By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Growing, harvesting and processing hops can be a finicky pain in the cask. That’s why scientists, farmers, processors and startups are looking at how technology might increase production and quality. From flyover drones to LED grow lights in hydroponic greenhouses, the market is filled with more experimentation and innovation than ever — but not all new tech is created equal.
The challenges are many, says Jim Solberg, CEO of Indie Hops, a Portland-based hop merchant dedicated to working with craft brewers. Here’s a breakdown of some of the tech being examined:
Unproven and Unlikely
Hops and cannabis are botanical cousins. Cannabis has a history of being grown in climate-controlled greenhouses with LED lights and hydroponics — nutrient-rich solutions — instead of soil. Could hops be grown the same way?
“People don’t necessarily think about the differences between the perennial nature of hops and the annual nature of cannabis,” says Solberg.
Hops have one growth and harvest cycle per year. “After the growing period, the rhizomes need a dormancy period,” explains Solberg. “There is a sort of cleaning up the rhizome does. It’s like us with how sleep helps us function. Hops need overwintering to help them do that. To take that same plant and force it through compressed growth and dormancy cycles at a commercial scale, there are just too many problems and costs to make it viable.”
Cannabis plants are often grown to only a few feet tall, but hops can easily surpass 20 feet. As a result, hops require exponentially more greenhouse space, nutrients, lighting and temperature control. Those factors add up to sky-high economic costs — plus, pests and disease could be an even greater problem in an enclosed space.
“For commercial hop growers, it makes no sense,” says Solberg, but he’s glad that people are trying things out on a small scale. “They might learn something that affects development in a big way.”
Not all ideas are duds though, and farmers and processors are willing to invest in new technologies.
Since farm labor continues to be a challenge, engineers are improving machines that aid with picking, cleaning, drying. At this point, expensive newer machines are only viable for large operations — but Solberg sees the potential to help farmers realize “big savings during the labor of the picking and cleaning process.”
Farmers are also working on how they monitor and adjust plant nutrition. Environmental conditions change every year, affecting both yield and brewing qualities. “You’re trying to optimize the plant’s health, influence its growth habits,” says Solberg. “Advances give more rapid testing of plant material that give a sense nutritionally of what’s going on in the plant. There have been improvements that help stabilize production from a hop standpoint. It doesn’t make it uniform, there are variations, but it does have a positive influence.”
Visitors to a hop field may also see drones flying overhead. Drone-snapped aerial images help farmers evaluate stresses on plants and make adjustments to irrigation or nutrients.
A persistent challenge is field testing hops to know when they are at the optimal condition for harvesting. “In the wine world, they focus on refractometers — they measure the sugar. It’s quick, but there isn’t anything like that for hops,” says Solberg. While there is still no “quick-and-dirty field instrument” for hops, Solberg is hopeful that one could be developed.
Most exciting to Solberg are advances in hop drying and processing. U.S. commercial processors usually dry hops in a 24–30-inch thick layer, laid on a screen floor. Furnaces below the mesh put out heated air that rises, drying the cones. Monitoring moisture levels and temperature has been difficult. “If you let it get too hot, the hop oils can degrade,” explains Solberg. “And these thick beds of hops, there’s not a way to have them mixed through the process. Hops on the bottom don’t get moved, so the bottom of the bed gets warmer than the top, so you have uneven drying.”
Large-scale, variable-speed fans, sensors and mode cells placed on and in the hop bed and along the floor connect to software and provide crucial data. “They can record the weight of the whole floor of hops, and then factor in the weight change for an accurate view of how much moisture has evaporated,” says Solberg.
Hop breeding programs such as Oregon State University’s are also testing varieties that can thrive in drought conditions and still provide a brewing-quality crop. “Water is a larger and larger issue,” says Solberg. “If new hop varieties have both great brewing characteristics but take less water to grow, that could be compelling.”
At a recent global hops symposium at OSU, experts from around the world presented new findings on some of the hundreds of compounds — most as yet unresearched — that comprise any given hop cone.
“Hops are way more complex and interactive than anybody would have imagined. The contribution hops give to beer isn’t just a linear thing,” says Solberg. “There are a lot of so-called hop aroma precursors that don’t contribute in their natural form. During the brewing process and during fermentation, the yeast can help the hop release an aroma component. It’s not present before brewing, but later it releases a clear flavor or aroma component in the beer. Some hops actually do release their aroma compounds during boil, which we used to think wasn’t the case.”
The symposium has given brewers “tremendous ideas,” says Solberg, just as he, farmers and other processors are hopeful for new ideas and innovations.
“Science, research and tech will have some big impact over the next five to 10 years,” he said. “Over time, new things will come of it.”
By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The totality of August’s full solar eclipse is just going to miss the craft beer mecca of Bend.
But if you want to watch the rare event take place for yourself and then enjoy a tasty Oregon brew, it’s just a short jaunt to the north to Madras, Redmond or Sisters, which all lie in the totality’s path Monday, Aug. 21.
The biggest planned event in Central Oregon is the Oregon Solarfest in Madras. The small High Desert town is almost directly in the center of the eclipse’s route, giving viewers the longest possible glimpse.
The meat of the event is camping, live music and a surrounding festival with activities galore. Four Bend breweries are sponsors: Crux Fermentation Project, Deschutes Brewery, Silver Moon Brewing and Worthy Brewing Company. A beer garden is planned, but the lineup of brews you can try is not yet available. However, Wild Ride is working with Cascade Lakes and Silver Moon on a collaboration for the festival, appropriately named “Wild Cascade Moon.” For more info and tickets: oregonsolarfest.com.
Since the full eclipse will fall somewhere between 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. in Central Oregon, most breweries and pubs won’t yet be open. But you can watch the sky show and talk it over during lunch with a beer right after — provided you can get anywhere in traffic.
There are no breweries in Madras regularly open to the public; for that, you’d have to travel south to Redmond. That’s the home of Wild Ride Brewing, Smith Rock Brewing Company and Cascade Lakes Brewing Company (served at 7th Street Brew House.)
The weekend before the eclipse is the first-ever Redmond Brewfest. The event at American Legion Park touts 300 different beers from more than 75 breweries. It takes place Friday and Saturday, Aug. 18-19. Live music, including Larry and His Flask, is featured.
If you want a prime view of the eclipse, Madras is the spot to be. The sky will go dark there for about two minutes. In Redmond, the event will last less than 40 seconds.
Be warned if you head to the area though: A lot of other people have the same plan. According to The Bulletin, the number of people in the region is expected to be double the norm. Law enforcement is preparing to deal with the surge, but area roads — particularly Highway 97 — may have a difficult time accommodating all the traffic.
If you’re just into the beer and not as much the eclipse, the safer bet is the annual Bend Brewfest, which takes place a week and a half earlier, Thursday Aug. 10 through Saturday, Aug. 12. Organizers moved it up a week from its usual dates because of the eclipse.
Want to get a view of the eclipse while also enjoying a craft beer in another part of Oregon? You’re in luck.
· BREWVANA is hosting tour that begins at the Oregon State Fairgrounds for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s Solar Eclipse Viewing Party. Then it’s off to Vagabond Brewing for lunch followed by a tour of Crosby Hop Farm.
· Albany, Salem and Corvallis in Willamette Valley are in the path of the eclipse and have several breweries.
· The chance of clouds is higher on the Oregon Coast, but there are breweries in the path of the totality in Depoe Bay, Lincoln City, Newport and Pacific City.
· Baker City and Ontario also boast breweries that will be the last in Oregon to experience the eclipse before the event continues east into Idaho.
· Be sure to call ahead to make sure the brewery you want to visit is open.
By Bruce Pokarney, Oregon Department of Agriculture
For the Oregon Beer Growler
While you quietly sip a beer this month, it’s more than likely that Judy Parent and Erin Harding were painstakingly picking leaves and stems from the Oregon hops that might be an ingredient of that brew. The two women aren’t necessarily cleaning up the hops but, in fact, inspecting samples of this year’s harvest for seeds, leaves and stems — the undesirable elements of hops.
It’s an annual six-week ritual performed by the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Inspection Program. The state’s $34.5 million hop industry depends on grading done by ODA.
“ODA provides an invaluable service,” says Michelle Palacios, administrator of the Oregon Hops Commission. “Hops are sold on contract. In order to market the product, growers need an accurate analysis of their crop. The greater the accuracy, the greater the confidence brewers have in Oregon hops.”
Each “lot” of hops grown in Oregon is sampled and inspected for seed, leaf and stem content. That’s the job of a close-knit team of inspectors — some of whom are retirees who have already given years of full-time service to ODA in other jobs. Now they work hard and fast, but only in August and September after hops are harvested.
Once inspected, the grower receives a certificate for that lot. The sale to the brewer is based on that certificate. The lower the percentage of seed, leaf and stem, the better the price of the hops. ODA inspectors are considered third-party participants. They don’t take sides in the process, but merely determine the percentage.
“We have a very good relationship with the growers,” says Randy Black, who manages the seasonal inspection program. “They know we are unbiased, honest, very precise and accurate.”
Each sample is identified by a number corresponding to the appropriate grower. Most of the hops come from nearby fields as a majority of the crop in Oregon is grown in the area between St. Paul, Woodburn and Mt. Angel. The Salem-based “inspection facility” is not some kind of high-tech clean room with white tables and antiseptic walls, but it is appropriate for what needs to happen. Up to a half-dozen inspectors gather daily during the season to do what they do best — sift through hops with tweezers in search of leaves and stems.
“It’s a fairly easy job to do and just a matter of looking closely at the hops to be sure you pick out all the leaves and stems from the sample,” says Parent, who has come back every summer for 15 years to help out. This is after three decades of service to ODA as the agency’s payroll coordinator.
“My only challenge in this job is that I laugh a lot,” says the 20-something Harding, who also does other commodity inspection work for ODA. “If you laugh, cough or sneeze when your face is close to the hops, those hops blow everywhere.”
The inspectors typically pick through 80-110 grams at a time once the hops have been put through an eighth-inch screen to remove the fine debris. Once all the leaves and stems have been removed from the sample, a percentage is determined after the hops are reweighed. A separate process is designed to find seeds. A sample that is between 40-60 grams is baked for two hours at 118 degrees. After baking, the sample is threshed until individual seeds remain. They are counted and another percentage is calculated. It all sounds like an old-fashioned recipe for some unique brew. In fact, the only thing cooked up are some numbers and percentages that translate into the price of the crop — something important to both grower and buyer.
“Buyers could start docking the grower right off the top if there is more leaf, stem or seed than the contract calls for,” says Black. “If there is too much, the lot can be rejected.”
Growers receive premiums if the samples are cleaner than average or deductions if they aren’t. ODA inspection means quite a bit to both parties.
Oregon ranks second, only behind Washington, in hop production. Last year, 6,600 acres produced 10.6 million pounds of hops in Oregon. The Pacific Northwest produces nearly all of the nation’s hops and about 30 percent of the world’s supply. This year’s acreage strung for harvest has increased 16 percent compared to 2015. Acreage has gone up 57 percent the past five years while the value has remained relatively steady.
The 2016 crop appears to be average quality. Warm spring temperatures led to some early bloom for certain aroma hop varieties, but the mild July helped steady the growth.
With the arrival of a booming craft brewing scene in Oregon, the rest of the U.S., and internationally, the world of hops has changed a bit.
“The hop industry has several large dealer/merchants that growers contract with to purchase their hops,” says Palacios. “Over the course of the past decade, growers have increasingly marketed at least a percentage of their crop directly to craft brewers. The success of the craft industry can be attributed, in part, to success in telling their story to their customer. And when a brewer can directly source hops from a grower, they can continue to tell that story through the hops and the beer they make with those hops. Generally, craft brewers seek the connection to their raw materials. With the Oregon hop growing region in such close proximity to Oregon’s craft brewers, the relationship between the two industries has continued to grow.”
Just as ODA’s commodity inspectors are a band of specialized workers, so are those who grow hops in Oregon. There are only about 30 multi-generational family farms producing hops in the entire state. A few new hop growers have emerged in recent years as the strong market attracts farmers who might want to consider getting into the business. However, hop production on a commercial scale requires a significant up-front investment, which is a limiting factor for many would-be growers.
It is truly an industry that remains all in the family. And for the inspectors who look at the product? For six weeks each year, it’s like a family reunion.
By Michael Kew
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Reedsport wasn’t Jed Smith’s cup of tea. Or pint of beer, had the frontiersman visited today.
In 1946, 118 years after his nearby fiasco, a 3,600-square-foot mercantile was raised on Route 38, aka Fir Avenue, today Old Town Reedsport. Newly etched into its heart is Defeat River Brewery, where, one bright Sunday morn in this burg of 4,000, I meet two age-thirtysomething co-owners/co-brewers/brothers-in-law: Levi Allen, previously a realtor/house cleaner, and Trevor Frazier, previously a medic. (Defeat is also co-owned by Herb Hedges, not here today.)
Frazier, arms crossed, leaning against the rustic copper bar: “I thought, sure, I can be a full-time paramedic and Levi can be a full-time dad and business owner, and we’ll just brew when we feel like it and we’ll make it work. No, you can’t do that!” he laughs. “If you’re going to do something, do it 100 percent. Don’t half-ass two things. Full-ass one thing.”
The room radiates grit. Iron, sawdust, fresh cement. Most of its industrial/Wild West aesthetic, including large quantities of repurposed metal and old wood, came from the sweat and toil of the three owners, plus close friends and family, to make a beautifully meticulous, personalized, 10-barrel brewhouse.
“This space is 70 years old,” Allen says, “but everything in it is brand new. It’s everything we’ve wanted to see in a brewery.”
But, Levi — where’s the Defeat River?
In July 1828, Jedediah Smith and his merry band of fur trappers slogged upcoast from California. They camped at the end of what’s now called the Smith River, a 90-mile tributary of the Umpqua.
“There was a dispute over something ridiculous, like a stolen ax,” Allen says. “Smith’s men ended up whipping one of the natives, which created some tension.”
The Indians ambushed, killing 15 of Smith’s 19 men. He and the remaining few fled. Three months later, he revisited the site to retrieve beaver pelts. His friends were there, rotting on the sand. Smith named the river Defeat, and it was posthumously renamed for him, draining as it does into the great Umpqua estuary, a half mile from this pub.
“The most interesting part of the story is those skeletons are still buried over there,” Allen says. (That’s 188 years of tide and sand and river movement.)
In 2012, the brothers-in-law had traded their valley and high-desert lives for coast. And, as in-laws are wont to do, and like Smith vs. the Indians, there came disputes — but no massacres — along the brewers’ slow, rutted road to publicly pouring their beer.
“It’s not been easy to make this happen,” Frazier tells me, looking around the room, up at the ceilings, at the custom light fixtures, down at the concrete floor. “We’ve worked hard and had a lot of stubborn arguments to ensure this place is as cool as it is.”
How did you guys get here?
Allen: “I was a realtor, homebrewing in Albany. I met Trevor and got him into it. My free time started shrinking as he was getting deep into brewing and the science of it, and soon it became a case of the student teaching the teacher. So the majority of our recipes are his.”
Both brewers are wed to Reedsport-born-and-bred sisters who work at Highland Elementary, the same school the women attended in the 1990s.
“We wanted to move because our in-laws and aunts and uncles and cousins are here,” Frazier says.
“They (the Allens) moved first because his wife got a job as a teacher here, in her hometown,” Frazier says. “My wife moved to get a job at the same school. I was trying to get a job as a paramedic. Ended up getting one in Coos Bay, so I moved from Bend, and that’s when the brewery plan really took off — when Levi and I resumed homebrewing together.
“Growing up in Bend and being able to drink fresh beer in a craft brewery was something I missed when I moved here. It was hard because I was used to heading down to the pub for a few local pints. Wasn’t happening here. Something had to be done.”
At a 2013 homebrewing contest in Bend, Allen’s hybrid pale ale won a blue ribbon.
“It’s every homebrewer’s dream to go pro and do a legit brewery,” he says. “Generally, if you talk to a homebrewer and they say their goal is not to brew professionally, they’d be lying. Before we moved, we considered the steps to build a brewery. We knew there had never been one in Reedsport. And Old Town was attractive because rent was relatively cheap and—”
“—there was nothing here,” Frazier adds.
“Yeah,” Allen says. “We thought a brewery could be a foundation or an anchor for something really cool—part of a movement, maybe.”
A year ago, the surrounding storefronts were vacant. Now they include an arcade, a dog-groomer, an antique shop, an art gallery, a beauty salon.
Frazier: “Reedsport was given a Main Street-improvement grant, which helped a few people improve the facades of their businesses. And folks knew our brewery was coming, so that got them thinking about a new era. This was a busy district before fishing and logging died. Lots of people left. But if you visited, say, Bend in 1985, there was nothing there. Now look at it. I don’t think (Reedsport) can have quite the same sort of boom; we’d like people to see the potential of this area as a destination. Not just our place — everywhere on this street. And beyond.”
Initial 2016 summer rollout of Defeat’s core styles include Thor Cascadian dark ale, The Bravest Pale Ale, and 1.21 Jigahops IPA. Born in steam-fired Stout Tanks and Kettles equipment from Portland, the beers are pure Oregon — Crosby hops from Woodburn, Wyeast from Odell, and floor-malted Mecca Grade barley, estate-grown in Madras, a stone’s toss from the Deschutes River. Defeat is the first draught-producing brewery to use Full Pint, Mecca’s proprietary malt.
“Some people had brewed with it, but it’s mostly been used for whiskey,” Frazier says. “Last year I contacted Seth (of Mecca) because I wanted to get a bag of malt to homebrew with. When he learned we were starting a brewery, he got excited.”
The two aim to get all their malt from Mecca, including planned specialties via estate expansion. Defeat’s goal is to have 12 rotating taps — core, seasonal and specialty — supplying the bar, plus regional wines and guest beers. Food trucks are likely.
Allen believes a town can reinvent itself. Even tiny Reedsport — 20 minutes from Florence, 20 minutes from Coos Bay, 90 minutes from Eugene. “Business-wise,” he says, “much of what we’ve done is plan for the worst and hope for the best. It’s a seasonal economy here. Places close in October and they don’t reopen until April or May. We wanted to make our pub attractive for people to come and drink beer year-round.”
“It’s not just about finally being able to pour our beer for people,” Frazier says, “which we’re very proud of. Or that it’s taken considerable effort getting this place going. It’s not just about the beer. It’s about the atmosphere we’ve created for you.”
Defeat River Brewery
[a] 473 Fir Ave., Reedsport
In April 2015, conservation group Oregon Wild announced the formation of The Oregon Brewshed® Alliance. The coalition of breweries and more advocates for the protection of forests and watersheds. Featured here, left to right, are Christian Ettinger of Hopworks, Colin Rath, co-founder of Migration and member of Oregon Wild’s Board of Directors, Julia Person, sustainability manager at Widmer, and Marielle Cowdin, outreach and marketing coordinator from Oregon Wild. Photo by Emma Browne
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Brewers know that great beer begins with clean water. Oregon craft beer is especially connected to the Northwest’s land and waterways, and that’s why in April 2015, conservation group Oregon Wild announced the formation of The Oregon Brewshed® Alliance. The coalition of breweries, other craft beer organizations and conservationists advocates for the protection of forests and watersheds.
Launching with eight partners from the craft beer industry, in less than a year there are now 21 partners, including 7 Devils Brewing Co. in Coos Bay, C-BIG (Craft Beverage Industry Group), Crosby Hop Farm in Woodburn, Fort George Brewery in Astoria, GoodLife Brewing in Bend, the brewpub chain McMenamins, Standing Stone Brewing Company in Ashland and multiple other breweries in Eugene and Portland.
“Conservationists and breweries joining forces for clean water might be a bit unconventional, but the partnership is really a natural fit,” says Marielle Cowdin, outreach and marketing coordinator for Oregon Wild. “Keeping our drinking watersheds clean and protected is essential for living. And it’s just as essential for keeping our craft brewing industry, something that has so defined our state’s culture, alive and thriving.”
Brewshed® partners and Oregon Wild also realized they had an opportunity to help the public understand the importance of clean water for brewing. “Many craft beer drinkers don't realize how significant water is for the process,” says Cowdin. “Two-thirds of Oregonians get their tap water from our state's lakes, streams and rivers. Since water is a product of the land that it flows through, our cleanest and best-tasting water flows through unspoiled public forest lands, with healthy forests acting as a natural filtration systems.”
Oregon Wild (formerly the Oregon Natural Resources Council or ONRC) began in 1974. Their conservation efforts have protected 1.7 million acres of wilderness, 95,000 acres of forests, and 1,800 miles of water protected by the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The foundation of the Brewshed® was laid in 2009 when Oregon Wild partnered with Widmer Brothers Brewing to protect Portland's Bull Run Watershed. “The partnership sparked plans for a larger initiative, given the intimate connection between Oregon's thriving craft brewing scene and our public wildlands.”
Partners collaborate on various outreach events, such as pint nights, happy hours, special brews, Brewshed® hikes and fundraisers that support Oregon Wild's forest and watershed conservation work. Eugene’s Claim 52 Brewing considers conservation efforts a priority and works with various nonprofits on environmental stewardship. “From inception, Claim 52 has been proud to credit the McKenzie River for the flavor profile of our signature beer, the kolsch,” says co-founder/owner Mercy McDonald. “The river that runs in our backyard is vital and needs our care and protection to keep it pure. All of us have a role and stake in that outcome.”
Claim 52 hosts events for Oregon Wild throughout the year and contributes to raffles to help with fundraising. Last year, Claim 52 also bottled a specialty beer, Scrivener’s Sour, and donated a portion of the proceeds to Oregon Wild. McMenamins provides similar support. This year, while celebrating the 30th anniversary of Hammerhead, McMenamins donated $1 for every pint of the pale ale sold in Oregon Jan. 30-31. The brewpub chain is also donating event space for the Brewshed® Brewfest, which is set to take place Wednesday, May 18 at the Kennedy School in Portland. The inaugural event will feature beers from Brewshed® partners and guests can vote for their favorite beers.
“The amazing beers our Brewshed® partners will be pouring will showcase Oregon water, but we'll be incorporating information about Oregon watersheds and water conservation into our program for the evening, with speakers from Oregon Wild and other Alliance members,” explains Cowdin. “Fest attendees will get to know about watersheds beyond Portland and get to taste beer from across the state. Overall, this first annual Oregon Brewshed® Brewfest will be a celebration of Oregon beer and the Oregon water that helps it stand apart.”
In 2015, partners held 12 events to raise awareness and support, including an Earth Day fundraiser, a Community Tap Month, a hike along the Salmon River and an environmental speaker series. Events in 2016 have included a fundraising campaign called Weekend for Water in partnership with the Oregon Environmental Council, Base Camp Brewing Company’s Collabofest presented by #PDXNOW, and February’s KLCC Microbrew Festival in Eugene, where the Alliance sponsored the water stations.
“Moving forward, we hope to continue growth with new partner breweries and others in the brewing community that care about clean water across the state,” says Cowdin. “As the Oregon Brewshed® Alliance builds new partnerships, our voice for Oregon watersheds becomes stronger, and eventually, the Alliance could be seen as a model for craft brewing and water conservation nationwide.”
For brewers such as Mercy McDonald, the need for partnership is simple. “Clean water is often taken for granted, and that’s where quality beer starts.”
Oregon Brewshed® Alliance
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