Hops are one of the most crucial ingredient in beer. Yes, they add lovely aromatics and an addictive bitterness to our favorite beers, but they also protect them from spoilage.
Today, you’ll find hop flowers in either pellets or whole cones. Either way, you must take care of them to make the most of their flavor and aromatic properties.
Hops are literally flowers, and as plants, they suffer a natural decay.
Of course, there are many ways of storing hops for months and even years without compromising their quality.
What you definitely don’t want to do is using hops past their prime.
Once the essential oils in the hops oxidize and leach out, there’s little you can do, and using them will ruin your batch for sure.
As with any agricultural products, hops do expire, and most producers will label their hops, if not with an expiration date, with a ‘better before’ date.
That doesn’t mean these dates are set in stone.
As long as you keep your hops in their original container unopened, you can store them for years, especially if kept away from light and heat sources. Storing them in the freezer is ideal, but if you’re storing them at room temperature, aim for a constant temperature of around 68°F or 20ºC.
Once you open the package, hops will start to degrade.
Here’s what you need to know about storing hops.
What is Making Hops Degrade Overtime?
The most important thing to consider when storing hops is keeping them safe from:
1) Oxygen will oxidize your hops
More specifically the essential oils trapped in the plant’s cells.
This will lead to chemical changes.
Some molecules will break down, and new ones will form.
Of course, most of the pleasing aromas in the hops will wither, and foul odors might come forward.
2) Heat will accelerate the plant’s natural decay and can lower alpha acid’s intensity
On the other hand, like with all organic matter, low temperatures will slow down the decomposition of aromatic compounds and oils.
3) Light, especially direct sun light will dehydrate your hops excessively
This will cause the loss of essential oils.
It will also increase the hop’s temperature and even damage the container you’re storing them in.
4) Moisture encourages mold and bacterial growth
Which accelerates the hop’s decay.
If your hops absorb enough moisture, they’ll lose all their properties and will become unusable.
How Old is too Old for Hops?
Straight from your store in their unopened package, hops will last for years in the freezer.
Once opened, you should store your hops in an airtight container.
A Ziploc bag and a vacuum pump will render the best results.
Remember, oxygen is the enemy here.
If you already opened your hop bag, transfer your precious flowers and keep them away from the air.
There are many practical and economical ways of storing them in vacuum-sealed bags.
If left at room temperature, in contact with air and affected by light and heat, you’ll notice discoloration — they’ll turn brown.
Hops will also become fragile, and you might notice some oils leaching out from the flowers and tainting the bag or container.
Insects and even rodents can find their way into a poorly kept hop container, and they’ll ruin your hops instantly. You can’t brew beer with contaminated hops.
Other times, the damage is unnoticeable at plain sight, so you’ll want to smell your hops.
They should smell fresh and fragrant, and never cheesy or musty.
If they smell stale, humid or even putrid, then throw them away.
For the average home brewer, there’s no need of having to many hops stored in the back.
You should just buy the hops you’ll need for each batch.
Now, if you’re running a commercial brewery, you’ll need to condition a space, perhaps a refrigerating unit to store your hops, especially if you live in a hot, humid place.
Pellet or Leaves, Any Kind Holding Better Than the Other?
Pellets and dried whole hops will last much more than fresh hops, which you should use as soon as you get them. When vacuum-sealed, pellets and dried hops will last for years, especially if kept refrigerated, or even better, frozen.
What About Types Of Hops? Are They All Equal?
As for hop varieties, hops have different lifespans.
We can classify them as hops with poor storage, medium poor, moderate and fair to good.
This depends on the number of oils in the hops.
- Hops with poor storage ability maintain only below 40% alpha acids after 6 months storage at 68°F or 20ºC. Some of these hops include: Saaz, Tettnanger, other Noble hops.
- Hops with medium poor storage ability might lose between 40%-50% of alpha acids after 6 months at 68°F or 20ºC. Some of these hops include: Cascade, Willamette.
- Hops with moderate storage ability retain between 50-68% of alpha acids remaining after 6 months at 68°F or 20ºC. Some of these hops include: Centennial, Amarillo, Calypso.
- Hops with fair to Good storage ability maintain between 68% to 70% of alpha acid content after being stored at 68°F or 20ºC for 6 months. Some of these hops include: Citra, Liberty Hops, Chinook.
- Hops with good storage ability maintain between 70% to 75% alpha acid content after 6 months storage at 68°F or 20ºC. Some of these hops include: Mosaic, Simcoe, Nugget.
What Happens if You Brew With Hops That Are Too Old?
Finally, what if you just use hops that are not at their prime in your brews?
In the worst-case scenario, they will ruin your batch, especially if they’re moldy. Of course, most of the time you might just not get neither the bitterness nor the aromatic profile you expected, and that’s a waste of time.
Storing your hops correctly is easy, and it’s the only way to get your beer just like you want it, so be extra careful and keep those hops safe!