Hops are one of the most expensive ingredients in any beer recipe so many brewers want to know how long their hops will last in storage. The answer to this question depends on if they are hop pellets, dried whole hops, or fresh hops as well as how they have been packed.
Properly vacuum-sealed pellet hops can last up to five years inside the freezer and up to four years in the refrigerator. Vacuum-sealed whole dry hops, meanwhile, will last up to two years in the freezer and six months in the refrigerator. After that amount of time, the aroma and flavor of the hops will start to degrade significantly.
It’s hard to specifically answer how long your hops will last because there are so many variables to consider. Under ideal circumstances, you will always store your hops inside a vacuum-sealed container in the freezer for maximum life. Outside of that ideal, the amount of time you can store hops drops quickly. Let’s check out all of those individual situations.
What makes hops go bad?
It’s always best to use fresh ingredients for any recipe because they will produce the best flavor and beer is no different.
Hops are one of the most expensive ingredients in a beer recipe and they are responsible for a significant amount of flavor and aroma in most beer styles while providing the bitterness required for every style. The amount of bitterness and the type of flavor that each kind of hop adds to a beer is largely dependent on the alpha acid content inside the oil of the hop plant. Fresh, whole hops tend to have fairly predictable alpha acid levels depending on the strain of hops in question.
Most recipes will the alpha acid profile of fresh hops (or measure the amount in the pellet version of the hops) to create the best recipe and balance all of the flavors together.
I say all of that to make the point that what we are really asking when we say ‘what makes hops go bad?’ or ‘how long do hops last’ is how long will the hops still provide the flavor and bitterness that we would expect fresh hops to deliver.
In general, there are three things that will cause hops to go bad or lose their potency more quickly:
- Heat – The rate at which alpha acid potency is lost doubles for every 27 °F increase in temperature.
- Oxygen – Oxidation causes a loss of alpha acid potency and creates a cheesy flavor to develop in the hops.
- Light – While not usually a strong factor, light can hasten the oxidation process and increase the storage temperature.
To control for those factors, we will want to keep our hops stored inside a container with an oxygen barrier inside a cold, dark freezer. If we do that, we can expect hops to last for quite some time without having major issues. Of course, the quality of the hops before they are stored also matters quite a bit.
For easy reference, I’ve created a table that will let you see at a glance how long hops should last under a variety of circumstances so let’s check that out now.
How long do hops last (at full Alpha Acid %)
|Storage method||Hop pellets||Dried whole hops||Fresh hops|
|Vacuum sealed in Freezer||Up to 5 years||Up to 2 years||Not recommended|
|Open in Freezer||About 5 weeks||About 5 weeks||Not recommended|
|Vacuum sealed in refrigerator||2-4 years||About 6 months||Not recommended|
|Open in refrigerator||About 2 weeks||Not recommended||Not recommended|
|Vacuum sealed at room temperature||About 4 weeks||About a week||Within 48 hours|
|Open at room temperature||About 2 weeks||About a week||Within 48 hours|
Now, let’s look at everything with a little more detail.
How long can pellet hops be stored?
Pellet hops are the most common type of hops for brewers to purchase because they allow the hops to be easily transported, measured, used, and stored.
Typically, you will receive the pellets in a nitrogen-flushed pouch that has been vacuum-sealed for maximum storage length. This is absolutely the best way to store hops for long periods of time because it basically eliminates any issues with oxidation and the formulation of the pellet means it would take a long time for oxygen to penetrate the hops in the first place.
Without question, a vacuum-sealed container is the number one most important thing to have when storing hops for long periods of time.
So, how long do hop pellets last?
When properly vacuum-sealed, hop pellets should retain their flavor and bitterness for up to five years in the freezer, two to four years inside the fridge, and about four weeks at room temperature. After that, the flavor and aroma will start to degrade noticeably.
Without a vacuum seal, hops will degrade more quickly because they are exposed to the oxygen in the air around them.
If left in an open container or bag, hop pellets should last about five weeks in the freezer, two weeks in the fridge, and two weeks at room temperature. After that, the flavor and aroma will start to drop off quickly.
In all cases, try to get your hops into the freezer as quickly as possible and avoid opening their original packaging as long as you can to preserve their integrity. I should point out that, anecdotally, I have read that many brewers have kept properly sealed hop pellets inside a deep freeze for up to 10 years without major issues while others have had problems after a year. At the end of the day, much of this will come down to the quality of your hops and how careful you are with your preparation.
How long can whole dried hops be stored?
While less common, many brewers enjoy using whole dried hops because they offer a slightly different flavor or because they like to grow their own hops.
In most cases, hops will be dried immediately after they are picked and then put into a vacuum-sealed container for longer-term storage. To store whole hops for any length of time they will need to be dried and frozen as quickly as possible. If you buy these commercially, many are shipped in the same nitrogen-flushed packages as the hop pellets.
So, how long do dry whole hops last?
When properly vacuum-sealed, whole dry hops should keep their bitterness and flavor for up to two years in the freezer, six months in the fridge, and about a week at room temperature. After that, the hops will degrade quickly and could even start to mold or ruin.
If whole dry hops are not vacuum sealed they won’t last very long at all compared to pellet hops because they have way more surface area for oxygen to come into contact with and it increases the rate of oxidation.
If left in an open container or bag, whole dry hops will keep their flavor and bitterness for about five weeks in the freezer and about a week at room temperature. It is not recommended that you put unsealed whole dry hops into the fridge because the moisture in the air will cause them to mold and rot quickly.
As I said, it’s best to simply try to get your hops into a vacuum-sealed freezer bag as quickly as possible so that you can avoid as much alpha acid loss as possible. With that said, I have read anecdotal reports of brewers keeping dry whole hops for many years in the freezer while others have seen them mold inside the bag after just a couple of months. Your individual preparation methods and the quality/age of the hops when you store them are key.
How long can fresh hops be stored?
Unless you grow your own hops or have a friend that does it, it’s unlikely that you will ever do any brewing with fresh hops because they go bad so quickly.
So, how long do fresh hops last?
Under ideal circumstances, you should always use fresh, whole hops within 48 hours of picking them from the plant, and the sooner you do it the better. Just like any other plant or produce, fresh whole hops will degrade very quickly and start to mold or rot within days.
Most people, including hop farmers, will tell you that you shouldn’t freeze fresh hops because the water inside the plant will expand and cause issues once it is thawed out. With that said, many brewers have reported freezing fresh, wet hops they have grown themselves and then using them later with good results. Although the hops do get mushy, the flavor and bitterness is largely unaffected and is similar to frozen whole dry hops.