The sea of green hops stretching across Washington’s Yakima Valley would impress anyone, but it’s an especially awesome sight for a brewer.
“It’s pretty humbling, especially to see how much of that part of the country is dedicated to it,” said Chad Henderson, head brewer at NoDa Brewing Co.
Henderson and Bart Roberts, the brewery’s Funkmaster (yes, that’s his real title), visited the area earlier in September to select the hops the brewery will use for the coming year. The hops are already under contract – brewers race to secure the amount and types of varietals they will need – but there can be a lot of variance, even among the same type of hops. That’s where visits like this come in, with Henderson and Roberts speaking with the growers, touring the fields and analyzing the newly harvested hops.
The bulk of NoDa Brewing’s selections were for hops that will find their way into the brewery’s year-round beers, like Hop Drop ‘n Roll or Jam Session. But prior to their visit to the Yakima Valley, the brewers lucked out and were able to put in an order for just-picked Citra and Mosaic hops.
Hops are harvested toward the end of summer, and the vast majority are dried, pelletized and vacuum-sealed to ensure freshness throughout the year. Nothing is as fresh and pungent, however, as those hops plucked from the bines. That’s why many brewers use these unprocessed hops for fresh-hop or wet-hop beers this time of year.
Both fresh-hop and wet-hop beers are brewed with unprocessed, whole-cone hops, however a wet-hop beer is brewed with hops picked within a day of brewing. NoDa Brewing’s forthcoming Sticky When Wet IPA falls into the latter category, since the aforementioned Citra and Mosaic hops were overnighted to the brewery to be brewed with the next day.
There are several reasons hops thrive in the Pacific Northwest, chief among them latitude. Hops need lots of sunlight and long summer days, but with a cooler climate. North Carolina’s hotter and shorter summer days present a challenge to farmers, but that hasn’t stopped a number of them from growing hops in the state.
Sycamore Brewing recently used fresh hops to brew a special version of its Countryside IPA. The grain bill of the beer was identical, but toward the end of the boil the brewery added 50 pounds of Cascade and Columbus hops from Piedmont Hops, which has a farm just outside of Chapel Hill (and another in Virginia). The brewery quickly sold out of the beer at the brewery.
Triple C Brewing didn’t have to look far for its own fresh-hop beer. Every year, it brews its Urban Hop Project beer using hops grown outside its taproom. While Triple C brewed pale ales in the past, this year’s version was an India pale ale brewed with Cascade hops it picked within 24 hours of brewing, as well as commercially-grown Cascade, Citra, Mosaic and Amarillo. As in years past, the brewery also used malt from Riverbend Malt House in Asheville.
That one’s on tap at the Triple C now, and NoDa Brewing’s Sticky When Wet will be released in four-packs of cans for $13.99 each the week of Oct. 10 (only in the taproom). And though Henderson and Roberts have returned from the Yakima Valley, the experience will undoubtedly stay with them for hop harvests to come.
“It gives you a great understanding of how much goes into the hops,” said Henderson. “We rarely take the time to realize how much work and preparation and selection happened for that hop to get to us.”
Event of the week
The Amazing Canival of Charlotte
When: Noon-5 p.m. Saturday1.
Where: 1327 S. Mint St.
What: As you might guess from the name, The Amazing Canival of Charlotte is all about cans – more than 60 of them, to be exact. Enjoy samples of canned beers from across the Carolinas, with some national brands as well. The inaugural festival takes place in the alley between The Unknown Brewing Co. and Craft Tasting Room and Growler Shop, and it benefits Project HALO, a non-profit, no-kill animal rescue based in Charlotte. General admission tickets are $35 and allow for unlimited sampling, while VIP tickets are $50 and grant early entry and access into a Biergarten area with televisions, catered food, seating and more limited beers. Details: www.eventbrite.com.