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Talking hops next Thursday in Denver

Medusa hop

CLS Farms in the Yakima Valley posted this picture of Medusa hop cones fresh off the bine earlier this week.

This is the variety featured in Smithsonian magazine in July, and the one that will be the only hop in Sierra Nevada’s Harvest Wild Hop IPA later this year. I’ll be talking about native American hops, and how they may differ from hops simply found growing in the wild, among other things next Thursday evening at the Keg Ran Out Club’s World Brewers Forum at the Denver Marriott City Center.

This event raises money for the Children’s Hospital of Denver is always fun. Eric Nichols of Beryl’s Beer Co. and Shawn O’Sullivan of 21st Amendment are up first. Shawn promises to tell war stories. I’ll stick to hops, probably rambling on about recent research related to dry hopping and about why the Cascade grown here doesn’t taste like the Cascade grown there.

A tip for those heading the Great American Beer Festival before the World Brewers Forum: swing by Crazy Mountain Brewing (K20) for their Neomexicanus Native Pale and at Abbey Brewing (I4) ask for the reserve versions of Monk’s Dubbel and Tripel ales. Those Monks’ beers are brewed with neomexicanus varieties grown on the Monastery of Christ in the Desert property near Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Hops: Now you see them, now you don’t

No, this post is not about the impending, or not impending, hop shortage. One of the reasons I went to Michigan over the Labor Day weekend was to see the three-level drying system at Hop Head Farms in action. As far as I know it is the only German-style one being used in the United States.

Not every farm in Germany employs this system (some have belt dryers, more common in the Czech Republic), but it works well on smaller farms. The average farm size in Germany is about 34 acres, compared to more than 500 acres in the American Northwest, and considerably more in the Yakima Valley. (Roy Farms and Wyckoff Farms each grow hops on more than 3,500 acres, each producing more hops than all but four countries.) The first two levels of the kiln have louvered floors, so hops drop from one level to the next. Fresh hops are loaded onto the top tier (shown in the video) each time that dry hops are removed from the bottom tier (a drawer that pulls out).

German hop kiln
Illustration courtesy of The German Hop Research Center Hüll

The drying system at Hop Head can process about 80 to 100 acres a harvest season (Jeff and Bonnie Steinman have 30 acres on their property and will dry about another 30 acres of hops for other farmers, so it will be another season before Jeff can be certain about the capacity). Kilns are much different in the Northwest, where farmers may process 100 acres in a day. They are basically giant sheds with multiple sections, called floors.

Yakima Valley hop kiln

Hops are spread 8 to 14 inches deep in the German system, 24 to 36 inches deep in the U.S. Heated air, forced through the bed from the bottom, dries the hops. Tom Nielsen of Sierra Nevada Brewing writes about kilning in the September issue of Beer Advocate and the new attention on preserving the quality and quantity of essential oils for brewers, and ultimately beer drinkers. Bitch all you want about the IPA-ing of America, but this emphasis is improving the quality of hops used in all beers.

How do I ‘adopt’ a row of hops?

Top photo from Oregon, bottom one from England (via Twitter). Goschie Farms is a prominent hop grower in the Willamette Valley, supporting its community in a variety of ways. As noted just yesterday, British hop acreage has long been shrinking. It will take the support of the British brewing community to change that.

Goschie Farms 'Adopt-A-Road'


‘Going long’ with Goose Island and hops

Hopper house, Kent, England, 1800s

Because they asked so politely, and because I think it is fun, I’ve once again answered Boak & Bailey’s call to write something longer.

The official play date is 30 August, but I’m jumping the gun because I have more hop farms to visit this weekend.

“What’s good for the Goose is good for the hop farm” takes a slow, meandering road, to be honest. You’ve been warned. Long, but slow.

To find faster moving long posts try #beerylongreads on Twitter.

Stop and smell the hops

Hop Harvest, Elk Mountain Farm, Bonner's Ferry, Idaho

It poured rain Sunday in parts of Moxee, Washington. It was rainy and cold yesterday about 60 kilometers north of Munich. There’s a chance of thunderstorms today in upstate New York.

Hop harvest has begun in the northern hemisphere and my Twitter feed is full of weather information important to hop farmers. Friday I hope to swing by Hoosier Hop Farms, taking a slightly circuitous route to Hop Head Farms in Michigan, and might even squeeze in one more hop stop along the way. Everybody has their own idea of a perfect Labor Day weekend.

I snapped the photo at the top at Elk Mountain Farm in northern Idaho. I’ll be writing about that trip Friday, since Boak & Bailey have asked for “meatier reading material” (in this case, they’ll have to settle for hoppier). Josh Noel has already filed a report for the Chicago Tribune (and taken better photos), and Michael Kiser posted a video at Good Beer Hunting.

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