The hop for his profit I thus do exalt,
It strengtheneth drink and it flavoureth malt;
And being well-brewed long kept it will last,
And drawing abide, if ye draw not too fast.
Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry (1557)
Without Beer Hops For Brewing, There Would Be No Beer
Hops – a perennial, herbaceous, climbing plant – are the flowers or “seed cones” of the plant Humulus Lupulis. Beer hops for brewing, used primarily for flavoring, aromatics, and as a stability agent in beer, in the hands of a skilled brewer can impart a multitude of different flavors: bitterness, citrus, pine, and even notes of tropical fruit.
Left to Right: The Bice Family, Cristi, Colton, Nicole and Scott Photo credit: Charlotte Ballenger
The hop plant is a vigorous, climbing, herbaceous perennial, usually trained to grow up strings in a trellis system. A field of this unique plant is referred to as a “hop yard.” Under good conditions, hops can easily grow twenty feet in the three to four month-long growing season.
Hops cultivation thrived in Sonoma County from about 1880 to 1960.
At that time, an average of 8 bales of dried hops – equivalent to about 5,000 pounds of fresh hops, were produced per acre. The hop plant industry moved north into eastern Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, however, for several reasons. Low cost land was available with plenty of water. Northern latitudes increased yields. Plant diseases were less likely in the drier climate, and mechanical harvesting allowed large-scale farms to thrive.
Beer hops for brewing are back and in great demand in Sonoma County today, thanks to its thriving craft beer industry. CLICK HERE to learn more about that, courtesy of the University of California Cooperative Extension, UCCE. From big craft breweries that distribute nationwide such as Lagunitas, to smaller breweries with cult followings, including Crooked Goat brewery, Sonoma County offers a wealth of great, local beers.
Most American varieties of hops are grown in the Pacific Northwest.
Kiln-dried and pelletized, they’re available year-round. A recent trend for craft brewers is producing “wet hop” or “fresh hop” beers. The hop fruit is harvested in late summer. Then, it is taken immediately to the brewery and added fresh to the brew kettle. Akin to a chef using fresh rather than dried culinary herbs, fresh hops open up a new realm of options for brewers of beer.
Farm Manager Scott Bice enjoys a good beer from time to time. So, he established the hop yard in 2016 when a spot in our fruit orchard opened up. He planted the primary varieties Columbus, Cascade, and Chinook in the original quarter-acre yard. These great dual purpose varietals provide bitterness and aromatics of citrus and pine to the beer.
We used composted manure from our goat barns for the bedding material in which they were planted. In addition, compost is a powerful mulch that retains ground moisture and allowed our plants to thrive. Consequently, a small harvest was produced in the first year.
We have since planted Comet, Cashmere, Crystal, and Glacier varietals to the mix.
- Cashmere is a hop bred by Washington State University and gaining a lot of popularity with craft brewers for its intense aroma of melon and tropical fruit.
- Comet is also a rising hop among brewers with aromatics of grapefruit and fresh grass.
- Crystal is often dubbed the American version of the famous German Hallertau hop, great to be used in pilsners and lagers for its mellow yet floral aromatics.
- Glacier is a great dual purpose hop with cedar and earthy characteristics yielding itself well to pale ales.
We are excited that our fresh hops are in demand from local beer makers for their seasonal brews. In September, we look forward to raising a glass of great local beer after a hard day of work on the farm—beer brewed with Capracopia hops. Cheers!