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All chefs know fresh herbs plucked from a plant taste and smell far better than dried herbs from jar. The same is true for hops, crucial in flavouring every beer. The home brewing, craft beer industry is booming across the UK and America, and is now bigger than ever before. This has led more and more crafters into a deep conundrum, how to get hold of fresh hops rather than dried ones, and is it possible to grow hops themselves out of season.
The ideal hops growing season starts after the last frost of the year in spring. However, this means that there’s a limited window for fresh hops with brewers either limiting their craft to certain months of the year in conjunction with a friendly farm supplier, or relying on dried hops which come with less flavour. Now, commercial grow lights and in particular, LED grow lights, are giving brewers year round fresh hops and this in turn is revolutionising the industry in other ways.
Additionally, LED technology is making its way into bars and taprooms as well. GU10 LEDs are great as overhead lights used to brighten up old taprooms that were dull, dark and drab.
The Booming Craft Beer Industry
Craft beer is currently riding on a high with seemingly no end in sight. This comes in stark contrast to the overall beer scene in the UK where 31 pubs are closing on average every week, alcohol consumption is on the wane and this includes beer. However, the beer industry is part of a wider trend in British society its economy. Many industries started out as small crafts, limited to local regions, and as they developed fewer and fewer companies made more and more of the produce. However, as with a rebellion against the bland conformity of Starbucks or clothing magnates, a significant chunk of people turn back to small, local or limited cottage industrialists.
In the last decade as generic and boring super brands have been on the decline, craft breweries have risen and gained traction. Part of this is down to culture, rebellion, a desire for better and more unique products, and lowered entry costs. Whether it’s the Internet growing access to information, better starter kits or affordable grow lights, more people are able to experiment with their own beers at home. Now 200 craft beer bars are opening yearly, putting “real ale” in firmly in the shade. Craft beer has come so far that industry expert, Pete Brown cannot decide if now is better than the 1870s or not, but it’s close.
Increasing Craft Beer Profitability
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As mentioned above, the Internet and technological developments have allowed the sharing of information and the reduction of entry costs. Nowhere is this more crucial than the growing of hops and the development of LED grow lights in particular. Many suppliers are turning to LED grow lamps because they are far more energy efficient than other types of lighting. This revolution is also being seen in businesses up and down the land, and private houses too. Lower utility costs are possible because LEDs require less electricity to produce the same amount of light as other bulbs - about 1/10th of an incandescent bulb, a third of a halogen bulb, and half that of a fluorescent bulb.
LED Grow Lights vs. High Pressure Sodium Lamps
High Pressure Sodium or HPS lamps are the traditional go-to grow light of choice, but it is being challenged now by LED light bulbs, so in the LED grow lights vs HPS grow lights contest, which one comes out top. For the energy conscious, LEDs win. For example, Lynn Kemme who runs Great Lakes Hops in Michigan, found he could use 12 LED lights to replace 3 sodium lights and still save over $6,000 in one year on utility costs alone. He also found them to produce a more consistent and reliable light. There is another reason why Lynn found the best growing lights to be LEDs, the health of his plants and their growth rate. LEDs produce the perfect light on the spectrum to replace sunlight leading to decreased rooting time leading to faster growth cycles over the calendar year.
When deciding which type of LED light to use for your hop growing operation it is important to remember that all situations are not the same. Some growing rooms may only require a few LED Panels to replace existing HPS lamps. While on the other hand, rooms of larger volume might need a dozen LED Panel lights in addition to spotlights to make sure the hops get enough light to flourish.
Extending Commercial Grow Lights to Fresh Produce
The LED grow light revolution is not limited to hops for better beer production, but also covers other types of fruit and vegetables affected by the notoriously fickle British weather. What if Britain could grow fresh strawberries in the winter and not just in the summer? LED lights are now being associated with extended growing seasons. Such is the potential, U.S. universities and British companies are investing in serious studies, working with growers or testing in house, to see if the technology can extend produce freshness across the country.
Taking the Next Step
Are you looking to grow your own fresh hops and herbs to flavour a new craft beer? Now is the time to consider the best LED grow lights for sale and to learn how to create the best home brew possible. Here’s a few considerations to bear in mind:
Sunlight: You need at least 120 days with 15+ hours of sunlight. This is easily achievable in a grow shed with artificial LED lighting.
Flexible Hop Varieties: Cascade, Centennial, Mount Hood, Nugget, and Willamette.
Mild Climate Hops: Golding and Liberty.
Equipment: Naturally you’re going to need high quality LED grow lights, plus hops plants are vines/bines which means they need to latch onto something. However, it is important to remember that certain types of lighting may not be suitable for a hops growing operation. For example, an LED Strip Light likely wouldn't focus enough light energy onto the plant, making it difficult to maintain and grow to its fullest potential.
Herbs of your choice: There’s a wide range to choose from including bittering herbs, flavouring herbs, and aromatic herbs. Some common examples include sage, yarrow, thyme, lavender, and rosemary, but this is the time when experimentation comes to the fore.
Not Just Herbs: Your flavourings and aromas are not limited to herbs, have a play with any flavours from fruit to chocolate and beyond.
Remember Safety: While installing new LEDs is usually a safe and straight forward job, never put yourself in danger if you are unsure of standard electrical installation practices. Always consult with a professional to ensure that your new growing setup has been installed safely and correctly.
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Cherry, Meredith, 2013, Grow Your Own Organic Beer Garden of Hops & Herbs, Grow Organic
Kilpatrick, Kerry, 2014, Home Grown Hops for the Michigan Craft Brewing Industry, Energy Alliance Group of Michigan
Naylor, Tony, 2014, The Craft Beer Revolution: How Hops Got Hip, The Guardian, London
Peters, Adele, 2016, Beer Brewers are Growing Fresh, Local Hops in LED-Lit Greenhouses, Fast Company
Tatum, Megan, 2015, Can British Fresh Produce Season be Extended with LED Lights?, The Grocer