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 Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
To most folks, farming doesn’t sound like the kind of job that would be a thrill a minute. But if you ask the workers at Rogue about their experience, the words “exciting” and “fun” come spilling out of their mouths.
Perhaps the average person isn’t intrigued by farming because it’s become so far removed from our daily existence, beginning with the Green Revolution that brought on the use of chemicals and advanced technology in the 1940s, allowing for expanded production. Another factor may be simply that agriculture isn’t sexy. Combines and tractors and pulling things out of the dirt doesn’t really conjure up alluring images. And, quite frankly, farming sounds kind of dull. You are watching grass grow, in a way, as fans of passive pastimes would put it. But if farming were a spectator sport, the magnificent hop puts on one heck of a performance, climbing some 18 feet up a trellis in a matter of two months.
Hops are just one type of crop that the workers at Rogue Farms in Independence have to tend to during the harvest, which began in August and will run through September. The busy plot of land in the mid-Willamette Valley also produces grasses, multiple vegetables and honey from the resident bees. Each comes with its own unique challenges and this year, in particular, Mother Nature has thrown a couple of curve balls.
The best and most popular time to drop by Rogue Farms is during the harvest. There’s actually traffic — truck after truck comes rattling down the road, kicking up dust while hauling bulging loads of hop bines to the still-sturdy 1950s-era buildings for processing on site. The air is thick with the scent of the sticky lupulin powder from the cones. Down the way, another farm is sometimes simultaneously harvesting mint, creating a collision of unique, fresh smells. From sunup to sundown, the moving parts never stop. Even when the lights go out on the farm at night, one person keeps the kiln burning to dry the hops during the graveyard shift as crops adhere to their own schedule, not necessarily one that’s convenient for workers.
The bustling spectacle that is the harvest season is, of course, the highlight of the year for those who turn the soil. But getting to that point takes months of effort. Even when things have gone dormant on the farm, important activity is still underway. For example, the annual winter flooding on the property might sound potentially devastating, but it’s actually a gift disguised by nature. The nutrients and silt found in the water of the nearby Willamette River saturate the hop yards and replenish the soil. Rogue, who started growing the crop in 2008 to ensure they’d have an adequate supply in case of shortages and skyrocketing prices, started planning for the deluge by planting a cover crop of barley. The grass gets to be about 2 feet tall at its peak, but will never be harvested. Its sole purpose is to protect the hop rhizomes from washing away when the waters rise and act like a warm blanket during frigid nights.
While too much water doesn’t pose a threat, not enough water and this year’s exceedingly high temperatures can be risky. Luckily, hops love the sun. If the farm’s bines were a kid doing the rope climb in gym class, they’d have set a record. According to Rogue, that crop made its ascent faster than they’ve seen before. The cones developed right on schedule, but “ripened” a bit more quickly than usual.
The sun-soaked days moved up the harvest for many of the company’s crops, including corn, cucumbers, jalapenos, rye and wheat. Sweet pumpkins, which would normally rest on their land until September, were ready to go in early August. That meant that everyone from the Rogue office piled onto a bus, headed out to Independence armed with machetes and got to work on the squash, creating a sort of spontaneous team-building exercise without the eye-rolling-ly bad get-to-know-you games.
The ahead-of-schedule picking and plucking has kept the workers on their toes. But in Tygh Valley, about 30 miles south of The Dalles, the company has been facing fire warnings due to the dry conditions. One spark from a piece of equipment could ignite the field and tear through the crop. Rogue has continued with the harvest, but cautiously: they’ve slowed the speed of the combines, attached apparatus to tractors to create a firebreak if needed and kept a makeshift fire truck — a water tank — nearby.
Weather is just one risk in agriculture, and Rogue has learned that the hard way — as all farmers do. This year it was the attack of the killer slugs. Despite their reputation for moving slowly, these creatures made quick work of the farm’s rye seed. Twenty-four hours after planting 20 acres worth, the slugs had decimated half of the lot. That is the stuff of farmers’ nightmares.
Rogue also enjoys adding crops to their lineup. For instance, the farm’s jalapenos experiment started out in a planter box. They thrived and now occupy two acres in Independence. Last year, Rogue branched out by planting corn for the first time. They later discovered the seeds went into the ground a bit later than they should have. And come harvest time, Rogue couldn’t get anybody to combine the 5-acre patch because it was too small for the effort it would take. Workers ended up handpicking all of the ears instead. If that weren’t enough, another setback occurred after the corn was driven to Tygh Valley for floor malting. The shucker there broke on the first ear, so it was back to the manual version — removing the husks one by one. That experience served as a valuable lesson in organization, so this time around Rogue has someone who will combine and remove the kernels at the same time.
No two days are the same on a farm. The rain, the heat, the snow and the wind all make certain of that. And at Rogue Farms, there’s always the possibility that the brewmaster wants to take a chance on a new crop — continuing the adventures in agriculture. What Rogue or probably any farmer, for that matter, would want you to take away from a visit to the property is to truly understand and appreciate where the product — in this case beer — comes from. When people think about brewing, big, shiny fermenters and mash tuns likely come to mind. But there’s an entire agricultural endeavor that comes first. A day on the farm is an excellent way to bring brewing from the steel tanks right on back to the dirt.
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