Hopworks Urban Brewery’s 2014 Organic Fresh Hop Beers are a three-peat from last year’s hits, and Brewmaster Tom Bleigh has checked in with us on the details. I joined Hopworks owner Christian Ettinger on a trip to Leavy Farms/The Oregon Hophouse last week and got some pics and stories from the farmers that provide the brewery with organic hops.
If it was not challenging enough to grow hops with all of the plant’s sensitivities to bugs, weather, and climate, growing them organically is a huge challenge. One of the leaders in organic hop farming, Goschie Farms, recently dropped out of the game, perhaps because of the lack of organic cures for nasty critters like spider mites. This makes Hopworks’ commitment to brewing with organic hops–and fresh organic hops–all the more challenging.
Up to that difficult task is Pat Leavy, and his family owned farm, The Oregon Hophouse, located in Aurora. The farm has been owned by the Leavy family since 1912, and hops have been grown there since the twenties. In 2007, Leavy sought to become the first organic hop farm in Oregon, and now that Oregon Hophouse is certified by Oregon Tilth, the hops are the primary focus of the farm. The on-site processing facility for hops is similar to others I have seen, but noticeably a bit nicer and less worn. Migrant workers harvest the fields where hop bines crawl up twine strings as high as 2o feet in as little as six weeks. The bines are then attached to a hook that pulls off the clusters of flowers, yielding around 8lbs of usable hop cones per tangle of bines after processing. The bines are passed through a series of conveyor belts and mechanisms that might remind you of a dry cleaners scaled up to a 10,000 sq. ft. warehouse. Each part of the machine is designed to separate the hop cones from the bines, then the leaves from the hop cones, eventually spreading those beautiful green flowers across beds for drying. Finally they are pressed into 300lb bales and sewn up for delivery. Of course, the “fresh hops” do not undergo the final process of drying and are instead delivered directly to the brewery or hop broker in bags. Because these hops are still oily and unkilned, they can easily become stale and moldy if not used quickly or immediately dried.
Hopworks Head Brewer Tom Bleigh was happy to share the details on the three fresh hop beers the brewery is releasing this year and how he approaches brewing with the delicate flowers.
1. IPX-The Freshmaker. Single Hop Ale using organic Wet Fuggles from Pat Leavy with over 8# per bbl in the whirlpool and hop back alone.
2. Estate IPA. Our house IPA with whirlpool add of Powell location grown Wet Cascade and Willamettes.
3. Bitchin’ Camaro. Single Hop Lager using Salmon Safe Wet Hops from Crosby Farms.
Tom Bleigh – “Our goal is to highlight and display the use of wet hops in some of our standard beers and to create interesting one-offs. The end goal for me is to make something that is representative of fresh/wet hops. The beer should taste green and sticky, with a soft melon and chlorophyll character. To pull flavor and aroma from these hops we use the fresh/wet hops in the whirlpool and hopback. Adding them at other times in process, especially during conditioning, works well, too, but creates huge logistical challenges. Ask anyone pulling 100# mesh bags of hops out of 32º yeast, out of a uni-tank manway. No bueno.”
Hopworks “IPX- The Freshmaker” will be on draft later this week. The Estate IPA was brewed last Thursday so should be on tap in another week or so, and the Bitchin’ Camaro will be brewed around September 15.
The last question for Mr. Bleigh: Fresh Hop or Wet Hop?
“The Fresh/Wet debate isn’t something I engage in. Fresh hops are wet hops for me. Both signify an important aspect of these beers. Fresh affirms the immediacy of these hops from farm to kettle or tank. Wet is an important aspect worth mentioning with these beers because of the amount of water weight these hops contain and the fact that they require judicious use of hops to illustrate their impact. I am really hopeful that fresh hop can represent a unique moment to celebrate hop harvest with a unique flavor that is only available during this time period. I’d love for fresh/wet hop to be the beaujolais nouveau of beer.”
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