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Cheap and Easy Hop Storage

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As we all know, we got into homebrewing to save money... (waits for laughter to die)
Okay, homebrewing rarely saves us money in the long run, but that does not mean that we do not try to stretch our pennies wherever we can. One of the best ways of cutting costs and having the best and freshest ingredients is buying ingredients in bulk. However, buying in bulk creates its own set of problems: you are now on the hook to safely store and maintain the freshness of the ingredients.
The Problem
Malt and malt extract are easy to store, they have long shelf-lives and can be easily stored in airtight containers. Hops and yeast, on the other hand, are not so easy: oxygen and temperature can rapidly degrade their quality so special care must be taken to properly maintain them. Care and handling of yeast is a story for another day, so for now let us take a look a few facts about hops to see why proper care is needed:
  • Fact: New hop crops are only released once a year (September/October for the Northern Hemisphere and March/April for the Southern Hemisphere).
  • Fact: The best hops sell out rapidly so it is necessary to order as many hops as you can as soon as you can.
  • Fact: Opened hops maintain their quality and freshness for two weeks at 50F and five weeks at 26F.
  • Fact: Vacuum-sealed hops can retain their character for up to five years when frozen.
To further drive home the point, in a recent update about the state of hops in 2015, Stan Hieronymus mentions:
"The 2015 American hop crop - yes, the one that won't be harvested until next August and September - is basically sold out... And it means that brewers, particularly homebrewers, who know they are going to want particular varieties during the course of the year should buy them when a chance arises."
So what can we conclude from this? We can save big bucks and secure our favorite varieties by buying hops in bulk and freezing them in a vacuum-sealed container. Unfortunately, this poses a challenge for homebrewers who have not yet invested in the proper vacuum-sealing equipment, which can cost upwards of $100 or more. Besides, we would rather spend our money on new brew equipment and ingredients.
The Solution
Being a tightwad I have spent a lot of time thinking on how to come up with a cheap option for hop storage. The solution came to me on a random idle evening as I went down the path of following just about any link I could get my hands on to perpetuate my idleness. As we all know, sometimes that means you stumble into a community dedicated to preserving salad in jars; sometimes that means you become enraptured by one-upmanship of the salad-in-a-jar enthusiasts as they try to preserve their salads in the cheapest way possible. And sometimes that means you crib come up with an idea for storing hops in such a cheap and easy way that you feel like you should start a life in the informercial biz...
Here's everything you need to get started:
Maximum total cost: $25.21 (+shipping/taxes)
The Process
Step 0: If you are using brand-new Ball jars the lids still contain a food-safe sealing compound embedded into the lid. You will have trouble getting the lid to seal if you do not remove the compound, a short boil in water will accomplish this.

Step 1: Dump your hops into the Ball jar. I find a pint jar holds roughly 8 oz of hop pellets and 1 oz of whole leaf hops. Needless to say, this method works best for pellet hops.

Step 2: Place the lid (minus the screw band) on top of the Ball jar and slide the Jar Sealer on top of it.


Step 3: Place the business end of the Ziploc Vacuum centered over the Jar Sealer hole. The Ziploc Vacuum should approximately fill the entire Jar Sealer top.

Step 4: Hold the Ziploc Vacuum in place with your non-dominant hand while you pump the plunger like a bicycle pump. You should hear the "click" of the lid and smell the aroma of hops as you suck the air out of the jar. Keep pumping until the lid stops clicking or you get tired (a minute or so).

Step 5: Remove the Jar Sealer, you should see that the pop-up thingy is sucked in. If the lid comes off it means you did not make a tight seal. Reposition the lid on the jar and repeat steps 2-4.
Step 5b: If you are feeling gutsy you can now turn the jar over and be amazed at how the lid stays sealed! I recommend doing this over a bowl in case the seal is not tight.

Step 6: Label the lid with the hop variety and alpha acid %, I just use blue painter's tape. You can now screw down the screw band until it's tight.

Step 7: Stash the jar in the freezer. Pull it out when you need more hops and repeat the process as needed.

Congratulations, you now have vacuum-sealed hops that should keep fresh and vibrant until the next year's crop comes out (and beyond). This process also works for any dry good you would like to keep fresh, try it with your spices!
Happy brewing!
***
Derek Springer is a homebrewer and blogger from San Diego, CA who can be found at Five Blades Brewing. Besides homebrewing Derek contributes to open-source projects like the BeerXML Shortcode plugin for WordPress and frequently speaks at blogging conferences including the European and American Beer Bloggers Conference. Catch him this June at NHC 2015 as he gives a seminar titled Berliner and Beyond: Sour Mashing and its Applications.
In the mean time, check out his latest series on Neomexicanus hops!


 
This looks interesting. Thanks for the write up and the idea.
Would there be any advantage to this method over a food saver and the vacuum bags it uses?
 
@CGish I already had the FoodSaver and vacuum bags. I use that. I partitioned the shelves in the door of my freezer and labeled them. Hops are stored in the bags in alphabetical order. They take up a lot less space than the jars. 21 varieties on hand right now.
 
@CGish The foodsaver vacuum bags are pretty expensive ($8-10 per 16' roll on Amazon) and only reusable to a certain extent, if you snip the end of a bag and then reseal it to a shorter length. With the mason jars, you can wash and reuse the jars almost infinitely.
 
I would think that the main advantage would be cost, since you don't have to buy a FoodSaver. Personally, I think I will stick with the FoodSaver, but this is a good idea for people on a budget who don't have that many hops to freeze.
 
Howdy guys, thanks for reading the article! I guess I should note this process also works if you have a fancy vacuum sealer (w/ jar attachment).
@unviewtiful nailed why I love this technique: you can keep reusing the Ball jars forever. Also, uh, you don't need to buy an expensive vacuum sealer!
 
The actual ziploc bags that are meant to be used with that blue and white pump also work pretty good on their own... I've used those for hops and herbs/spices for a couple of years now... They're not terribly expensive and are pretty reusable...I'm actually on the same first box that came with the pump as a set/kit...
 
This is really neat. I just did my first online purchase of hops and was wondering how I was going to deal with this. The cheap part of me would love to just pay the $25 and do it this way. But I'm wondering if a $100 Foodsaver is the smart purchase in the long run.
 
@heckofagator If you decide to get a FoodSaver, make sure you get the one that has the jar attachment. You'll still need to get the Regular-Mouth Jar Sealer attachment.
 
Nice write up.
Just to play devils advocate.... I don't know what the rest of you are doing wrong. I save tons of money. Reusing bottles, buying bulk hops, saving yeast, brew club or AHA discounts, doing all-grain, and not brewing quintuple IPAs everytime saves me a lot on each beer. I've made back the cost of my equipment for sure and I buy less beer from store.
 
I went and picked up a vacuum sealer off amazon for $35 and rolls of bags for another $9. Bags store much better than glass jars and take way less freezer space. I have the pounds divided into 2-4 oz baggies. The only down side to bags is they puncture, identified by a bag that's no longer tightly packed. I store 4-5 lbs of whole leaf hops in my family freezer and it only takes up the top shelf.
 
I originally bought my Foodsaver for.... food!!! I use it for both and can reseal bags several times before they are too small. I also save bigger ones that have been emptied for reuse on smaller saves. I even tried washing out greasy bags, but that was too much trouble.
I think I still have hops from 2012 and maybe even 2011. (I should date them!) Sealed and frozen I have not seen any big problem due to age.
 
@BrotherBock
I agree, but I think what Moxie was referring to is the group of brewers that originally get into it to save money, but then shortly after find out about all the neat sh!t you can buy and end up losing money on the deal.
Either way it's a hobby...spend money or save money, so long as you're having fun its all the same.
This is a great article too. I've been looking into a foodsaver mostly for freezer meals and the like, but this is a great way to save on hops.
Thanks Moxie!
 
@Cheesy_Goodness Glad you liked the article! I agree that there's a wide spectrum of homebrewers out there who might have more money they're willing to spend. I guess the good news is that if you later decide to upgrade to a FoodSaver the only redundant part (the ZipLock Pump) is the cheapest part!
 
Another option for around the same price point is the FoodSaver FreshSaver series.
There is a rechargeable vacuum pump starter kit for 17.50, and 18 count quart resealable bags for 8.99 or 12 gallon size for 8.34. So it's only like a dollar more if you are starting from scratch.
Seems to have good reviews too. I think I'm going to pick up a set tonight!
 
Great idea! The one flaw I see is that they are exposed to UV light which can make hops cheesy FAST. Spray painting the jars black would probably be enough to protect them. For bonus points you could use chalkboard paint and chalk the name of the hop and AA right onto the glass too.
 
My experience with the Ziploc vacuum bags (that go with the hand pump) has been pretty hit or miss: about 1/4-1/3 of them don't hold a vacuum for very long, and need to have the vacuum re-applied on a semi-regular basis.
 
@sudbuddy A fair point, but lots of hops are sold in clear vacuum-packed bags and I've never noticed any light damage. On the flip side, most folks' freezers are dark 99% of the time.
 
Great post, thanks for sharing. Any ideas where to get the vacuum pump in Canada (for a reasonable price)? Lowest i could find was Amazon.ca for $18.78!
 
@rhys333 You might want to look into @ox45's suggestion of the FoodSaver FreshSaver, it might have better availability in Canada.
 
Awesome - this is perfect! Does the saving money thing still count if I have to buy a chest freezer to accommodate my new bulk hop purchases?!
 
Nice system. I've vacuum-packed my homegrown hops for a few years now. I Always hated having partially used bags of pellet hops and this system look like it can keep them organized and seems easier than re-sealing bags in my foodsaver. I might pick up a pump and give it a go. There are a couple of hop varieties that I prefer and this look like a great way to keep them fresh when buying in bulk.
 
Sadly I need a 2nd fridge for the space. I did just get a food saver for Xmas and have yet to get any bulk hops to try it out with. I really, really want to try soon. My biggest problem is I don't know that I brew enough and my varities change sooooo much that getting just 1-2 varieties in bulk doesn't make a lot of sense for me.
So I really need a LOT of space so I can get, say, 10-15 varities in bulk, but that is a lot of freezer space, whether bagged or jarred. I do like the convenience of the jarring and vaccum sealing idea.
I am still thinking I'll give something like a 1lb of Hallertau, fuggle and maybe Cascade or something a try as they are both great for bittering their respective styles (noble, UK and American hopped brews) without imparting much flavor that is off style. Then it just leaves needing to sometimes get a different flavor/aroma hop.
 
Since everyone is chiming in, figured I would too. I'm partial to this method because the food saver bags don't play nice with the whole (as in, non-pellet hops) because they crush them. With the Ball jars, they don't get crushed but still remain in the vacuum environment.
But after reading all this... I wonder, is there a longevity hit if you store the hops and open it up after say 1 year and then reseal. Does the process of exposing them to the air and probably warming them up to room temp before they are vacuumed and frozen affect their longevity adversely?
 
Anybody buy one of these or have experience with one of these:
http://www.thriftyvac.com/#!product/prd15/3067811061/thriftyvac%C2%AE-vacuum-system%3A-5-free-vacuum-bags
This lets you vacuum pack in any ziploc type bag in your kitchen. You can see the video on YouTube here ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYFnrq84ipI ) where he shows how it works and shows how he used a cheap 3 cent plastic bag to seal food in. This could be cool. I read some mixed reviews on Amazon but there are a lot of 4 & 5-star reviews. Amazon is selling them here:
http://www.amazon.com/ThriftyVac-Food-Vacuum-Packing-System/dp/B00GX0DN7I/ref=sr_1_sc_1?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1423195462&sr=1-1-spell&keywords=thrify+vac
And you can also buy Mason Jar attachments that work with it for around $20 for 5 valves.
 
Sorry to hijack the comments section with "other ideas" but I also found another product that works along with the mason jar sealer. It's found here:
http://www.amazon.com/Packmate-95000-Vacu-Seal-Starter-Handheld/dp/B0011FJS4M/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1378245398&sr=8-1&keywords=vacu-seal
This is a battery powered version of the hand pump. Does the same thing without the manual labor involved :)
One final piece for this process I was wondering about was CO2 flushing of the jars before your vacuum seal them. There will be some air remaining in the jars, so why not flush the jars with CO2 so that the air that remains is not oxygen. That little bit could potentially contribute to staling could it not? Having CO2 though might mean a bit more freshness for even longer?
 
Very nice write up. I like the idea of using jars vs. bags since they are more durable. Now, I only need freezer space. How long are hops good for in a vacuum seal bag? I have some for over 18 months but not always in cold temps.
 
Thank you for the article. Got the stuff and tested this last night. Works like a charm. Much, much better than sinking over a hundred on the vacuum sealer stuff I think. A little manual labor with the pump isn't terrible either. Now I'm just happy to be able to save so much when I see deals on bulk hops.
 
connell89 brings up a point that I was thinking about. If you are vacuum sealing in a sanitized container, how necessary is it to put them in the freezer. I'm assuming it's not great to have them sitting at 80F for weeks in summertime, but how important are freezer temps?
 
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