Hop Harvest 2012

Wow. A total of 21 pounds of fresh, green organic Cascade hops were harvested at the Hughey Hop Garden on the Danforth, a record crop! Gifts of hop garlands to Allen’s and the Brass Taps of Toronto accounted for a further two or three pounds of unpicked hop bines.

When I first started growing hops over 10 years ago, the concerns were for enough sun and sufficient timely water from the heavens.

There was also a concern about verticulum wilt, especially so for a climbing plant that couldn’t. But it never happened.

One year aphids appeared and chewed the leaves that shelter the hops from direct sunlight and watery downpours. The result was a very poor harvest. However, the next year nature supplied the solution-a white spider, which I had never seen before, but apparently aphids were its favourite food.
This year it was the itinerant hop pickers that caused me grief. Andrea went off to star in a play in Hamilton, Julian set off into the valley to direct a play, Judith had much needed foot surgery, and Will, a late volunteer replacement, headed off to Germany on a beer junket!

In spite of these setbacks, I picked away starting in late August, usually gathering one or two pounds a day, while Caroline and I did a couple of sessions with around four pounds of hops picked.

All in all, a fabulous year for growing hops. Now I have to get brewing.


Hop Rubbing, Toronto

ImageWhen 25 different varieties of leaf hops are being rubbed at once, releasing essential oils and volatiles, the air at the Black Oak Brewery, Toronto, was redolent with pungent aromatics of spicy Comet, earthy English Fuggle and floral Legacy hops. Palms were turning golden and green in equal measure as attendees at the second, ‘We love hops technical event’, gleefully rubbed their way to release the heavenly compounds of hops.

Hop rubbing is quite simply the best way to get to know what a particular hop variety has to offer the brewer. By placing a few hop cones in the palms of the hands and rubbing vigorously, literally pulverizing the cones, and then cupping the hands to contain and direct the resulting aromatics directly into the nose, is a technique that never fails to deliver the goods.

Nicholas Schaut, president of The Ontario Hop Growers Association, spoke on behalf of the 18 hop growers who are working diligently to grow the industry in this province. This was followed by Evan Elford, OMAFRA, speaking about the need for hop research in Ontario and relationship building between microbrewers and hop growers.

Following some tasty burgers catered by Brock Shepherd of the Burger Bar of Toronto, Diana and Stacy Puterbaugh, Hops Direct of Washington, spoke about the U.S. Hop Acreage Report and hop growing techniques.

Seven unique single-hop beers and Black Oak Pale Ale and Nut Brown, as well as Augusta Ale from the Kensington Brewing Company were available for sampling.

The well attended event was organized by Bob Latimer of Beer and Wine Filter and importer of Puterbaugh hops, and James Tien of the Muskoka Brewery in Bracebridge.


Green Hop Beer Festival

Green Hop Beer Festival, The Talbot, Knightwick, Worcestershire, England

The three-day Green Hop Beer Festival held yearly in early October at the 14th century inn, The Talbot, Knightwick, Worcestershire, England, provides the cask ale enthusiast a splendid opportunity to sample very fresh beers that are not available anywhere else in the land of real ale. Or the world, come to that.

Green hop beers are brewed using only fresh green hop cones that have just been picked and been brought directly to the brewery for immediate use in the brewkettle. Normally hops are dried in a hop kiln so that around 8 to 10 percent of the moisture content is retained in the hops. Thus, green hop beers require significantly more hops to achieve an equivalent amount of bitterness in a beer. The finished green hop beers deliver a crisp leafy freshness of aroma and taste, as well as a forward grassiness, that combined invade the senses and enliven the palate. It’s cask ale at its freshest and purest.

The Talbot is a pub, a fine dining restaurant with its own herb garden, a superb hostelry with well appointed rooms, as well as its own brewery located in a separate building just behind the imposing white-painted main building, a tree-shaded patio, and, across a dead-end road, a large grassy common, complete with picnic tables, that borders the Teme River on which the Talbot has fishing rights. The Talbot used to have its own hop field but it was sold on to other interests.

The first day of the festival was a bit grey and damp but early arrivals were treated to such nifty beers as Mathon Golding, 4.1 percent abv, brewed by the host brewery, The Teme Valley Brewery, using only pale malt and fresh green golding hops from the local Ankerdine Farm, which produced a sassy ale with a lingering but balanced hop attack that cried out for more. Green Gold, hitting 4.3 percent abv, from Oakleaf, Gosport, Hampshire, which was brewed with green goldings, developed citric hop flavours nicely on the palate.
The second day, however, rolled over into blue skies and warming sun, warm enough to sit outside in shirt sleeves,  and bright enough that beers had to be protected from the steady gaze of the sun to prevent them from going off.  Green Valley, 4.5 percent abv, brewed at the Breconshire Brewery, Brecon, Powys, using green Fuggles hops from the Little Lambswick hop farm presented a delightful hop presence. Green as Gold, 4.6 percent abv, brewed by the  Mayfield Brewery, Bishops Frome, Worcestershire, with green goldings harvested from hop fields near to where the brewery is located, was generous in its herbaceous hop flavours.

The third day was a trifle more variable but still warm enough for patrons to remain outside without discomfort. There was an added bonus of the Teme Valley market setting up under canvas right outside of The Talbot, providing pickled and spiced garlic selections, a variety of crusty breads, organic vegetables, a selection of flavourful Scotch eggs and tasty artisanal cheeses to tempt the hungry. Sonic Sandgap, a 3.6 abv cask ale from the Foxfield Brewery in Broughton in Furness, Cumbria, brewed with hops harvested from a 17th century hedge with hops intertwined in it, proved to box above its weight with a tempting hop profile. After that, the Mathon Golding had rounded into top-notch form and I chased its delightful hop bitterness throughout the day as I sampled from the fine food offerings and chatted with Chris Gouch, head brewer at the Teme Valley Brewery and the man behind the Green Hop Beer Festival.

A green hopped beer, the 4.1 percent abv Hops Nouvelle brewed by the Teme Valley Brewery and featuring First Gold hops, was available in bottle condition form for take-away, and I didn’t hesitate in picking up a few bottles to bring back to Toronto.