Searching for the line between "hobby" and "obsession"

Hop Crop

July 2012 hop crop update

The bines are still going crazy! I’ve basically given up trying to keep them looking trim. Actually, my wife suggested I let them go a bit so that we could use them to create some privacy in our yard. It’s definitely worked.

Hop cones have formed on each of the plants already. Below are pics. (more…)

Holy hops!

Year two of growing hops in my backyard is crazy compared to the first. Granted, we’ve had an extremely warm spring and a wet May, but DAMN. It’s mid-June and I’ve already run out of vertical (and for some plants, horizontal) space for them to grow. What are these plants going to do for the next three months??? I’m hoping the answer is “make hop cones” instead of consuming my family like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

These pics were taken in mid/late May:


Hop farm season 2

It’s been an incredibly warm spring in Minnesota. We were briefly hitting mid-70’s as early as the second week in March. Though it cooled off quite a bit later in March and early April, my hop plants took early-March’s cue and started to come up. Check out the Centennial plant on April 7th:

I uncovered all the plants a week later so I could bury the chicken wire around them to keep the rabbits away. They’d already chewed a few bine shoots before I caged up the plants. Bastards!

Here are all the plants after I uncovered them on 4/14 prior to caging them up: (more…)

Wet Dog Pale Ale is ready!

My wet (and dry) hopped pale ale made exclusively with my own hops is now bottle-conditioned and ready just in time for Thanksgiving! It turned out a lot like a softer, less-hoppy version of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I am very pleased with the results and excited to use my own hops in future brew sessions.

Winterizing the hop bines

Back on 10/30/11, I decided it was finally time to take down my hop bines for the year. I did a little research on how to prep them for winter and in an effort to be able to cut rhizomes for friends in the spring. Since there seems to be a lot of conflicting information out there on how to best go about cutting rhizomes, I took all the most common threads and combined them to create an action plan.

I cut my bines down to roughly 6-12″ from the ground, dug small trenches for the above-ground sections and buried them as best I could. I set a brick on top of each of the buried bines to get them to stay under the soil without having to bend them at too harsh an angle. Then I took leaves I’d raked and piled them 6″ over the buried bines, finally covering the leaves with burlap and securing everything with another brick or two. And now, we play the waiting game until March/April.  (more…)

Wet Dog Pale Ale

Season 1 of my hop crop harvest culminated this past weekend with – what else – a wet hop brew day! October 1st seemed an appropriate a day as any to pick the last of my hops and dump ’em into a boiling batch of pale ale. Fortunately I had some much needed help from my buddy Dave to get all those wet hops picked while the grains were still mashing.

In addition to the roughly 10 oz. of hops I’d picked and dried (which was roughly 60 oz. wet) in the three separate harvest days prior to this, Dave and I managed to pick about 18 oz. (wet) on brew day which, if dried, would have been roughly 3 oz.

As you may have noticed, I’ve generally shied away from brewing standard or classic styles since I started nearly two years ago. I’ve sought out more adventurous recipes because 1) I can get bored of the basic styles and if I have 5 gallons of the stuff on hand, that can be a problem, and 2) it’s a lot easier to know that I messed up slightly if I I’m brewing a standard recipe, and knowing that reduces my enjoyment of the batch. BUT… I decided a basic pale ale recipe would be a great choice to show off my very own hops grown in the back yard. No complex malt profile or yeast characteristics to hide behind. The hop profile will be right up front and the batch will live or die by it. (more…)

Hop crop yields, 2011

*UPDATE 11/4/11 – added yields from 10/16 and 10/30, the latter of which was the date I took the bines down and just dumped whatever I could pull off them into the bucket. Let’s call it a “proprietary blend.”


Just did the math on exactly how many ounces (dried) of hops my five plants yielded this, their first season. For historical record purposes… here’s what I’ve got as of 10/2/11:

 Harvest day:  Centennial  Cascade Northern Brewer/ Hallertau Blend of all:






























 Total oz. dried:





SUM for 2011:



Hop pickin'

Not sure I ever mentioned this, but back in June after we got back from Europe, I got myself a promotion for the 4th time in 6 years working at this company that produces websites for law firms. I’ve been a content writer, project manager, senior writer on a team of bloggers, and am now a team lead (essentially a manager) of a group of 11 web developers. The formal move into management has been really exciting but also a lot of work. Consequently my free time during the week has diminished quite severely, and in looking at the number of posts on here as of late, it shows.

Don’t think that this inactivity in blog land has a direct  correlation to the amount of beer-related activities I have going on. It certainly does not. I just haven’t had much time to sit down and write about them. I’ll try and catch up here over the next week or so.

FOR EXAMPLE… I posted near the beginning of September that I had started to harvest the hops I’d grown in my backyard this past summer. I only took about a third of the hops off at that point, as the rest were too young for harvest. Well, since then I’ve actually harvested on two more weekends (9/24 and 9/30-10/1) for a total 2011 1st year yield of roughly 80 oz. wet, or roughly 13 oz. dried.

Below are pics from hop harvests on 9/24 and 10/1:

10 oz. Centennial picked on 10/1 and used to wet hop a batch same day

More pics here: (more…)

Hop harvest 2011 begins

While checking out the progress of my hop plants, I noticed some of the cones were becoming pretty dry on the bine and aromatic when squeezed. Thus, I decided to initiate my first hop harvest! I took about 1/3rd to 1/2 of the hops on the Cascade, maybe 1/6th of the Centennials, and a total of 1 and 3/8ths oz. (undried) of Northern Brewer plus a few Hallertau cones and zero Chinook cones, as those bastards are just starting to form.

I picked them on 9/11/11. The cones I took were in a variety of stages, from overdone to perhaps a bit underdone. I’m worried that there is a frost warning out for the night of Wednesday into Thursday and what that could do to the cones yet to be picked… It’s frustrating because they’re just NOT ready yet, but chilly Minnesota is about to kill them before they have a chance to become ready for picking! Agh! I may throw a sheet over the plants that night to try and keep ’em going. I suppose as the years go on, I’ll have such a high yield that I’ll be thankful I won’t get the chance to pick them all but this is kind of a bummer in my first season, where I’m guessing I’ll only get two or three ounces.

For now, I’ve got the maybe 10 oz. (undried) that are drying on a screen on the porch, which gets pretty hot during the day. I’ll probably try and package them Tuesday or Wednesday night.  (more…)

August hop crop update

Things have been going very well at the Barking Dog Brewery hop farm considering it’s only season 1 for these five plants. I already have a lot of hops (maybe a quart’s worth?) on the Cascade bine, a handful with many more tiny buds on the Centennial and just a few on the Northern Brewer and Hallertau plants. The Chinook plant is just now starting to grow a few small buds, but it appears to have mainly focused on growing in length instead of on hop production thus far. In fact, it’s definitely the longest plant by far, reaching completely over the Hallertau plant and now almost touching the Cascade plant.

The pictures of the hop cones/buds below below were taken on 8/23/11.

Northern Brewer - one of just a few growing cones

Check out the rest here:


July Hop Crop Update

Thought it was time for a little update on the hop crop situation here at Barking Dog Brewery. The pictures below were taken last weekend, Sunday July 31st. At that time, some hop cone buds had begun to form on the Cascade and Centennial plants. Their horizontal/lateral growth seems to have slowed a bit so as to accommodate for the change in priorities. In the week since these pictures were taken, the Chinook plant has started to join the cone club, though it’s horizontal/lateral growth may just now be on the cusp of slowing. This is good, as the Chinook plant has run out of lateral room to grow and is now starting to invade the unoccupied space devoted to the Hallertau plant (which, along with the Northern Brewer plant has not had much horizontal success beyond three or four feet and isn’t yet displaying any beginnings of hop cones).

Based on the number of cone buds evident on the Cascade, Chinook and Centennial plants as of 8/6/11, I’m actually kind of excited about the potential yield of my plants considering they’re all only in season one. I’m planning to do a wet-hopped IPA (or maybe it turns out more like a pale ale?) around the beginning of October when I’m guessing I’ll be harvesting my crop. I’ll have to keep a close eye on the buds though, and may have to be a little flexible with my brew date for that particular batch.


Setting up my trellises

My hops grew about two feet during the three weeks I was over in Europe. I went right to work setting up a formal trellis system the weekend I got back, as most of the plants didn’t have much more room to grow upwards. I rented a post hole auger and dug 2 ft. holes in the ground to help support the 8 ft. landscaping timbers. I also used 300 lbs. of fast-drying Quickcrete (the red 50 lb. bags). to secure each support timber in place. I’m using eye screws and rope to give the hops room to grow sideways another few feet after they surpass the six feet of height available.

All in all, the entire project probably took me five or six hours, start to finish. Would have been so much more work had I not rented the auger, and that part was actually a lot of fun. Total cost? Somewhere in the neighborhood of $100.

Here’s the finished product: (more…)

All the plants made it!

Yes, all the plants appear to have made it. Northern Brewer was the first one out of the ground, followed by Centennial, then Hallertau and Cascade came up at about the same time. Finally, the Chinook plant came through the soil this past week. So far, the Centennial appears to be doing the best of the bunch. Below is a little visual update with pictures taken on 5/15/11:

Northern Brewer


Hop crop update

The weather outlook appears decent for the next 10 days, so I took the burlap covers off of my rhizomes this past weekend (maybe prematurely…) and put up fencing to keep the easter bunny away from my buds. Only the Northern Brewer and Centennial plants have shown signs of life as of 4/28, though it’s been a little unseasonably cold lately.

C’monnnnnnnnnnn summer!


Hop rhizomes planted

My hop rhizomes arrived from Midwest Supplies earlier this month. I picked up some moo-nure and mixed it with some spent-grains (from the Amber 1.0 batch), dug some holes and got ’em in the ground on 4/10/11.

I planted the following hop varieties, one rhizome of each:

  • Northern Brewer
  • Cascade
  • Hallertau
  • Chinook
  • Centennial

It reached nearly 70 degrees in Minneapolis on the day I planted, but the weather since then has not been so kind. It actually snowed a few days ago and has been getting into the mid-30’s overnight most nights. I think I’m ok though, as I’ve read the hop rhizomes can withstand temps down to 20* F without dying. I bought some burlap to cover up the mounds before the snow, so hopefully that has offered some additional protection. As long as we don’t get below 20 degrees overnight, I think I’ll be OK. From what I understand, the earlier you get these in the ground, the better. (more…)

Hop Crop 2011

It begins…

During a brew day this past weekend, fellow NBA club member Josh reminded me that the time to order my rhizomes is seriously running out. I got my act together Sunday and took the first step towards starting a hop crop in my backyard. My hop rhizomes have been ordered from Midwest and should be ready for pickup this weekend or next! More on this topic to come. Much more. (more…)