Hops, the cone-like flowers that give beer its characteristic bitterness and lively aroma, are easily grown in Western North Carolina. And with hop prices at an all-time high, anyone with an interest in homebrewing or beer in general might consider giving this undemanding perennial a try in their garden.
This week Xpress spoke with Alex Buerckholtz, owner of Hops & Vines in West Asheville, about the ins and outs of hop cultivation. Buerckholtz mentioned some specific varieties that do well in our region, along with growing suggestions and tips about harvesting the little cones come fall. Don’t expect much of a harvest the first year, he explained; year two is generally when the hops come marching in.
Properly cured and kept in a freezer in an airtight bag, said Buerckholtz, hops can last several years and still be fresh enough for use in that porter or IPA you have in mind. If you’re not a brewer, hops still make a lovely (though rampant) shade vine, suitable for training up a porch or wall.
To grow hops you need to start with a healthy rhizome, the little bundle of roots from which the vines grow. Local homebrewing stores carry them but in a limited supply, so call ahead for availability:
Asheville Brewer’s Supply
712-B Merrimon Avenue
Hops & Vines
797 Haywood Road, Suite 100
The Oregon-based company Freshops also offers information on home hop-culture as well as hop lore at its Web site.
— Kent Priestley, contributing editor