By Jon Abernathy
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“Fresh hop season ties perfectly in with prime steelhead season,” explained Toby Nolan one early morning in late August, while driving from Bend to Silverton. Nolan, the senior lead guide of tours at Deschutes Brewery in Bend, was on his way to Goschie Farms to pick up 50 pounds of fresh Centennial hops destined for a special ale that will raise money for the Native Fish Society. “The release of this beer coincides with the steelhead runs.”
Nolan is an avid angler and fly fisherman, often found casting a line over a quiet stretch of river in his free time. He practices catch-and-release and is passionate about river conservation and responsible management. “People are starting to realize we are having a negative impact (on the watershed),” he said. “Water is life.”
A first-time visit to Goschie Farms two years ago introduced him to Salmon-Safe hops, inspiring the idea for the benefit beer. The Salmon-Safe program works to keep watersheds clean enough for native salmon to thrive, and the certification process works “to provide incentives for the adoption of practices that protect water quality and fish habitat.” All of the crops grown at Goschie Farms (which, in addition to hops, includes grapes, corn and barley malt) are managed in accordance with these guidelines.
Though not a brewer himself, Nolan worked with Robin Johnson, the assistant brewmaster of the Bend Pub on the concept behind the beer. “I think I’ve been bugging Robin for two years about making this beer,” he laughed. “Finally this year Robin asked me if I still wanted to do it, ‘cause he was going to brew it anyway!” In addition to the Salmon-Safe hops, they incorporated malt from Mecca Grade Estate Malt located in Madras.
Deschutes has a long history of giving back, from their Community Pints every Tuesday to their Street Pub block parties that raise money for local charities. Environmental sustainability is also a priority for the company; for instance, they restore one billion gallons of Deschutes River water each year through the Deschutes River Conservancy water leasing program.
There’s a nice bit of synergy between the two initiatives with this latest project: a fresh-hop pale ale named “Savin’ Freshies,” which will be available at both the Bend and Portland pubs on Oct. 7. The release party at the Bend Tasting Room will additionally offer a raffle and swag with proceeds benefiting the Native Fish Society, and Deschutes is donating $1 from every pint sold.
Arriving at Goschie Farms the morning of his hop run, Nolan met with owner Gayle Goschie and explained the concept behind his beer. Goschie Farms was the first hop grower in the country to become certified as Salmon-Safe, and their efforts to responsibly manage water use to protect wild salmon habitats meshes well with Nolan’s enthusiasm for fishing and conservation. Upon hearing of his efforts to benefit the Native Fish Society with proceeds from the beer sales, Goschie offered to donate the fresh hops to the project.
Partnering with the Native Fish Society was the natural choice for Nolan. The organization’s mission is to advocate for the recovery and protection of wild, native fish as well as the rivers these fish inhabit. Their River Steward Program spans 42 watersheds in Oregon, including the upper and lower Deschutes River, with volunteers working on initiatives such as suction dredge mining reform, hatchery steelhead management and more.
If Savin’ Freshies is well-received, Nolan imagines the possibility of additional similarly themed beers. “If this project goes well, I’d love to see more of these, maybe for each season,” he mused. “It would be a big project, but it would be great to have a lineup of conservation beers added to our bottled series.”
In the meantime, he’s focused on making the release of Savin’ Freshies a success. “I’m really thankful Deschutes has given me the opportunity to do this, and I’m a guide, not a brewer!” he said. “That support has made this a great, gratifying experience.”
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The McMenamins experience is one that is simultaneously unique and connected to the cosmic center that holds together the magical collection of quirky brewpubs. Its celebration of the fall hop harvest perfectly illustrates the company’s originality.
In early September, McMenamins brewers make identical batches of Thundercone Fresh Hop Ale on the same day. Then about two weeks later, they release the Thundercone, again on the same day, at all brewery locations. The same beer plays out a little differently at each spot. The process of making Thundercone was aptly named the “Running of the Brewers” by Brian McMenamin when the beer was first introduced seven years ago.
“When fresh-hop brews became popular, we decided to try one,” said Rob Vallance, brewery general manager. “And Northwest fresh hops are the grandfather of all hops. My predecessor approached Doug Weathers, the owner of Sodbuster Farms in Salem,” he said.
Sodbuster is a family farm that grows more than 14 varieties of aromatic and bittering hops and has been cultivating the crop since 1958. They sell hops to many local breweries and were happy to add McMenamins to the list.
Vallance said, “Cascade hops were the most popular and best known, so we decided to go with Cascade hops that first year.”
A team of brewers known as the Recipe Development Squad decided on a style and ingredients. “They didn’t want an IPA,” said Vallance, “so they went with an American pale ale with Pilsner and Carastan malts. Nothing has changed. The base is still the same. The hops may vary from year to year.”
Hop harvest in the Northwest traditionally begins the first or second week of September. As that time approaches, the Thundercone team preparation gets into full swing.
“We start planning in mid-August,” said Jessica Standley, brewery administration, public relations and social media. “We can’t over-plan. We usually get a three-day notice before the harvest day. That’s part of the unique quality of the Running of the Brewers.”
Weathers, the hop expert, maintains close connections with his brewing partners and determines the harvest date. He chooses the variety that looks best each year. Last year it was Simcoe. This year the hop variety will be Cascade. “We are shooting for a harvest and brew date of Sept. 7,” Vallance said.
The brewers at the 21 breweries make sure they have all their other ingredients on hand, prepare the mash bill and prep the wort so they can drop the fresh hops in the brew the minute they arrive. (No easy feat, to be sure.)
On harvest day, brewery managers show up at the farm early in the morning. The hop bines are cut, the cones are separated and the sticky, green hops are put into 30-pound burlap totes.
Then the fun begins. The delicate flavors of fresh hops are diminished by time and temperature. The Running of the Brewers helps ensure the temperamental flowers are quickly and safely delivered to 21 different breweries. “We all take varying routes and full totes of hops, and within hours they will be going into the brew,” said Standley. “We go in completely different directions. We have eight or nine routes with multiple stops. The largest route has six locations.”
Vallance coordinates the assorted vehicles and drivers. “So far we’ve been lucky enough not to have any major last minute catastrophes,” he said. The brewery that’s farthest north is McMenamins Mill Creek, some 235 miles from Sodbuster. The north Washington brewery manager takes the hops to that location and makes stops in Olympia and Bothell, which is home to the new Anderson School. The southernmost deliver goes to McMenamins Roseburg Station and Pub. Lincoln City’s Lighthouse Brewpub is a stand-alone delivery. Although McMenamins has numerous locations throughout Oregon and Washington, 65 in all, most of the breweries are near the I-5 corridor, meaning they are situated just hours from the fresh hops.
Justin Azevedo, the Wilsonville brewer, will be making Thundercone for his third year. “We all have the same brew sheets and the same grains. The hops might change from year to year. They are a late kettle addition. We want to preserve all the delicate flavor.” Azevedo continued, “The neat thing from a brewing perspective is the similar concept to terroir with grapes. The hops are right out of the field; the fresh hops preserve all the flavors of the fields.”
Azevedo feels fortunate that Wilsonville is so close to Sodbuster, and he’s one of the first locations to receive the hops. “This is one of our biggest events,” he said. “Everyone gets ready for when the hops come in. It’s a fun, seasonal treat.”
Standley tracks the exact time that hops arrive at the breweries, the distance traveled and other fun stats, like how many cups of coffee were consumed during the Running of the Brewers. All this information, plus photos, are posted online at mcmenamins.com/Thundercone.
Vallance said that all the brew houses receive the same amount, about 30 pounds, with two exceptions. The new Anderson School will receive close to 50 pounds and Edgefield will get about 100 since these two sites have bigger systems.
The Running of the Brewers is organized chaos over one day, leading to the release of Thundercone Fresh Hop Ale several weeks later. “It’s usually all gone within a couple weeks, a month at the most,” said Vallance.
Start looking for it mid-September and order it as often as you can.
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.
By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
As homebrewers, we enjoy all things related to homebrewing. This includes, but is not limited to, drinking, enjoying the company of good friends and, of course, growing hops. There is nothing more satisfying than brewing a single-hop IPA using hops from our own gardens. You can use them wet, if wanted, but there are also cheap and easy methods for drying our bounty for the homebrewing adventures that lie ahead.
Before we can brew with our homegrown hops, we must first get them off the bine. The process is very easy, but very time consuming. Now is the time to summon the help of those good friends, who will likely be game as long as you promise them the role of taste tester once your brew is ready.
In order to tell whether the hops are ready to harvest, take some time to feel the cones. They should have a texture that’s almost like tissue paper — not the stuff you blow your nose with, but the tissue paper you wrap birthday presents with. You don’t want to let the cones sit for too long because they will begin to lose all of their character, so the faster you can harvest the better. Once the hops are ready, you begin the harvest by cutting down the bine. Next, grab a beer or two to help the time pass as your pick each cone, one at a time. This is that part where the friends come in handy.
Once you’ve harvested all of the hop cones, they can be immediately thrown into a batch or dried. If you’re making a fresh-hop beer, it’s best to use them as late additions or for dry hopping. These methods will allow you to retain all of the lovely flavors and aromas.
However, drying is another option. If you’re looking for a low-budget method and have a smaller harvest, all you need is a paper bag and some sunlight. Add hops to the bag until it’s about half-full. Roll it up, leaving a bit of empty space at the top and then place it in the sun.
Approximately every half hour or so, shake the bag allowing the hops to breathe. Continue the process for several hours. To determine when the hops are done drying, place them on a scale before you start. Once they’ve lost about 70 percent of their weight, they should be good to go.
If you have a much larger harvest or prefer a more legitimate alternative, you can build a drying rack. It’s not very spendy or complicated as long as you can make a trip to the hardware store and a secondhand shop.
To make a drying rack, obtain two-by-fours, some screen door material, a thin piece of plywood and staples. Of course, that you’ll be able to find at the hardware store. All you need from a secondhand shop is a hair dryer that has an optional “cool” setting.
Use the two-by-fours to make frames that are a few inches smaller than the size of the screen material. Stretch the screen over the frames and use staples to secure them in place. Remember, you’re going to be putting what will likely be a couple of pounds of hops on the racks, so be liberal with the staples. It’s important to ensure that the frames are the same size so that you can stack them. When you feel like you’ve built enough frames, construct a lid using the plywood. The lid should fit over a frame with no air gaps. Cut a hole in the lid that’s big enough for the hair dryer. Use a zip tie to hold down the dryer’s button so that you can plug it in and begin drying the hops. Since the hops on the bottom rack won’t get as much air, it’s best to cycle the frames through different layers for even drying. Again, weighing the hops beforehand will help you determine when they’re finished. For storage, place the dried cones in a vacuum-sealed bag and freeze them until you’re ready to brew.
Fire Crochet [AG]
Fire Crochet [Extract]
By Gail Oberst
Can we expect a hop shortage in the near future, driving Oregon IBUs down and prices for your pint up?
That was certainly the buzz a few months ago, when an article in the Wall Street Journal, followed by a lemming-like response from other writers, heralded gloom and doom for “small” brewers – producers of less than 15,000 barrels per year, thus, all but about seven of Oregon’s 170 breweries. Suggesting that a hop shortage is looming, the article warned that our beloved hoppy beers would soon cost too much for anyone to drink or give way to – Baccus forbid! – low-hop beverages like lagers or lambics or even meads and ciders.
But is there truly a nationwide – possibly world- wide – shortage brought on by your intense love of hoppy beers?
Psych! No there isn’t!
In a word, no, there’s no hop shortage, according to national and local experts.
Or to be more precise, there is no shortage of hops in the real sense, as it was in 2007-2008 when – for various reasons both environmental and economic – we suffered a real shortage, making the current situation far too mild to be called a “shortage.” But without a doubt, demand for hoppy beers has changed the market and brewers would be smart to plan.
Growers are doing their best to respond to a heavy demand for aroma hops, especially Cascades, the workhorse of the IPA and other hop-centric beers, said Nancy Sites, executive director of the Oregon Hop Commission. And they are doing a great job of it. Oregon’s potential harvest this year is nearly 800 acres more than it was last year and more than 570 of those acres are strung up with Cascades, the mother of aroma hops. Centennial, Chinook, Citra, Golding, Crystal, Mt. Hood, Perle, Sterling and Willamette all saw increases in acreage this year in Oregon. If you were a brewer counting on Nugget – currently Oregon’s largest acreage hops – you might be looking at a tight market, as acreage fell by just under 300 as demand shifts to other types. But replacement hops were plentiful. And Washington, which has 29,021 acres in hops this year (to Oregon’s has 5,559), has grown by nearly 2,000 acres since last year. “Shortage” is a word you would use when hop acreage falls from 17,000 acres to 5,700 acres, as it did in 1954. Even Idaho, with its 3,812 acres of hops, is up by more than 400 acres this year. Hardly the numbers of shortages, points out Chris Swersey of the Brewers Association.
So where does the Wall Street Journal get its idea that there’s a “shortage” of hops?
The word is sometimes used when prices rise, which they are apt to do as demand and values increase. And there has been a drop in the number of acres devoted to bittering or alpha acid hops – Galena, Nugget, Millenium — as brewers replace them with the aroma hops – Cascades and Centennials. And, as large brewers follow the consumer demand for aroma hops, those may quickly disappear from the open market, making contracts even more important for the small brewery.
The Job’s Not Done Until the Paperwork Is...
Perhaps those local brewers who chose not to enter into contracts or those newer brewers who haven’t established relationships with hop growers and distributors may find themselves short in some cases, Swersey said. More than 90 percent of Brewers Association members maintain contracts for hops, guaranteeing them product and reducing the chance of “shortages.” Many brewers establish hop contracts long before they even brew their first professional beers. These agreements are safeguards for big and small breweries, Swersey added.
In Oregon, some varieties are in short supply, but these are mostly privately licensed varieties where owners are maintaining higher prices to avoid oversupply, Sites said.
Sites said there’s reason to believe aroma hop acreage, as opposed to bittering hops, will continue to expand in 2015. “We are also trying to get a handle on how many acres are being grown in other parts of the U.S., and are still working on surveying those growers,” she said.
Doubtless, she said, the market is tight. “It sounds like ‘spot market’ hops for some varieties are a little harder to find and the price is higher right now because there aren’t a lot of ‘extras’ out there that are not spoken for in the form of contracts. Many brewers now are contracting for their hops two to three years out to ensure they get the amount and varieties that they need. Brewers that do contract usually end up paying a little less than brewers that wait to buy on the spot market,” she said.
But enough shop talk, what about my beer?
Whether rising hop prices will impact the price of your beer will depend on what kind of a business your brewery owner is running. Rogue brewers without contracts (not the brewery, which smartly grows its own hops), might find themselves paying a lot for hops and passing the cost on to you.
But, more than likely, your brewer is like Jamie Floyd of Ninkasi or Irene Firmat of Full Sail, who stay in touch by visiting Sodbuster Farms and other growers each year with a busload of curious employees and beer drinkers. Or your brewery is like McMenamins, whose team of hopped-up brewers actually makes a tradition of picking up their fresh hops straight from the grower, called “The Running of the Hops,” aimed at getting the freshest hops to the brewhouse on the same day they are stripped from the bines.
Stuff like that is unlikely to happen anywhere near Wall Street.
Which might explain some of the disconnect (I’m being kind) between Wall Street and Beervana. Let’s just say they don’t know chit about where beer comes from. But now you do. It really is a Northwest thing.
Here’s Gail’s Wall Street hint for the day: Hops, my boy. Invest in hops. And by that I mean begin your investment by accumulating those delicious resins in your belly. If there’s going to be a hop shortage, it’s up to you, Oregon drinker, to contribute to it.
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