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Hop Harvest 2008

I’m sitting at the airport in Seattle. You see, this past week, I boarded a plane and headed for Yakima, Washington to attend the 2008 Hop School put on by our friends at Hop Union. This is the third time I have been asked to speak at the school which allows brewers to get a first hand view of hop growing, processing and logistics. I spent Monday- Thursday in Yakima talking hops. On Thursday I headed to Seattle to do some promotional work with Click Wholesale our Washington state distributor.

On Monday, having flown from San Diego to Seattle, WA. I met up with David Edgar. I have known David since his days as the President of the IBS (Instute of Brewing Studies). He now works as a representative for White Labs, Hop Union and Rastal. As we had recently ordered our new Lost Abbey glassware through Rastal, it was my first chance to thank David for his assistance on this project.

We shared a couple of beers at the airport and boarded our flight to Yakima, WA. After checking in at the hotel, I headed back to Hop Union World Headquarters and sampled some beers with Ralph Olson. Ralph and I sat down to discuss the state of the hop growing world and what can be expected for future harvests. I will be posting my notes from this conversation in another blog. Ralph hoped that our conversation would enlighten some brewers and give them some clarity about the global situation with hops.

Tuesday morning came WAY too early as we raged against the dying of the Yakima light that evening and well into the next. I unfortunately drew the dreaded short hop shoot which meant the early AM teaching slot. After a short introduction and tour of the facility, it was go time. As I had only 5 hours of sleep in my system, it was needless to say a brutal talk at best.

My talk was on the cost and difficulties associated with starting a new hop farm. This past summer Sheldon Boren and his brother had planted some 200 Centennial Rhizomes (hop plants) in Fallbrook, CA. Fallbrook is about 20 minutes north of our brewery and is well known as an avocado growing region. There are numerous brewers who undertook hop farming this year as a means to an end. Many of these breweries are hoping to grow enough hops in the coming years to develop sustainable hop supplies allowing them to make Fresh Hop or Harvest Ales.

When Sheldon approached us about planting hops, we told him we would be thrilled to have local hops at our disposal. It’s no secret, at Port Brewing we love hops! It’s apparent in our Wipeout IPA, Hop 15 and Shark Attack. We also happen to make a Fresh Hop beer each year known as High Tide. This is one of my favorite beers even though it may have the highest pain in the ass factor of anything we do which is amazing given our propensity to do absurdly weird things to our beers (yes I know Caramelized fruit seems easy in hindsight).

While my primary goal of being in Yakima was to work as an instructor, I also needed to work out the kinks with Ralph relative to our Fresh hop needs. They always say be careful what you wish for. I for one couldn’t agree more! When we launched High Tide in 2006, we felt the market was ready for a Fresh Hop beer in the bottle. There were tons of these beers being made but few to none existed on the shelf. In 2006, we brewed one single 30 bbl batch of High Tide Fresh Hop Ale. It sold out in two weeks.

In 2007 we made the commitment to a triple batch of High Tide. This was a very big step up for us. As High Tide features two additions of Fresh Hops one week apart, it was a logistical nightmare to schedule the brew. I still remember the look on Jason’s Face (our UPS Driver) when he rolled up to deliver. He was more then eager to get the 270 lbs of Fresh Hops off his truck. Either he was very sleepy or concerned about the Sheriff’s Department and their canine unit. The 2007 version of High Tide featured Fresh Centennial and Simcoe Hops. The 90 barrel triple batch sold out in 2 weeks. It was a fantastic beer.

Fast forward to 2008. It’s now Hop Harvesting time and we’re gearing up to make this years batch of High Tide. I for one am very excited. Having just come from Yakima, where I was able to secure the hops we need, you can understand why I am anxious to get home. If all goes according to plan, you will find us brewing 240 barrels of High Tide Fresh Hop IPA this weekend. It’s going to be great and painful at the same time. 240 barrels is eight batches of this beer. This will also be the largest batch of a seasonal beer Port Brewing has ever released!

On a production schedule, it means we will be brewing round the clock for two days in a row in
order to get er done and keep the hops fresh. I’m not looking forward to the 3 AM side of life but days like these don’t come along that often. We’ll suck it up and brew like mad men to make sure we can supply High Tide to as many of our distributors as possible.

Next week, we’ll get our second set of Fresh Hops in and we’ll then move the beer to the conditioning tank where we will dry hop (Wet fresh hop?) these two very large batches of beer. About one week later, we will start the bottling process and hopefully have beer ready to go in late September. I can’t wait for this beer to be back on tap. It is so fresh and hoppy.

Now, I would also like to point out that the guys went out to Sheldon’s Field today and helped pick his hops. And, rather then take our locally grown hops and burn them out in the big batches of High Tide, we have decided to do a special extra dry hopped version of Hop 15. This will be a growler only beer available at the brewery. First year hop plantings don’t yield enough hops for our batch size. However, it would appear that we have enough to dry hop an extra special small batch of Hop 15 which seems like fun to me. Look for this version of Hop 15 to be on tap at the brewery on Friday September 19, 2008.

For those of you who happen to come by and visit the brewery this week, please be kind to our brewers. We’re going to be conducting our very own sleep deprivation experiment. I for one am staring about 70 hours of work in the face. If we happen to be having a conversation and I fall asleep in a fit of narcolepsy, please don’t take it personally. Weeks like this come around very infrequently but at the end of it all, it’s so worth it. High Tide is coming! Go tell it on the mountain, Ralph and Ralph are Hop Gods and in them we trust when it comes time to make our beloved High Tide.

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