The taproom at Triple C Brewing Co. recently got a little brighter.
Last Saturday, head brewer Scott Kimball clipped down the hops that stretched from the ground outside the brewery to its roof. No longer blocked by the spiraling bines (yes bines, not vines) and whole-cone hop flowers, the morning light streamed into the taproom – surely a good omen for the brewery’s annual Urban Hop Project beer.
That beer had already been brewed, with 6 pounds of the brewery’s homegrown hops already thrown into the boil. The 14 pounds of hops they harvested last Saturday morning were tossed into the fermenter to impart an additional punch of hop flavor and aroma.
The homegrown hops weren’t the only ones Triple C Brewing used in the beer, though Kimball estimates that 60 percent of the hops in the beer were grown on-site. This venture, dubbed the Urban Hop Project, started in 2012 when Kimball left Colorado to become the head brewer at Triple C Brewing. He didn’t just bring his years of experience as a professional brewer – he brought along some hop rhizomes as well.
That first year, the brewery could only muster up enough hops for 5 and 10-gallon pilot batches. Fortunately for the brewery, these hop harvests have grown larger with each passing year.
“It’s a fun beer for us,” said founder Chris Harker. “It’s been received well every time we’ve done it.”
In keeping with the local hops, all of the malt used in the beer came from Asheville’s Riverbend Malt House. The bulk of the hops used in this year’s Urban Hop Project beer is Cascades, a popular citrus-packing variety usually grown in the Pacific Northwest. The hops grown on-site at Triple C are similar to the commercial Cascades Kimball uses, he said, though brewing with hops freshly plucked from the bines imparts a “fruity and bubblegum characteristic.” The brewery also added some of its own Mosaic hops, which often contribute notes of blueberry, peaches or pineapple.
In addition to Cascade and Mosaic varieties, Kimball has also grown Columbus, Centennial, Chinook, Magnum and Mt. Hood hops. He has had the most success with Cascade and Columbus.
As more drinkers turn to neighborhood breweries to drink locally, more breweries are turning to nearby hop and grain farmers for local ingredients. North Carolina is now home to around 100 hop farms, according to Jeanine Davis, associate professor and extension specialist in N.C. State University’s department of horticultural science. Most of these yards are small, Davis said, at around a quarter acre or smaller.
Home brewers or green thumbs can grow their own hops at home, too. Kimball recommends using hops like Cascade that do well in our environment, and planting them in a location with plenty of sun and drainage. Make sure to water the base of the plant frequently during drought, he says, but avoid getting the leaves themselves wet because that can cause disease.
If you’re more interested in tasting fresh hops than growing them, look for Triple C Brewing’s Urban Hop Project to hit Charlotte bars and restaurants beginning this Monday. Better yet, why not visit the brewery this Saturday when they tap the 4.6 percent pale ale at noon? The taproom’s brighter than ever.
Daniel Hartis is the author of “Beer Lover’s The Carolinas” and “Charlotte Beer: A History of Brewing in the Queen City.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @DanielHartis.
Sip of the week
Hospitali-Tea, The Unknown Brewing Co.
About $10.99 for a six-pack of cans
The Unknown Brewing Co.’s Hospitali-Tea was first brewed last year for the brewery’s Smoke-Off barbecue competition, but it proved so popular they brought it back again this year. While it’s been available most of this summer, the brewery just recently started canning the beer. Dubbed a “Southern amber ale,” the beer is brewed with orange blossom honey and black tea leaves. Both the sweet honey and unmistakable tea flavor work well with the amber ale base, resulting in a refreshing summer seasonal that comes in at 5.6 percent ABV.