On Monday, Full Sail Brewing hosted a tour of Sodbuster Farms, a hop farm in Salem, Oregon. Hop harvest is an exciting time in the craft beer world, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend! Here's a summary of some of the things we saw and experienced during the day.
Upon entering the bus (at 10:15 a.m.) we were offered a beer. Since it was noon (somewhere), I chose Full Sail's newly released Oktoberfest Lager. It's now available and is expected to run out by the end of September. It's delicious and makes an ideal fall beer! Look for a full review soon.
About 45 minutes later, we arrived at Sodbuster Farms and were set loose in one of the hop fields. The aroma of hops was literally in the air!
The hop bines (not vines), can grow up to 50 feet high! Cascade, the workhorse of Northwest craft beer, was being harvested during our visit.
I didn't realize the cones could grow so large! Some were nearly 2 inches in length. When I rubbed one in my hands, it left a resiny substance that smelled like pine and grapefruit. Delicious!
The harvesting process starts when a worker chops the bottom of the hop bine with a machete. Next, a machine comes through and cuts the hop bine from the top of the twine the supports it. After it's cut, the bine drops directly into a truck. Click on the video to see this step in action.
The hops are then trucked in from the field.
A worker standing in the truck takes each hop bine and attaches it to a conveyor that takes it through the machines that separate the hop cones from the bines.
The separated hop cones are moved to a large kiln room where they are dried. Somehow, I missed this part of the tour. However, you can check out a hop harvest video I made in 2011 to see what happens in this step.
After the hops are dried, they're sent down a chute, compacted, and packaged into 200 pound bundles.
The packaged hops are stored in a refrigerated room, which is VERY cold. You can see your breath. The smell of this room was amazing! I wish I could capture and share it. Let's just say it smelled like a LOT of fragrant hops.
We actually ate lunch before we toured the facility. I tasted Full Sail's soon-to-be released 26 Cascade Pilsner, brewed to celebrate Full Sail's 26th Anniversary. It's light bodied and loaded with juicy hop flavor!
I would pair this beer with a plate of barbeque...
It's always a real treat to meet the people behind the beer. Full Sail CEO, Irene Firmat (middle), tells us about Full Sail's upcoming seasonal releases.
Jamie Emmerson, Full Sail Brewmaster (right) and Jeff Alworth are embroiled in a lively debate about who's the most awesome.
This was my second hop harvest tour. Even though I've seen the process before, it never ceases to amaze. Beer may be brewed year round, but hops are harvested, dried, and packaged in a very short 5 week window. It takes a tremendous amount of work and care! So the next time you enjoy a beer, raise a glass to the the folks that grow the world's finest hops—right here in Oregon!