Eating something you grew yourself is so much more satisfying than buying it from a store. The same is true with growing your own hops and brewing beer with them. You get a much fresher and better tasting beer in my personal opinion. I remember the first time I grew hops I ended up with a much larger yield than expected. I had no clue was I was going to do with all the extra hops. I started doing some research and came across the option to dry and store them for future use. Throughout all of my research I came across several techniques and I have tested them all. The three most common ways are using an oven, a window screen, or a food dehydrator. Some of these methods area fairly simple and some are more involved, but they all get the job done. I will share my experiences and thoughts on each technique to help you decide how you will dry and store your hops.
What Does Drying do to The Hops?
Drying hops gives them a much longer shelf life and make them easier to store. Fresh hops are made up of around 75-80% water, while the dried version is only around 10% water. However, the drying process does have some negative impacts on the hops and their flavor profiles. During the drying process they lose some of their aromatics and the alpha acids which give the hops their bitterness. Even though dried hops are not as flavorful as their fresh counterparts they can still work just as well in the brewing process.
Drying with an Oven
Drying your hops out in an oven is a very simple method and almost everyone has access to all the equipment needed – an oven. Simply spread the hops out on a tray and place it in the oven. Make sure the temperature is set below 140°F and then let the oven do its job. Depending on your oven this method may not work for everyone. If the oven does not have good air flow you will end up baking the hops instead of drying them out. Another consideration with using an oven is you constantly need to check them and rotate them to allow for even drying. So, while an oven does work, it would not be my first choice.
Drying on a Window Screen
Using a window screen may seem old fashioned, but it works great! For this method you need a window screen or some other ventilated surface like cheese cloth. Place the screen or cloth on top of some chairs or buckets or whatever you have access to. Next spread the hops out on the screen and place them in a warm area (90°F+ is suggested), attics work great! Make sure the hops are not in direct sunlight and place a fan near the hops for good air circulation. Now, just wait two days and they should be all dried out. Even though this technique may seem very basic it is very popular. The only downside to it is the time it takes. If you do not have an area that is warm enough your hops will not dry out in a suitable time period. Again, once you hit that three-day mark, the oxygen will start having a negative impact on your hops.
Drying with a Food Dehydrator
Another way you can dry your hops is through the use of a food dehydrator. A food dehydrator is similar to oven expect there are two main differences. They operate at much lower temperatures and they utilize fans and vents allowing for better air flow. With these two small changes you will have much better results while drying your hops out. You don’t need to worry about cooking them due to the fact they were designed to dry food, not cook them. I personally would recommend this Nesco dehydrator from Amazon. It comes with an adjustable temperature range going down to 95°F, which is well below 140°F. It also features shelves and provides fast and even drying. With this dehydrator your hops will be dry in hours instead of days. This is my personal favorite method since it is so simple. The only negative is you have to purchase additional equipment. For those starting out that may be an investment they are not ready to make yet, but if you are growing your own hops you are probably more experienced and willing to make these sorts of purchases.
Tips for Successfully Drying Hops
While drying the hops there are several factors you need to consider for the best results. Heat, light, and oxygen can all have negative effects on the hops so the exposure time to those factors should be minimized. The temperature should not exceed 140°F, they should not be exposed to a lot of light, and the process should not take longer than 3 days. If you follow those guidelines then the hops will turn out fine, if you don’t the negative effects will start to show.
Storing the Dried Hops
Once your hops are dried, you are going to want to properly store them to get the longest possible shelf-life out of them. Similar to the drying process when you are storing your hops you want to minimize the exposure to oxygen, light, and heat. With those all minimized your hops will last much longer in storage and will taste better as well. To reduce the oxygen, you should store them in a sealed container. Mason jars work for this but vacuum sealed bags are an even better way. Vacuum sealed bags remove all the air from the bag which extends the storage life of the hops. To reduce the heat, they should be stored in a freezer. Some modern freezers have technology that alternates the temperature to reduce frost build up. If you have one of these freezers, a trick is to surround the hops with ice packs or other frozen goods to keep them at a constant temperature. If you store them in a freezer, they you are also already eliminating their exposure to light.
Growing your own hops can be fun and rewarding but sometimes you end up with too many hops. If this is the case drying and storing them for later use is the way to go. I personally would recommend using the window screen or food dehydrator method. Using an oven is also an option but I would really have to urge you to try the other ways first. With an oven you have the risk of cooking your hops instead of drying them out, resulting in unusable hops. The other two techniques are guaranteed to work with no risks. Simply follow the steps above and you will have fresh and flavorful hops to use whenever you need them. Some brewers just take them out of the freezer and throw them in, while others recommend taking them out at least 12 hours ahead of time given them a chance to thaw and breath. I’ve never noticed much of a difference either way but you can try both and see what works better for you.