By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Andrew Bloo was not a farmer before founding Cascade Hop Farm, despite the fact that his roots were in agriculture.
“I was the first person that didn’t farm in my entire family,” Bloo said on a recent warm August morning in the shadow of his second-year farm near Bend, just outside of the small town of Tumalo.
After a career spent mostly in business — in marketing and as CEO of a software company — Bloo turned to hop farming as a way to spend more time with his family while starting a new endeavor.
Despite a lack of experience — outside of voluminous research on hop farming conducted by Bloo and help from his family of farmers — the first year resulted in a successful fresh-hop crop in 2015. Redmond’s Wild Ride Brewing used Cascade Hop Farm’s product for its Three Sisters Wet Hopped Red Ale.
“It’s exciting from the standpoint that someone showed the faith to buy it from us, a first-year farm, a local provider, instead of going to Yakima or over to the [Willamette] Valley,” Bloo said.
The Three Sisters beer quickly sold out last year, and Wild Ride came back to Bloo’s farm for enough hops to make a double batch this year.
The farm is also contracted with Central Oregon’s Cascade Lakes Brewing Company and Juniper Brewing Company this year. Bendistillery — literally right next door to the property — is also experimenting with a hop-infused product, Bloo said.
After that first year, Cascade Hop Farm has already increased its hop acreage from one to three acres in 2016. Another acre is planned for the coming years. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing in year two for Cascade: A late, hard frost in the middle of June killed most of the plants. But good weather and a solid root system allowed Bloo to start over nearly from scratch right as summer was starting. The farm, which is growing Centennial, Cascade and Nugget hops — is planning on harvesting early in September.
Cascade Hop Farm has helped to prove the so-called “craft hops” movement is on in earnest in Central Oregon, with a handful of small farms providing hops for area breweries.
For Central Oregon brewers, the advantage of getting their fresh hops locally is that the time from pick to boil is cut down dramatically. Getting hops from the big growers west of the Cascades or in Washington could take hours. Hops at Cascade Hop Farm or another local grower could go from bine to brewing in half an hour.
“You have such a limited window,” Bloo said on the harvest period for fresh hops. “A., you have to schedule a brewing opportunity, and B., your crop has to be ready. You can’t really sell hops until it’s time, and there’s this kind of tension of when brewers need it and when you can actually harvest a quality crop.”
Cascade has a lot of other things going for it besides having a quality product and attracting brewers who want to support a local business. Most of the property on which the farm is set is a wildlife preserve. The grounds surrounding the farm have been left in a natural state, and hop trimmings and spent bines are placed around the preserve so that animals can use it for habitat.
It’s also a truly family endeavor.
Bloo’s wife and children were out surveying the land in the morning as Bloo talked about the farm. Bloo’s mother lives in a house and acreage right next door to the farm and checks on the plants daily. Bloo’s father also visits regularly and plies his agricultural expertise to help the farm get off the ground.
“Our goal is really to do this as a family and spend our time out here,” Bloo said.
By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Smith Rock Hop Farm co-founder Miles Wilhelm was drinking a pint of beer on a recent August evening while surveying the acres of hop bines that he and volunteers would harvest the next morning.
“Beer absolutely tastes better when you grow your own hops,” Wilhelm said with a smile.
Wilhelm didn’t have to wait long to savor that improved flavor. Smith Rock Hop Farm, near the small Central Oregon town of Terrebonne, is now in its second year of growing hops and features two types: Centennial and Cascade. The entire crop of Centennial was earmarked for Redmond’s Wild Ride Brewing that went into a boil the same day it was harvested to make a fresh-hop beer.
While other areas in the Pacific Northwest are famous for growing hops — notably Oregon’s Willamette Valley and the Yakima Valley in Washington -- the conditions are actually fairly ideal in Central Oregon as well, according to Wilhelm. Evidence comes in the form of a growing number of hop farms that have sprung up around the region. Smith Rock is just one of them. The most well-known is probably Bend’s Worthy Brewing Company, which actually has a greenhouse and hop yard on its campus. There is also a smattering of hop farms throughout the region, including Cascade Hop Farm in Redmond, Tumalo Hops in Tumalo and several others based in the Lone Pine Valley, Madras and Powell Butte. Those farms work together on selling hops and improving growing techniques as the Central Oregon Hop Growers organization.
The real advantage of having a readily available supply of hops — even in small quantities — for the numerous Central Oregon breweries comes at harvest time and during fresh-hop beer season. Instead of waiting for a shipment of hops from a larger grower hours away, the hops from area farms can get to the brewers much more quickly.
“There were 26 different fresh hop beers last year that were just made by Central Oregon brewers,” Wilhelm said. “And we would love to supply that. That way they get a fresh hop beer, which is en vogue, and we don’t have to dry, pack it, store it, et cetera.”
For those interested in growing and harvesting their own hops on a much smaller scale, it doesn’t sound like rocket science, at least to listen to the way Wilhelm described it. Before starting Smith Rock, he just grew hops in his backyard.
“You just stick them in ground, give them as much sun as possible and make sure they get enough to water,” Wilhelm said. “You don’t have to baby them.”
Clearly, successfully growing hops -- especially on a larger scale -- is a little more nuanced than that. But Wilhelm explained that anyone from about Ashland to the Canadian border could find success in trying to grow hops in just about any type of soil.
A setup for growing hops can be as simple as running a piece of string from the ground to your roof, although hops can also grow on a trellis. On a larger scale and with more materials, that is the basic arrangement at most hop farms, allowing hops to grow upward. Adding a little bit of fertilizer and nitrogen is good, Wilhelm says, as is watering them regularly, though not to the point out of “drowning them.”
Harvesting is easy -- you just pluck them off the bine. Although getting to the hops can be difficult if the bines reach their full height at maturity, in excess of 20 feet.
When you’re done, you have fresh hops, which could make your homebrew or the fresh-hop beer at a local brewery taste that much better.
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