I decided to have a quick peek at my aged hops which have been sitting in my draughty old attic for the last year and a half. The hops pictured here (a mixture of Styrian Goldings, Saaz & Hallertau) have lost almost all of their aromatics, and now have a hay-like smell. Aging hops can be a real treat for the senses if not done in a well ventilated area, passing through a full spectrum of rancid, cheesy and cat urine aromas.
Now, why on earth would I waste perfectly good hops like this, especially while we’re in the throes of a hop shortage, with some varieties doubling or tripling in price?
My plan is to make lambic later on in the year, a style of sour beer unique to the Pajottenland of Belgium. Along with unmalted wheat and pilsner malt, aged hops are a key ingredient. The hops above were already going stale, so instead of chucking them out, I wrapped them in baking parchment and stuck them in the loft.
Any kind of hop flavour, aroma or bitterness are inappropriate in the intensely sour lambics. However, the bacteriostatic properties of the hops are not lost through aging, helping to keep any pathogens at bay when the beer is eventually brewed.
Short of building a coolship in your attic, there is little the homebrewer can do to replicate the spontaneous fermentation of lambic, shown here at Cantillon in Brussels. Luckily, the likes of White Labs & Wyeast produce blends of the key ‘wild’ yeasts and bacteria found in lambic – Brettanomyces, Lactobacilli & Pediococcus. Of course, it won’t be entirely authentic, but this is the route I will most likely go down. I still have more research to do, but I will detail my process when I get started.