Hops! Prolific Hops Fields in Pfaffenhofen, Germany

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This post was originally published on July 22, 2015 and updated on September 17, 2019.

Something I’ve wanted to do since I saw the German hops fields from the train a few years ago is actually go into one of the fields and shoot some photos.

This weekend I got my wish! My husband and I were visiting friends in Bamberg and were on the way back to Munich. Without delays, the trip normally takes about two-and-a-half hours. However, you don’t even want to know about summer traffic on the autobahn! It can, and daily DOES, stack up and have frequent traffic jams. I’ve seen people unpack their camping gear and picnic supplies during a severe traffic jam and just have their outing there.

Happily I can report that the traffic jams were not that bad this weekend, but the GPS did route us off the A9 briefly to avoid one. Also happily for me, the detour was through hops country!

I was able to stop and get some up-close photos of the climbing vines, or bines, as they are accurately called. Hops is grown on structures that lookto my Midwestern eyes like pole bean strings:

Previously I’d only seen the hops fields from the train or from the autobahn:
These bines were near a town named Pfaffenhofen. Of course.  Here’s a shot of the farm road we traveled between two fields:

You can see that the fields are planted in cycles. The most mature vines were on the far left in this photo, younger ones to the right, and much younger ones dead ahead. The closest strings to the left were next to be planted.

The strings are strung in Y-shaped rows:

And here is a close-up of the developing flower cones, the part of the hops used in beer:

Each cone will grow to about the size of a golf ball. These were a little smaller than a marble.

The hops vine belongs to the hemp family, the same plant family as marijuana. Isn’t that something?

Of course, hops is a major component of beer, and these hops fields here in Germany, just north of where we live, grow the hops that supply beer-makers in many other countries. In fact, the first documented hops fields were in this area. There is mention of them beginning in the year 736.

About 42,000 acres of hops are grown here, which is about a third of the surface area grown in hops worldwide. Hops are also grown in other places around the world, including newer fields in the Pacific Northwest in the US. Prohibition did away with hops cultivation in the eastern US long ago.

Hops is used in beer for three reasons. First, it imparts a bitter taste. Second, it imparts other flavors, though the flavors are volatile and largely evaporate before the beer goes into the barrel. And third, it has an antimicrobial effect but leaves yeast alive to do its thing. Pretty handy for the beer-maker, right?

I find it very interesting that only a few grams of hops are added to each gallon of beer. Makers vary the amount depending on factors such as what flavor they want to achieve. IPA’s have large amounts of hops compared to pilsners and lagers, for example, and are very bitter. IPA stands for India Pale Ale, which is beer that was shipped to India back in the day from Britain for the occupying British soldiers. Lots of hops meant the beer would survive the long shipping times and hot climate. Bitter taste was a small price to pay, evidently.

Aside from flavoring beer, Germans use hops bines as decorations in the beer tents at Oktoberfest:

And for festooning their beer wagons:

I’m so happy I got to visit a hops field up close before I left Germany at the end of the month. Dreams DO come true and this is proof!

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