Civil Engineering

The Hop Heads

May 23, 2014 in Civil Engineering, Staff News

Blog-MaxwellAdam Maxwell,
Civil Engineer –

This is the stage during the first brew session after we have steeped the grains and added the malt.

This is the stage during the first brew session after we have steeped the grains and added the malt.

I helped a friend brew his own beer recipe during the summer of 2009.  He had all the brewing equipment in his garage and had purchased all the ingredients at a local brew store in Arvada.  His recipe had been refined over the years through tasting sessions with friends and family, and the brewing process that day was full of calculations for specific gravity, among other things. We made adjustments, as needed, to come up with another unique beer.  Between the technical part of the brewing process and the fact that the end result was delicious goodness, I could not wait to begin the quest for knowledge to brew my own beer at home.

That fall, my wife and I brewed our first “box beer” recipe, called All American Pale Ale in our kitchen.  We bought a brew kit that included all the ingredients and a simple recipe.   After a few trips around town to gather the needed equipment along with a lot of questions at the brew store, we were ready to go.

After adding hop pellets and cooking for a bit on the stove, we allowed the wort to cool and then spend a bit of time “burping” in the fermenter.  The next step: we moved the un-carbonated batch of beer by syphon, bottled it, added some priming sugar and let the bottles sit in a closet for three weeks to create carbonation.

Syphoning the beer

Syphoning the beer

The results were mostly good, but still not quite as refined as we had hoped.  That first brew session in our kitchen led to more purchases over the next couple years of another fourteen boxes of beer recipes, mostly American Pale Ale (A.P.A) and India Pale Ale (I.P.A.) styles of beer.  After we got really good at the brewing process and had mastered the art of avoiding any possible contamination, we knew we needed better ingredients so we decided to try our own recipe, and in addition, grow our own hops to brew with.  We started with four rhizomes (pieces of root the size of a finger) planted next to our garage.

Two years hop growth

Two years hop growth

After two years, the original, four small rhizomes had grown tremendously.  We were completely overrun with hops and decided to build a dedicated hop garden.  The rhizomes were transplanted and split into six huge, tortoise sized root balls and moved to their new home across the backyard.  After installing an irrigation system in summer 2013 and a second hop tower, the hop garden is again coming to life with the warm, spring weather.

Hop garden growth this spring

Hop garden growth this spring

 

Hop vines can grow up to six inches per day, and up to fifteen feet in length.  The hop garden will be full from top to bottom by the time September comes around to harvest. The first year in the new hop garden yielded over a pound of fluffy hop cones, and that same afternoon we brewed our first “fresh hop” beer (hops removed from the vine and in the brew pot within 24 hours).

We ended up with enough hops to brew two more five gallon batches.

We ended up with enough hops to brew two more five gallon batches.

Finally, we had refined our own recipe and brewed an I.P.A. that met the requirements to be called delicious goodness, just like that first batch of beer brewed in a friend’s garage in 2009.  In addition to brewing beer from hops we grow, my wife and I now also make hard cider with pressed apples from the old apple tree in our front yard and adding simple champagne yeast.  That’s a story for another day.  We have an apple press we made and are experimenting with fruit infusions to create multiple, hard cider flavors.

The press we made and use each October, and what the cider looks like in it’s special glass fermenter.

The press we made and use each October, and what the cider looks like in it’s special glass fermenter.

While the hard cider may not look like much in the fermentor, be assured that the end result is truly delicious goodness.  So if you are interested in finding a hobby that can be truly rewarding, consider trying your hand at brewing beer or making cider.  The brewing community along the Denver Front Range is full of friendly, knowledgable people willing to help you get started.