With an explosion in the number of craft breweries in Ontario, hops have had a resurgence in popularity. But since hops can only be harvested five to six weeks of the year, hops producers must find effective storage to ensure fresh brews all year round. Turning hops into pellets — known as pellet hops — for storage takes up less room, and gives hops a longer shelf life (around 2 years) compared to storing dried whole-leaf hops (around 6 months).
For small scale hops growers and hobby farmers, pelletizing your own hops lets you experiment with mixing different varieties together, and gives you more control over the oxidation process or the size of pellet particles. There are many different machines in a commercial kitchen, and methods even in small scale hops pelletization, but this post should help you get started.
The Hops Pelletizing Process
If you’ve gone through the tricky process of growing and harvesting your hops, the process of hops pelletizing seems almost easy in comparison:
- Harvested hops are dried
- Dried hops are pressed into bales (note that not all farmers use this method)
- Bales are processed, and turned into pellet hops
- Pellet hops are packaged and stored (ready for distribution, or brewing your next batch of beer)
For small-scale commercial growers, you can sell them in store, at farmers’ markets, or distribute them directly to breweries. For micro growers, you can store them till you’re ready to brew your next batch of beer.
And if you like visuals, check out our infographic of the hops pelletizing process.
So What Does a Hops Pelletizer Actually Do?
Now that you have an idea of the procedures, we can go deeper into the actual pelletizing process. In a nutshell, a hops pelletizer is a machine that turns whole cone hops into pellets. The hammer mill breaks the hops up into particles — to an almost powder like consistency — which is then pressed by a roller through a die (kind of like pushing playdough through a mould). This comes out as pellets.
One of the most important factors to consider during the pelletizing process is the temperature.
The constant beating and grinding by the machinery generates heat, and if it gets too hot the aromatic compounds in the hops start to break down. OMAFRA recommends temperatures should be below 60oC/140oF, although some brewers won’t buy pellets that have been processed in temperatures above 50oC/122oF.
Industrial pelletizers typically use liquid nitrogen cooling systems, but this can be expensive and difficult for hobby farmers to maintain. With the recent growth of hops farming, there are now specific small scale hops pelletizers you can buy, where the mills use low friction and low impact machinery to avoid high temperatures so you don’t accidentally burn your hops.
After pelletizing, your pellets should be stored in UV-blocking bags, and the packaging should be vacuum-packed or nitrogen-flushed to remove oxygen. The OMAFRA recommends pelletized hops should be stored between –6oC/21.2oF to –1oC/140oF.
Buying or Renting Your Own Hops Pelletizer
If you’re looking to buy your own pelletizer, home pellet mills typically cost between $1000 to $3000. These are normally made for animal feed or wood, so be extra mindful during processing that the machinery doesn’t overheat and burn your hops.
You can also buy or lease specific small-scale hop pelletizers for upwards of $13,000, depending on how powerful your hammer mill is, the type of die you want, or if you want to add extra parts, like conveyor belts. These types of pelletizers require more room than home pelletizers and may be less suitable for micro growers.
For those of you who aren’t keen on forking out thousands of dollars for a pelletizer, you can send your hops to a third-party processing facility. While this has the advantage of your hops being processed by someone more experienced, you lose the ability to experiment with different processes.
The third option is to rent a facility with a hops pelletizer. This is more affordable than buying a hop pelletizer, and offers you the same control over the pelletizing process as owning your own pelletizer.
You can use a top-of-the-line hops pelletizer at OAFVC facility. The mill can process 650 pounds of hops a day, and is perfect for small hops growers’ needs. OAFVC also has a packing room onsite, so after you process your hops you can package and brand them.
For hobby growers, using OAFVC’s hops pelletizer gives you the flexibility in production development, with lower upfront costs — and there are professionals onsite ready to help in case anything goes wrong.
Rates for the processing room are:
- Half-day rate: $150.00
- Full-day rate: $240.00
Rates for the packaging room are:
- Half-day rate: $100.00
- Full-day rate: $180.00
OAFVC also sells hops bags and nitrogen flush bags. For more details on pricing, visit our hops page.
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