What a surprise! Mowing grass in a neglected part of our property when I looked up and noticed something that looked a lot like hop cones… and quite a distance from the rhizomes I planted this spring. I looked further up the small walnut tree and the entire top was covered in large hop cones.
I immediately shut down the tractor and ran over to the tree. Plucked a cone from a thick and healthy vine… the cone about the size of the end of my thumb. This cone was ripe… lupulin abound and a wonderful aroma. Excitement is too mellow of a word for what I was feeling. If there is one, there is more right?
Glancing immediately to my left where I did some early spring cleaning this year… I noticed more cones. These plants bigger than the last. I walked this tree line and found the jackpot. Several vines… some climbing trees, some working their way across the ground. All of them loaded with cones. These are old plants and have apparently been growing here wild for several years.
Wild hops are not uncommon. Native species grow which Native Americans used for medicinal purposes. Some of these open pollinated varieties hybridized with English and Dutch varieties and produced a fine hop called ‘cluster’. This is an old world variety used for both bittering and aroma, however it’s use has given way to more recent varieties including those that are patented and not “open source”.
Thinking they were most likely a cluster variety, I plucked a handful of cones and headed home to make some hop tea. The bitterness in these cones is a lot higher than I expected. The aroma is floral, spicy, with notes of pine. This is a great hop and I can’t express how fortunate I feel to have stumbled across these plants which apparently have been here a great deal of time. Our property was once used as an orchard, but that predates many of the varieties on the market today. We may be looking at some different type of hybrid… I’m just unsure at this point.
These plants, have survived a terrible 2-year drought (and possibly several others) without any irrigation whatsoever. The leaves and cones are solid… no sign of bugs. They are resilient, self-reliant and have outperformed all the other plants around them. They have adapted to the Missouri climate and they are thriving even in a year that has been rough for other hop growers in the area (including myself)!
I’ll be contacting a lab in Michigan to run a full round of testing on some samples this week. These tests will help determine aroma and flavor profiles, as well as a measure of bitterness. We may be able to more closely identify the variety, but if they are truly unique, we’ll utilize them just the same! These tests will help us prepare some special recipes with a true local flavor. It honestly feels like these plants were put here for us to discover… a ‘divine’ contribution!
More later when we get our test results back… until then we have some 5 gallon buckets to fill and some hops to dry!