Dormancy or hibernation

Posted: 07 February 2013

Author: S Tricker

Dormancy is defined as a period when growth, development and or physical activity are temporarily stopped or slowed to a minimum. A period when the organism minimises activity to conserve energy; In order to hibernate, an animal prepares layers of body fat during late summer and autumn to give it energy during its dormant (hibernation) phase.

So what I hear you ask? Plants and seeds have a dormancy period too, it is the period before they start to grow in the spring, that stage when they either look dead or there is nothing to see at all

Barley dormancy is dependent on the weather conditions just before harvest, hot dry weather minimises the dormancy period whilst cool damp dull weather increases it (even barley just wants to curl up and sleep in some conditions). Malsters traditionally expect new season’s barley to have lost its dormancy after 6 to 8 weeks and to then be able to be malted although some barleys continue to exhibit dormancy for up to a year. The malting process then starts the germination stages activating the naturally present enzymes which modify the grains starch (natural energy store) into sugars suitable for brewing.
Hops also undergo a dormancy phase which is critical for the production of the hop flowers the following year. This phase of dormancy follows the collection of energy into the plant from the leaf material and is triggered by the drop in temperature explaining in part why hops can only be successfully grown in certain regions that have both long periods of daylight and cold winters.

At this time of year with the short cold days and longer cold nights, this year with the added bonus of snow and bitterly cold winds who hasn’t thought about curling up and sleeping until spring. Unfortunately we cannot hibernate, we do our best to be semi dormant, staying in the warm, wrapping up when we go out (conserving energy) and we probably all built up our fat layers (possibly over Christmas rather than in the late summer?).   

So during this quiet period what have we been up to?
It is the traditional time when the plant is released to the engineers for a little bit of tlc, this is as essential as it is with all mechanical equipment (from your car to your central heating) so it is from our pumps and motors to our boilers .
Easter with the promise of bank holidays and heat waves is early this year so we are brewing and packaging to ensure that there is beer available when we all venture out into the spring sunlight.
As brewers we are already looking forwards to the longer days as we plan a range of new brews to supplement our popular ales and lagers and are eagerly anticipating the new hops the brews we can create from them.
So for us our semi dormant period is clearly over, now we just need the improvements in the weather and of course for the barley and hops to break their dormancy as well

Stewart Tricker - Senior Brewer