In honor of Portland Monthly’s July beer issue and the many brew festivals happening in the next month, I present hops (Humulus lupulus) – a fun, funky and fast-growing climber with ornamental flowers that are also a crucial ingredient in beer.

If you make beer yourself, you’ll have a special interest in exploring the flavor and aroma differences of some of the different hops cultivars. You can try growing and harvesting your own (see the Oregon Hop Commission’s cultural tips) or purchase hop flowers from a brewing supply shop.

If you’re growing hops not for beer-making but for the attractive vines or to harvest the pretty cone-like hop flowers for wreaths or decorations, there are some differences in flower shape and size but the foliage is generally similar – except in the case of the golden hops.

While not much used in beer-making, golden hops (Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus) is by far the most striking of the hops, with greenish-yellow spring foliage which turns brassy, sunshine yellow in summer. Since the foliage can bleach and develop brown edges in full, hot sun, it’s best to plant it where it gets a bit of shade in the afternoon.

Be forewarned – hops are super-vigorous vines with roots that spread considerably so confine the roots in a roomy whiskey barrel or large planter or trench the area in late spring to keep the roots from spreading far and wide. Find more detailed cultural instructions at the Great Plant Picks website, here.

Hops are herbaceous perennial vines, meaning they die back down to the ground each winter but return in the spring with fresh shoots from the base. In an established plant, these shoots can grow 15-20 feet in a season and twine around anything in their path.

Golden hops are available in 4-inch pots at some retail nurseries for about $6 and, more commonly, in 1-gallon pots for about $10-15.

When sampling suds at some of this summer’s beer fests, take note of which hops are used in your favorites – you may be able to grow it in your garden:

Portland International Beer Festival, July 16 to 18, 2010

Oregon Brew Fest, July 22 to 25, 2010