Examining the Mysteries of an Annual Harvest

All About Beer Magazine - Volume 35, Issue 5
November 14, 2014 By

Back East

Outside the Yakima Valley and Pacific Northwest, wet hop beers can present an opportunity for smaller hop growers in Michigan, California, the Northeast and beyond to work with local brewers and showcase their hops.

“When the industry started here 10 years ago, it was mostly to sell wet hops to local breweries,” says Steve Miller, of the Northeast Hop Alliance.

Four Star Farms
Harvesting hops at Four Star Farms

Now as small Northeast hop farms rise again, local brewers are working with neighboring farmers to produce harvest beers. Four Star Farms, in Northfield, MA, started growing hops six years ago for diversification after years of only growing turf. Now it has seven acres of hops—including the varieties Cascade, Magnum, Nugget, Centennial, Mount Hood and Willamette—and sells all of its hops to brewers in state.

“We’d like to see as many hops as possible go out the door as wet hops,” says Liz L’Etoile, director of sales and marketing, as it involves less processing for them and creates a connection with local breweries who might have otherwise shipped in hops from across the country.

Breweries also treat the hop harvest as a community event, recruiting volunteers to donate hops or take a trip to a local farm to hand pick them. Hopshire Farm and Brewery in Freeville, NY, last year invited all of the local growers and homebrewers who had wet hops to spare to bring them to the brewery. Combined with hops from their own farm, they brewed a 100 percent wet hop beer called CoHOPeration with 50 pounds of hops. 

“Even when we have our own hops, we’ll still do the community hop. People still talk about it; it got its whole life of its own,” says Randy Lacey, owner and head brewer of Hopshire.

Since 2011, F.X. Matt Brewing Co., brewers of the Saranac brand, have made a wet hop IPA with hops from Wrobel Farms in Bridgewater, NY, less than 20 miles from the brewery. The beer celebrates the harvest and the heritage of hop growing in New York. The farm had been a hop farm before Prohibition, and farmer Jim Wrobel found six heirloom varieties of “questionable origin” left growing from years before, so he planted and propagated them, alongside modern varieties including Centennial, Cascade and Magnum. The brewery makes its selections on the day of the harvest, handpicks several hundred pounds with the help of a few hundred volunteers, and then trucks them back to the brewery to make Wet Hop IPA. The brewery dries any leftover hops for use throughout the year.

“We’ve got a double mystery in that we’re working with a fresh hop, which has a lot of green character, a lot of plant character, and we’re also working with six varieties that we don’t have a lot of data on,” says Rich Michaels, quality and innovation manager at F.X. Matt. “We always make a great beer, but it is going to be different every year.”

Read a story about aroma hops.

This article appears in the November 2014 issue of All About Beer MagazineClick here for a free trial of our next issue.

Heather Vandenengel
Heather Vandenengel is a freelance beer journalist and news editor for All About Beer Magazine. She is based in Montreal, QC, but takes any excuse to travel, especially when it’s for beer.