6 October 2017
And they’re off!
3 October 2017
Look what’s back!
And they’re off!
Look what’s back!
The US Hop Harvest is a big deal for us. Luke has the privilege of heading to Yakima in Washington State every year to select hops from the year’s harvest. After visiting a bunch of different hop farms, meeting the growers and finding the best crops, Luke will make his selection at YCH Hops in Yakima. We’ll be documenting the highlights of this year’s trip here, so stay tuned!
Since I have been writing this blog about Luke’s travels in the US, there have been quite a few people asking where Yakima is – and rightly so.
Yakima could be called the “Home of US Hops”, and this is why (from http://washingtonbeer.com/washington-hops/):
Washington state’s Yakima Valley is home to one of the most fertile and productive hop growing regions in the world. The hot and cool desert climate, combined with the abundant irrigation provided by the Yakima River, creates an ideal environment for producing this key beer ingredient.
The valley is divided into three distinct growing areas: the Moxee Valley, the Yakama Indian reservation and the Lower Yakima Valley. And each of these areas, although no more than 50 miles apart, possesses unique growing conditions.
The Yakima Valley contains approximately 75 percent of the total United States hop acreage, with an average farm size of 450 acres (182 hectares) accounting for over 77 percent of the total United States hop crop. Most hop farms in Washington are third or fourth generation family operations that have now diversified into other crops as well. Most hop growers also grow fruit, but some grow mint, grapes and even row crops. Typically, a Washington hop grower will raise a combination of both aroma and alpha variety hops. The majority of the hops produced in Washington, however, are alpha and super alpha varieties.
So, travelling all the way to Yakima every year is a big commitment. I asked Luke why he goes to all this effort every year, this is what he had to say:
“I love the aromas and flavours that come from the hops grown in the Yakima Valley. I love brewing with these hops, and love the beers that these hops make. This is why I make such an effort each year to fly to the other side of the Pacific Ocean, to find the best of what they have, and bring it back home to New Zealand to brew with.”
Luke is in San Francisco before heading off to Yakima tomorrow. His main objective: Find more hops to keep our beers, well, EPIC. No pressure, right?
If you haven’t already figured out, hops are a really important part of what we do at Epic. We love the flavours that hops give beer, and we put a lot of effort in selecting the right types of hops, as well as how we use them. Luke will be heading to Yakima soon to select our hops from the 2017 US Hop Harvest. Here’s a fun fact for you: Epic has used more aroma hops than any other brewery in NZ in the last ten years.
I had a chat with Ed Jefferies, Epic Production Manager, on the subject of hops. If we had the time, Ed could have talked about hops all day, but this would distract her from her (extremely important) job of making sure that our beers are produced. I don’t want to be held responsible for that, so I decided that I’d narrow the discussion down to her ‘Five Favourite Hops’.
This is what she had to say about them.
Ed’s Top Five Hops
This is a tasty hop that gives beers a subtle but tasty flavour of stonefruit. If you’ve tried our Awakening Pils, the flavour of apricots and peaches sits perfectly with the crisp and refreshing bite from the bittering Chinook hops.
If you tried Rocket IPA from the Hysteria Series, you’ll know all about the huge ‘diesel’ hit that this hop gives (this description doesn’t really do it justice). Columbus also gives a subtle pepper aroma along with a slight liquorice flavour. This hop is powerful, resinous and offers a well-balanced bitterness. Like me, it doesn’t do subtle.
3. Nelson Sauvin
This beer drove our Dankomatic IPA back in 2016. This is such a big hop – the quintessential New Zealand aroma hop. It’s a great hop to use to balance out some of the huge US hops with a bit of homegrown flavour. This dank, resinous and grassy hop has featured in recent beers such as Big Bang Double IPA and Son of Thor IPA.
Citra is one of our most commonly used hops. As its name suggests, it offers a beer citrus-driven aromas and flavours, such as grapefruit, lime and even a bit of passionfruit. The Citra hops really come through in Hysteria IPA where you get that awesome bitter kick, but the syrupy citrus aromatics drive it home.
Ah, Mosaic… I can’t stress how much I really, REALLY, love this hop. The beauty with Mosaic is that it can be blended with so many different hop styles and you can achieve very different results with each blend – it’s appropriately named, right?! This multi-dimensional hop has driven some of our most popular beers ever: One Trick Pony – Mosaic, plus the recent release, Magic Dust – which coincidently was our fastest selling beer ever. For Magic Dust IPA, we used Mosaic LupuLN2®, or Lupulin Powder, thus the name.
So, next time you enjoy an Epic beer, know that there’s been a lot of thought into how it has been made, what hops should be used to deliver the flavours that we love.
Lupulin is a brand new product for us from YCH Hops in the US. Watch this video to find out a bit more about it.
SOLD OUT! We’ve tried to accomodate as many extra people as possible – we’ve doubled the number – but we’ve really hit the limit! This has had a lot more interest than anticipated, so we’ll organise another one next year. Make sure you’re signed up to our mailing list and we’ll let you know when it’s happening. For those who are coming, we’re super excited to get amongst the hops with you!
To help celebrate Nelson Beer Week, we’re inviting you to join us at New Hoplands to enjoy some beers and a BBQ in the sunshine amongst the hops. You’ll also be able to go on a tour of the working hop farm to get a unique insight to the New Zealand hop harvest.
When: Saturday 18 March, 12 – 5pm
What’s the catch?: We’ve got limited spaces – 20 max – so please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible. R18.
How to get there: New Hoplands is about an hour’s drive from Nelson or 45 minutes from Motueka.
We hope to see you there!
I’m sure you’ve been closely following the progress of #MyLittleHopGarden, so you’ll know that our precious little (but growing out of control) hop plants need a proper home, with the support structure that they need.
How would you like to build us a hop support frame?
What we need:
In an ideal world, we would love to turn the soil and plant our hops. The reality is that our Onehunga ‘soil’ mostly comprises of gravel, rusty nuts and bolts and probably an impressive array of chemicals. Our hops are staying in their pots.
Here is what we’d need if we had the “Ideal World” location (image from a brilliant article from YCH Hops on how to grow hops at home – check it out).
If you’d like to design and build our hop support in exchange for a fun day with us plus payment in beer, email your ideas and details through to email@example.com.
We look forward to hearing from you.
On Friday 3 March, we finally harvested #MyLittleHopGarden. Here’s how the day went:
It’s not over, however… Now we have to decide what to do with the hops!
Hop harvest time is in our sights!
After over a day of persistent rain…
They hops’ aroma has started to change from ultra-green celery like to what we’d expect from hops. We were considering harvesting the hops this week, but we’ll have to wait for them to dry out a bit now.
We clearly didn’t need to pull out the watering can today…
The time to harvest these little beauties is getting closer and closer – we’ll then have to decide what to do with them (putting them in a beer would make most sense, right?). Stay tuned.
It’s really been quite the journey for #MyLittleHopGarden. In spite of a bout of dreadful weather and relentless sou’westers, we’ve finally had a week or so of weather that the hops love: Lots of sun, no wind. It won’t be long until we’ll harvest the hops, we’re looking forward to them developing some sweet hop aromas.
This is a thing of great beauty!
So a lot has happened over the holiday break. It seems that this summer has been quite windy, which as discussed before, does not make hops happy.
Nonetheless, our first hop flowers have developed. Most are still at the “burr” stage, but here are some of the flowers that we have so far:
looking good, eh?
Perhaps the last update until after Christmas. The leading plants have grown about two feet since day 48 – the result of some beautiful sunny days!
Let’s have more of this sunshine! The hops have had a real beating from the wind lately, and they clearly don’t like it. It really is incredible to see how much they grow in one day when the conditions are right.
After a relatively slow growing week (hops hate wind and lack of sunshine), the hops boosted over the sunny weekend. We are going to have to figure out what we’re going to with our scales – these hops are getting up there…
They are over 6 feet high! The leaves and stems have started to get bigger too. They are clearly liking the fertiliser they were given.
The “Ed Scale” is introduced to track the growth of the hops. How long will this be sustainable?!
Check it out – our hop plants are boosting! As you can see, they are starting to grow leaves now, so they’re growth is going to be even faster from now on. Photosynthesis is our friend!
We hope you’re enjoying watching them grow as much as we are.
And they’re off! It’s pretty cool to see the difference that one day makes. All four hop plants have now emerged!
The heavy rain showers and sunny weekend clearly paid off for our hops. Check it out – three of the four plants have sprouted!
A few people have asked what we’re feeding them. They are growing in roses mix, which is meant to be best for growing hops in pots. Now that they’ve sprouted they’ll grow like crazy, so we’ll have to sort out their new home under a support structure. We may be looking for some help with building this – stay tuned.
No watering required – plenty of fresh Auckland cloud juice today.
We’ve got our hands on some New Zealand hop rhizomes! We’re not sure of the variety yet, we’ll let you know as soon as we find out. We’ll be following their progress and keep posting updates for you here.
At this stage, we’ve just put the rhizomes into pots in a sunny sheltered spot. We’ll build a frame to suspend the hop bines in a spot that gets optimal sunlight.
One question I was asked recently is what do you do while you are in Yakima during hop harvest?
The short answer is I visit hop farms and meet with the hop growers and select my hops for the year.
This year I am visiting the following hop farms, from which I selected some of my varieties from last year’s harvest.
Black Star Farms – Mosaic
Perrault Farms – to visit the hop breeding plot.
What does a hop farm visit entail?
It is a chance to meet up with the hop farmer and have a walk amongst the bines to see how they are looking, have a chat about how things are going for the current harvest and how the weather and growing season has gone. We’ll discuss what this means for yields and quality of this seasons hops. It is also a chance to ask about what the future holds; What varieties will be planted out next season, what varieties might be reduced.
After a walk through the hops and rubbing and smelling them, I’ll go through the processing plant where you get to see the harvested bines arriving. The bines are hooked up and run through the pickers that strip off all the delicate hop flowers. The flowers are separated from the leaves and stalks and conveyed to the drying room. The drying room receives the hops onto a big bed with a false floor that hot air is pushed up through. After 6-8 hours, the hops are dried then moved on to get baled up. The bales are all checked for temperature and moisture (if bales contain too much moisture, things can get ugly – fire ugly) then the bales are loaded onto trucks.
The truck with hop bales are delivered to YCH Hops. After being checked and stored a brewers cut will be taken from the lot that has arrived from the farm.
After the farm visits there will be an afternoon of hop selection where several lots for each variety are presented. The samples are taken from the bales; The brewers cuts. After ranking and selecting the lot I want, its time for a beer.
Since hop harvest only runs for a few weeks of the year, you can guarantee you will bump into many brewers while you are in the area. It is always fun to have a beer with the other like minded brewers who have travelled to this special spot on the planet to oversee the harvesting of the magical flowers that gift our beery creations with their aromatic essence.
It is a fun time, meeting growers, seeing the hops, bumping into brewing friends, and having a couple pints. I look forward to going each year. Can’t wait to get there again soon.
Here’s some footage from Luke’s previous US hop harvest trips.
When people think about beer from Epic, the first thing that jumps to mind is big hoppy beers. They would be right as we not only brew with massive amounts of hops, but also visit the hop fields and know the hop farmers to get the best hops in the world. Not many brewers in New Zealand do this locally, and none visit the hop farmers on a yearly basis in the US.
Here are some fun facts as to why HOPS = EPIC BEER.
Epic Brewing Company used the MOST AROMA HOPS in the last 10 years, more than any other brewery in New Zealand.
Epic Brewing Company is the LARGEST IMPORTER of US hops to New Zealand over the last 10 years.
Epic Pale Ale was the FIRST American style Pale Ale to be released in New Zealand in 2006.
Epic Pale Ale won SUPREME CHAMPION beer at the 2006 NZ beer Awards on the eve of its official release.
This beer changed the face of craft beer in New Zealand.
Epic Pale Ale is made with US grown Cascade hops, the NUMBER ONE aroma hop in the world.
Epic Armageddon IPA is the MOST awarded IPA in New Zealand – read this.
Epic Armageddon IPA was the FIRST commercially bottled American style IPA brewed in New Zealand.
Epic Hop Zombie was the FIRST Double IPA released in New Zealand.
The ONLY New Zealand brewer to visit Yakima every year for hop harvest and visit the hop farmers.
When I started out brewing, it was obvious that I was never going to be the BIGGEST, but I could strive to be THE BEST. To be the best, it was logical to use the best ingredients I could find for the best beer you want to make. Sometimes you have to search the whole globe to find the best. Best ale malt from England, best Pilsner malt from Germany, best hops for American IPA’s from Yakima.
Many people have asked me why I don’t use all New Zealand hops and all New Zealand malts. For some people this is hard to hear, but sometimes those New Zealand ingredients aren’t the best for the styles of beer I like to make. Other times they are the best for the flavours I want, but not every time.
I love the aromas and flavours that come from the hops grown in the Yakima valley. I love brewing with these hops, and love the beers that these hops make. This is why I make such an effort each year to fly to the other side of the Pacific Ocean, to find the best of what they have, and bring it back home to New Zealand to brew with.
Guess what? It isn’t just me that gets the joy of drinking the beers I brew with these gloriously aromatic hops. You to can buy these beers. It’s a beautiful thing.
It is that time of the year again, and I am finalizing plans and counting down days to my trip to Yakima, USA. I am visiting because it is the time of the year that they harvest the hops.
Yakima is where the majority of hops are grown in the USA. Every year since 2012 I have traveled to Yakima at hop harvest time, to visit hop farms, and meet hop growers, but mostly to have the opportunity (which is the ultimate privilege) to be able to select the hop I want. This will be my fifth consecutive season at hop harvest in Yakima.
What does hop selection mean? It is that I am presented with several lots of hops (of approximately similar sizes, depending on variety and the quantity I have contract for that variety). I am presented with 6 to 8 different samples from potentially the same number of farms. I take these hops and rub them in my hands to heat up the hop oils and the smell the aromas they produce. I compare them all, making notes, and then rank them, and select my favourite.
Why do I think US grown hops are good? It probably goes back to my formative days of drinking craft beer (early 1990’s). When I first discovered it, and tasted flavours I had never had before in beer. Since that time and that beer(s) was in the US and used US grown hops to flavour it, I have always been drawn to these characters as favourites. Beer is so situational.
I first imported hops from Hopunion in 1997 and have been travelling to the US every year since, sometimes twice a year. Therefore much of my inspiration and influence has come from the West Coast of the USA when it comes to beer styles, beer flavours, hop varieties, and hopping rates.
Yes, I like hops. You could say I am obsessed with hops. I want to find out as much as I can about hops and the hops I brew with. I want to meet the people that grow the hops I buy. I want to see the plant the my hops come from and where those plants grow. Since these hops are grown in Yakima I need to hop on a plane and travel 7000 miles to get what I want, to make the best beer I can. So far this has seemed to have paid off.