Types of Hops
All of the many varieties of hops (Humulus lupulus) can be divided into three categories: aroma, bittering, and dual purpose. Aroma hops are used for finishing a beer. Bittering hops are used during the boiling process and have a higher alpha acid range than aroma hops.
For beginners, some of the most popular bittering hops include Galena and Nugget, with an 11 to 13 percent acid content. Magnum also has a high acid content at 11 to 17 percent.
Popular aroma types include Mt. Hood with a 3 to 4.5 percent acid content, and Cascade, with a 5 to 7 percent acid content.
The easiest way to decide what type of hops to grow is to look at the label of your favorite beer and see what they use. Cascade is nice for a pale ale. For a nice German-style beer, you may like Hallertauer, Saaz, or Tettnanger. If you want to try something different, read the descriptions of the hops available and pick some that excite you.
Since you can get plenty of hops from one vine, you could easily experiment with different varieties of hops to determine which ones you like best if you have room for several vines.
Hops are a hardy plant that can be grown as a vine on a trellis or fence. Hops are dioecious, meaning they have male and female plants. All you need to grow your own hops for home brewing is a female vine of the varieties you want to try. Hops can grow 15 to 20 feet high, though you could do fine with a 10-foot trellis or growth support, so keep that in mind when you choose your growing area.
Till a fertile, weed-free area in full sun and plant your rhizomes in early spring as soon as all danger of frost has passed. If you live in a cold climate that isn't frost-free by May, plant the rhizomes in pots that can be transplanted by June. Plant hops in hills 3 to 5 feet apart (different varieties should be planted further apart) with 2 plants per hill being best. Hops need good drainage and soil rich in organic matter. Soil pH of around 6.0 to 7.0 is ideal. Allow for frequent light watering the first year. This first year is when the plant's energy goes mostly toward building a strong root system, so don't expect to harvest many cones yet.
Harvest cones as they appear throughout the growing season. Cones are ready when they are light and dry and spring back when you press on them. Ripe hops will also have a fragrance that varies a bit between varieties. After you've harvested the cones, cut your vines back to about 3 feet at the end of the season. This section of vine can be cut into smaller sections and buried to produce new vines next year.
Growing hops at home is easy. The hard part is deciding what variety to grow. There are a few suppliers of hops rhizomes that you can order from, including Northwest Hops, Freshops, Northern Brewer, and many others. Talk to them and tell them about your climate zone and what your goals are in home brewing. They will be able to help you choose the best variety.