I have fresh hops and I wish to dry them for storage in vacuum packed bags. Which methods can I use for drying them, and what are the differences in quality?
According to the American homebrewer's association, there are 3 main techniques to dry out your hops:
Using a food dehydrator is the easiest way to dry out your hops as it ensures air movement but does not get excessively hot.
You can use your oven to dry your hops by spreading them out on a pan. You will need to make sure that you get adequate air flow through the oven, watching closely by checking on them at least every 20 minutes. The temperature should never exceed 140°F (60°C).
- Hop drying screen
If you have a small amount of hops to dry, the easiest way to do so is spread them out over a window screen or a house air filter.
After drying, you can vacuum seal your dry hop in some freezer bags for packaging.
I’m lucky enough to have an oven with a dehydration setting. I routinely do herbs from the garden, which go from fresh to completely dried in a matter of hours. If you don’t have this feature a food dehydrator is an option for you. They are simply placed on large screened raised sheet, allowing air circulation around the herbs. The screen sheets are usually used to cool cookies from an oven, available at any bed and bath, kitchen store.
I've been meaning to build an appropriate oast (or layered hop drying screen) to dry my hops but I've had a lot of success with my makeshift one made of milk crates. In a nutshell, you just need to get some airflow through a layer of fresh hops and some time (a few days). My setup is an empty milk crate as a base, crates consisting of a layer of hops as needed stacked on top. I also position a fan at an angle below it to induce the airflow necessary to dry the hops out in about 2-3 days:
It sounds like you have a vacuum sealer already, but for those who don't, I've found that packing up a zip-lock bag up with the dried hops and manually sucking the air out works just as well (and cheaper than buying a vacuum setup). From there I throw the bags in the freezer until I'm ready to use them.
Also, important to note. I typically plan my harvest brews according to when I pick my hops, so they're as fresh as possible when it's "go-time" so I'm not sure that I can comment on the shelf life of this method. I'd imagine a vacuum sealer would extend the life of the hops considerably. The method I've outlined is just what has worked for my process.
One more note on using the fresh dried hops:
When adding fresh hops to a batch, I recommend grinding the full hops in a clean coffee grinder or a food processor really get the alpha acids activated before adding them to the brew. Also, keep in mind that these hops will be considerably more powerful than any processed hops (i.e: hop pellets) so you can get a lot more power out of less. Best of luck and happy brewing!