Ramble On

Monday, August 22, 2016

Drying and Packing @hawksbillhops

A few Cascade cones from Lot 2.
Since David and the crew had worked a couple of days last week to get our crop in, my job was left to do: remove the dried hops from our oast - the HOP-N-ATOR 4000 - and package them for storage.  (The link in this sentence leads to a 2015 harvest post where we designed and built the oast.)

The team had harvested three rows of our Cascades, about 180 plants in all.  We still have two rows to go, and we'll harvest them in a week or so.  We may be pushing it for timing on these last 120 hills, but it is what it is, our schedules are not cooperating with the later harvest his year.

Here's about half of Lot 1, just out of the HOP-N-ATOR 4000.
Based on feedback we had received from Virginia Tech last year, we made a few changes to our process.  I've already posted about the dry mass test we did to ensure we picked at optimal times.  Next, we decided we would dry the hops a bit longer this year in a quest for optimal moisture - extending their time in the oast from 24 hours to 48 hours.

All I have to go on for now is memory, but it did seem to me that the hops are dryer this year than last.  The crew got a few more leaves and stems mixed in as well, but I kept an eye out for these and cleaned as many as I could as I went.

The hops are weighed and packed into 8 oz. bags.
Once the hops come out of the HOP-N-ATOR 4000, I weigh them into 8 ounce packs using standard vacuum bags that we buy in bulk.  We considered getting better bags and even flushing them with nitrogen to remove the oxygen prior to filling them with hops, but we'll wait a bit before investing in that upgrade.

This is probably the most time consuming part of the harvest using the process we have now.  We have some ideas for upgrades, but it is likely a couple of years before we are able to do them.

Lot 2 - finished product, about 14 pounds of Cascade.
Each of the 8 oz. bags are then vacuum-sealed using one of the very basic machines you can get at Wal-Mart or elsewhere.  Because of the bulkiness of the cones once they are dried, I will assist the machine to get all the air out by pressing down on the bags.  This year they are all flat, more or less 12x16 packages, which should be easy to store.

Last year they were somewhat an odd shape due to the pleated bags we were using.  This added a little complexity to the vacuum process as well, so it took a frustratingly long time.  This year I completed both lots in about 4 hours total, while it took three times that long last year.

At the end of the day, we had a total of around 28 pounds of dried Cascade.  Most of them are in 8 oz bags, but I did make a total of 10 4 oz. bags for home brewers.  I have a plan to distribute some of the crop this year to our buyers from last year, but we're saving the bulk of it to use in Hawksbill Brewing Company recipes.

I think I've written about this already, but just in case, a final thought for today.  We grow Cascade, Columbus, Chinook, Goldings, and Fuggles.  This year the Goldings and Fuggles were a disappointment; we didn't even string the Goldings, so we need to think about the way ahead for these two varieties.

The Chinook and Columbus were pretty spotty for us as well - we have 180 and 120 plants of these two varieties.  Although we didn't harvest them, because we wanted to leave the leaf cover up in the sun for a few extra weeks to build plant strength, my guess is less than 20 percent of the bines made it up their strings.

All this leads to thinking about next year.  We may end up plowing under a couple of the underperformers and replacing them with Cascade.  It does really well in our yard and throughout Virginia.  Maybe we just face the music and make a hard decision.

More to follow!

No comments: