Cooking with Hops — Beer Candy and More
Beer Candy and More
Holtwood Hops is my family’s farm, located in Southern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We grow our hops organically on three-quarters of an acre of fertile soil without the use of any commercial fertilizers or chemical pesticides. Hops are used primarily to flavor and stabilize beer, but we are often asked: “Can hops be used for anything else besides beer-making?” Over the past several seasons of hops growing we have made floral arrangements, boutonnières, dream pillows, tea bags and handmade paper, and experimented with cooking, fermenting, pickling and garnishing with hops. My favorite adventure to date has been a foray into candy making. Simple hops-flavored hard candies and lollipops are a uniquely satisfying treat.
An Acquired Taste
The bitter flavor of hops is an acquired taste, in food as in beer. Hops can add wonderful flavor to food, like they add flavor to beer. Just as craft brewers are increasingly experimenting with unusual ingredients in their brews, cooks are combining hops with more traditional ingredients in culinary creations.
The flavor profiles of hops are as diverse as the many varietals, and can be an exciting addition to an adventurous chef’s pantry. They can be used as a condiment or spice. The unique flavor of hops can be used to jazz up a pizza. Infused hop oils can dress a salad or enliven a dip. They can be incorporated into marinade to invigorate meats and vegetables on the grill. High in antioxidants, hops can be brewed as a tea and used medicinally as a sleep aid that can be steeped alone or combined with other soporific herbs, like chamomile, that promote relaxation.
Hops add the bitterness that tempers the sweetness in beer, and humulus lupulis can be used as an exciting adult flavoring agent when balanced with sugar, as in a classic childhood confection, the lollipop. LolliHops® are a trademarked sweet by Yakima Candy, now available online and in select retailers, http://www.yakimahopcandy.com/. Their website lists interesting flavor combinations such as Lemon Shandy, Hopped Cider, Blood Orange, Raspberry, Mango, Chili Lime, Irish Stout, Cherry Peach Lambic, Honey Hefe, Hopped Ginger Beer, and Passionfruit. I came across a recipe for hops-flavored beer Lollihops predating this commercial confection, in a blog by Marie Porter http://www.celebrationgeneration.com/blog/2010/09/07/hop-flavored-beer-lollipops-recipe-lollihops/, author of the cookbook Hedonistic Hops (Celebration Generation 2016). Her blog and cookbooks are filled with interesting adult recipes, including Jalapeno-Beer Peanut Brittle (The Spirited Baker: Intoxicating Desserts & Potent Potables, Celebration Generation 2013) and Hoppy IPA BBQ sauce. The lollihops are easy to make and adapt. These are terrific hostess, wedding shower, or spirited holiday gifts.
The growing season in our part of the country starts in late May, and the last harvest is mid to late August. Fresh hops, homegrown or purchased from a grower, are ideal for cooking. A little go a long way. Many home brewers use pelletized hops because they are easy to purchase, measure and store, but these can contain leaves and vines and detritus. We recommend using only pure, organically-grown, hand-picked hops that are carefully dried, nitrogen flushed, and vacuum packed, to add complexity to a recipe. Just as any fresh-picked, organically grown fruit or vegetable is prized by discerning chefs, fresh whole hop cones used within 3 days of picking are a flavor delight.
Hops are generally categorized for brewing by their “alpha acids” and divided by use as “bittering” (higher alpha acid content), or “aroma” (lower levels of alpha acids).
Combining varietals experimentally in food can be fun for the home cook and professional chef alike. The end creations may not be uniformly successful, (my dark chocolate hops truffles were almost palatable and the macaroons went right into the trash) but the challenge is gratifying, and results are much more quickly realized than experiments in the brewing cycle.
In our experience, homebrewers are most familiar with Cascade, used in ales, IPAs, and porters. This popular aroma type hop is floral, citrusy and spicy, and has been described as having grapefruit undertones. It is an easy-to-grow, hardy cultivar that is a good culinary choice. Another of our high-yield hops is Zeus – as big and impressive as its name. It is a dual purpose aroma and high alpha acid varietal used for US IPAs, US pale ales, stouts, barley wines, and lagers. Specific aroma descriptors include pungent, black pepper, licorice, and curry. We also grow Centennial, Chinook, and Galena, which are good substitutes for Zeus.
Growing Your Own
Hops will grow up to 6 meters (20 feet) high and greater, and require support. Rhizomes should be planted in the early spring, about 10 cm (4 inches) deep, 60-91 cm (2-3 feet) apart, with the shoots facing up. Rhizomes are found underground and send out roots and shoots from their nodes. We dig and ship our sprouted cuttings to gardeners, and these should be kept cool and moist until planted. Twine can be staked in the ground and attached to the side of a building, fence or other support. The young bines (not a typo — that is the term) can be trained to grow up by gently wrapping several shoots around the twine. Well-drained soil and plenty of sunlight is essential. Ripe hops should be harvested when the cones feel light and dry, and spring back when squeezed. The lupalin will be yellow and sticky and extremely fragrant. The plants should be cut back at the end of the season and they will produce more each consecutive year. The first season’s growth will not yield many cones, but a backyard hops garden will provide shade and visual delight, and hardy perennial enjoyment.
Storing Your Hops
Hops storage, like spice storage is important. Oxygen, light and heat are natural enemies of hops, so vacuum sealed bags should be kept in dark and cold; we recommend freezing dried hops to preserve the freshest flavor.
Hops shoots in the spring are delicious pickled or sautéed. Labor intensive to harvest and wash, they are a short-lived delicacy that can be prepared in the same ways as garlic scapes and asparagus shoots.
Crushed leaves from whole cone hops, fresh or dried, can be sprinkled as a garnish for added interest, flavor, and texture to culinary creations. Dried hops can be ground to a fine powder with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder to add textural flavor to foods.
Just as hops are strained from the wort in the beer brewing process, the process of infusion in hot liquid can be implemented to invigorate recipes. Sweeteners can balance the bitterness of hops, and hops can be strained from liquid (milk, water, beer) with cheesecloth for smooth sauces and gravies, or left in if the texture is desired. More liquid is absorbed by dried hops than by fresh, so adjustments in recipes should take this into consideration.