Fresh Hop Daydreams
By Amos A. Amarillo
It all started with a “how can I help?”
One team, one dream, right?
Little did I know Assistant Brewmaster of the Portland Pub Jake Harper would take me up on my offer. He said, “…well…actually…I need someone to pick-up some fresh hops for me in Yakima. I can’t grab the hops and have the brew ready for them at the same time.”
“Twist my arm, please!” A fresh hop trip to the center of the American hop universe during harvest season? That really just sounds like something I’ve been wanting to do for over a decade. (I continue to love my job.)
My mission: Drive from Bend to Yakima. Collect 200 pounds of some nearly-exclusive fresh Sabro hops. Drive from Yakima to the Portland Pub. Deliver those fresh Sabro hops to Jake, all before 1 PM on a gorgeous Wednesday in September. Extra credit: help Jake brew Black By Hopular Demand, a fresh hop Cascadian Dark Ale.
The trip from Bend to Yakima is always a startling one. It begins with rocks, rolling hills, few trees, and less water. A handful of small towns. Lots of farms. Repeat. With a sense of solitude and time for contemplation on the side. Contrast this scene with the dramatic transition you experience as you descend into the Yakima Valley. The air literally changes from dry to moist. It feels heavier, full of life. You can smell the plants. There’s more stuff here. And people. And activity. Fecundity is precisely the right word for it. If you’ve ever been in the middle of the temperate rain forest that is the Olympic National Park, you know exactly what I mean.
The land of plenty – apples, grapes, peaches, pears, apricots, corn, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, huckleberries for days, and hops. Lots of hops. Oh my!
Needless to say…I arrived at the John I Haas hop farm in a state of child-like wonder. And it only compounded as hop farmer-breeder-scientist Scott showed me around the farm. Harvest season was in full swing. The color vibrant green painted everywhere you look. A pungent spicy-sweet aroma to flavor every in-take of breath. Truckloads of hops from the fields delivered every fifteen minutes to the people and machines that would separate hop from vine. The whole operation brought out the twelve-year-old kid in me, much like the bottling line at the Brewery does every time I witness it do what it does.
Yet what captured my imagination most was the future. The future of hops – the experimental hop plots. Hop farmer-breeder-scientist Scott shared that of the sixty-or-so experimental hops he’s working with, probably only three or four varieties will make it to “market”. And it takes years. The experimental hops on the vine this year may not make it into most brewers’ kettles for five to ten years. (Unless you’re lucky, like us, and get to trial experimental hops every year – like Citras, before they were called Citras ten years ago.) He literally works in the future. Visionary, artist, scientist, statistician, and part-prognosticator, all rolled into one. The fresh Sabro hop I was charged with collecting took ten to twelve years to develop; while Jake has been brewing with it for several years, it’s just now beginning to interest the rest of the brewing community.
200 pounds of fresh Sabro hops converted the mini-van I was driving to the Portland Public House into a rioting bus of flavors and aromas. While the word on Sabros suggested distinct tangerine, coconut, tropical fruit, and stone fruit aromas, what really knocked my nose around was fresh-cut cedar and mint. Holy moly. Three delicious hours later Jake greeted me at the side door of the Portland Public House, with that glee in his eyes I always imagined St. Nick would possess on Christmas Eve. He couldn’t wait to get his hands on those Sabro gems.
We moved the fresh Sabro hops into position to add into the hop back as soon as the time was right. In they went. The heat and steam of the brewhouse punctuated the intense aromas I had just been surrounded with in the riot bus; and introduced some of those lovely coconut and tropical fruit notes I had been daydreaming about. Heady.
Afterwards…Jake pulled some cooled wort for us to taste, this soon to be Cascadian Dark Ale, Black By Hopular Demand, featuring nearly-exclusive, fresh Sabro hops. This exercise always requires a crystal ball, a little imagination, and a grand sense of possibility, as the wort merely reflects a glimmer of what a finished beer might taste like. OMG. Roasty, chocolatey, mint, coconut, a little citrus here, a little licorice there. And vibrant. Intense.
The power of fresh hops, supplied by the vision of a master hop grower, combined with the unrestrained creativity of Assistant Brewmaster Jake Harper, have constructed an incomparable brew that makes all of our futures a little brighter, and far more delicious.