 degree oven and then weighed for use. Our resident brew master refrigerated the flowers overnight and cooked up a wort the next day. It's percolating in the basement now.
We're pleasantly surprised that the vines were productive in their first year of growth. The plants will die back to the ground over winter. Next summer should produce a much bigger crop as the vines become more established.
Hops also have antiseptic qualities. I read that they're good for chicken health, so perhaps we'll have enough to share with the flock next summer. Meanwhile, Al the Cat (above) is having a small taste. Cheers!