Tuesday 15 September 2009

Smoking Hops

I knew that hops were related to cannabis. This was just something I picked up on the way. I only realised quite how similar they were when I decided to smoke a few.

I was inspired by two sources, one was Stefan Gates’ Biscuit Tin Smoked Salmon from Gastronaut and the other was a post on the Thornbridge Brewers’ blog. The idea was simple: cook fish in the smoke of some fresh hops. Just like wood smoking with a twist. I got the hops from Pete, who got them from Hopdaemon Brewery. They were Cascades. I bought myself a fat piece of cod. I engineered myself a makeshift smoker. I was ready to go.

Stefan Gates uses an old biscuit/sweet tin and wire. I neither had an old sweet tin or wire so I grabbed a wok, lots of tin foil and the wire rack from the grill. Makeshift, like I said. I made a nest out of tin foil for the hops so they couldn’t escape, filling it with as many as I could. I placed this inside a huge wok and put the wire rack on top. For a lid I used more tin foil. Then I just lit the hob and let it heat up, placing the fish on the rack and covering to smoke for about 10 minutes. It’s easy.
The Cascade hops in their pre-smoked state were wonderfully earthy, spicy and fragrant with citrus, which I hoped this would come through into the fish. As the hops stated to warm up all the citrus aromas came out, this then turned into sweet tobacco, then to a massively worrying cannabis-perfumed cloud (‘Honestly officer, I’m just making my dinner’). This fug was when I was acutely aware of the relationship between hops and cannabis, but this soon developed into the relaxing smell of bonfires and burning, fresh wood.

Ten-minutes, and a kitchen full of smoke, later and it was done. But the taste? It’s really unique, interesting and powerful, unlike any other smoke flavour I’ve had before. Beyond the sweet fish it had the taste of a smell: bonfire smoke on a cold evening, plus faint hints of earthiness and even a little dry, herby, burnt citrus. I had mine with spicy noodles and a bottle of Jaipur which was fabulous with the fish - just sweet enough to soften any harsh edges.
It was an interesting experiment, that’s for sure, and something I want to try again. I was left worrying about possible after-effects of smoke inhalation which was perpetuated by a self-fulfilling paranoia (Am I going to get paranoid? I think I’m paranoid… Why aren't I paranoid?) and the fact that I couldn’t find anything about hop smoking online. There was some moderate panic that I may have also gassed myself and that I'd pass out any minute. All was well in the end though, I'm happy to report.

Some words of warning: I got into a lot of trouble for doing this. The house reeked of sticky, thick, sordid smoke for days. Pretty much everything had to be cleaned, including the actual fan extractor above the hob. But don’t let this put you off, just learn from my mistakes. Firstly, keep it covered so that the smoke doesn’t escape. Secondly, keep it covered so the smoke doesn’t escape! It’s the smoke which smells. It’ll be cooked in 10 minutes but leave it for longer if that worries you, just keep it covered. If you can use a sweet tin then I’m sure the smell wouldn’t be so bad, or it will at least be contained in its own little space. Alternatively, cook it on the barbeque.


  1. Thanks Mark, I'm definatly going to try that.

  2. Liam, this sounds awful. Cedar, or Alder Wood grilling planks would do your fish justice. Are you sure you weren't on the reefer when you conducted this experiment??

  3. I picked a couple of small bags of wild hops over the weekend, but I won't be trying this. I get enough comments about the stink of boiling wort :)

    Did you put fresh hops in a salad before? I mentioned it to my better half, and she was curious.

  4. interesting post Mark. But yeah, your words of warning will mean I will be steering clear. Oh well. All in the nam of science!!

  5. Dave, let me know how it goes. I think a 50% hops/50%wood would be a good experiment. Or adding some hops to an existing smoking recipe that you use.

    Wurst, why use just wood when you can use hops too?!

    Barry, I love the smell of boiling wort - I wish my house smelled like that! How are the wild hops? Any ideas on what they'll add to a beer - aroma/flavour? And I haven't used hops in a salad, I know that Barm from I Might Have a Glass of Beer has though. I nearly made some Cascade olive oil up but didn't in the end.

    Leigh, I thought I'd best put up the warning just in case I get a few emails saying about the smell! Doing it outside would be fine though (if you can forget the minute or two where it smells a bit illegal!) :)

  6. Entertaining post. Good to see you're experimenting but I don't think I'll be doing this myself.

  7. Mark, the wild hops are drying nicely, but I have no idea what they will bring to a beer. They smell a bit grassy, sometimes a bit catty, but when squeezed they produce more regular, simple hop aromas. A colleague told me where to find more, but I reckon I have enough for a large batch, but no idea what the alpha acic content is, so bittering will be complete randomness :) I'll post some pics once they've dried.

    Ah, ok, now I remember it was Barm who did the salad thing...

  8. I think I'll stick to having my hops in beer. I'm not that fond of smoked stuff anyway and a smoked house doesn't appeal. It's bad enough when I do a stir fry with the patio doors open.

    The smell of boiling wort is good though. Wonder if they do an air freshener in that?

  9. I guess your hops were a sample or freebie? Retail from a homebrew shop the hops you burnt would have cost substantially more than the fish ... probably still worth doing once though, just to see what it's like.

  10. Of course you could have saved all the faffing about by doing everything you did on an outside BBQ.

  11. I don't have a garden to BBQ in ... will have to temporarily disable the smoke alarm and try this :)

  12. Barry, I like the idea of it being completely random and unknown, there's something quite romantic about that, in a strange way!

    Tandleman, I've always wanted a bowl of hops on the table instead of pot pourri!

    Barm, Pete just grabbed me a few handfuls from work (he works in a brewery) so they were free. I'd been wanting to do this for ages but just didn't have the hops. Oh, and disable the fire alarm and open a few windows!!

    Pie-Tin, my outdoor BBQ doesn't have a lid, otherwise that would've been the done thing. Next time I'll take the whole lot outside.