The ubiquitous hop- a beloved ingredient among brewers and beer drinkers and it’s true what they say, Oregon truly loves their hops. For people that enjoy beer but don’t get the opportunity to see the ingredients that go into making their favorite pale ale or porter, a hop can seem like an intangible thing. You may know what it is but you don’t see how it gets from the farm to the brewers, leaving a lot to the imagination. No, hop fairies don’t magically pluck them from the vine and transport them using fairy dust BUT that would be pretty cool and admittedly much more dramatic.
The truth is, the labor and infrastructure that goes into hop production is astounding and the BREWVANA crew got to see first hand the tremendous amount of hard work that goes into collecting the fragrant little buds, courtesy of Full Sail Brewing. The BREWVANA peeps arrived at Full Sail Brewing around 10 am, waiting outside of Full Sail and two large charter buses while chatting it up with various craft beer industry movers and shakers. The energy and anticipation was palpable- most people on the tour had never seen a hop farm in their lifetime, myself included and soon enough, they started to load up the buses. I make my way onto the bus with Margot, Matthew and Damian the tour guides and we’re instantly offered one of many types of Full Sail beers. A beer at 10 am? These people know what they’re doing. I grabbed my Oktoberfest Lager (delicious, by the way) and settle into my seat next to Margot. We were introduced to Irene Firmat, Full Sail founder and Jamie Emmerson, Executive Brewmaster, two lively and jovial pinnacles in the craft beer community. Seeing their unwavering enthusiasm for beer was pretty inspiring and how could it not be? This is their life’s passion, it shows and is undeniably contagious.
Before you actually see the hops, you smell them permeating the air. But then you see them- rows and rows and rows of glorious hops. Then you realize that this is just ONE hop farm and you grasp the amount of hops that one farm can produce. We all start to wander around, eagerly touching and smelling the hops, some people grabbed a couple vines and fashioned crowns for the heads and one guy even had a very fashion-forward hip garland. So chic. He looked at me and said, “These hips don’t lie” to which I replied, “You mean these HOPS don’t lie.”
We got to see how hops vines are grabbed from their supporting arches and put into trucks then driven to the actual hop gathering facility. Once they’re taken from the farm (still on the vine) they’re taken to a large production warehouse where they’re attached to hooks and then transported to a system that separates the hops from vines. At this point, the smell of hops is almost overwhelming (in a good way) and everyone is completely blown away by everything. Truck after truck came into the production warehouse, each filled to the brim with hop vines. Then we go to the roasting room where the precious little hops are getting nice and toasty at around 130 degrees. When I say that the roasting room contained the most hops I’ve ever seen or ever will see in my life, I mean it. It was a sea of hops and I wanted to go swimming in it but alas, hops are a food product and diving into them (they used to do an annual ‘hop dive’) is no longer allowed. Y’know, cause food safety IS important. Damian looked like he was about to have a serious meltdown when he heard about this (he didn’t but it was close).
After touring the hop farms, we were served an amazing lunch. Seriously, so good. I have this thing about baked beans where I absolutely go wild for them when I see them at picnics but never actually make them for myself. My baked bean dreams were answered yesterday. And oh my god, the chicken. The chicken was so good. I overheard a lady say, “I’m SO ready for a nap.” Me too, ma’am, ME TOO. It was so great to sit down and catch up with Margot, Matthew and Damian and hear about their respective BREWVANA experiences and hear their life stories. BREWVANA has some great, genuine people and I feel lucky to be around people that love their work.
After we had bellies full of tasty food, we got to go to where they compact the hops into giant rectangular blocks weighing about 200 pounds each and the refrigeration room where they’ll be cooled for a period of time before they’re shipped off to breweries like Full Sail.
We got some serious perspective of what does into getting hops to the brewers that make them and we all left with a genuine appreciation for the beers we drink. The atmosphere on the bus ride home was predictably much more subdued than the bus ride there and most people decided to take a nap, myself included. It was a long day of really wonderful people in the craft beer industry learning about hops and the dedicated people who grow and harvest them and I am so thankful for being part of it. Thank you so much Full Sail Brewing for a hop-tastic day! Margot, Matthew, Damian and myself will never forget it!
P.S.- Luckily for you, BREWVANA is doing a Fresh Hop Tour where we’ll be going to Goshcuit Farms then lunch and beer at Seven Brides Brewery! You’ll get to see what we saw and experience the beauty of hops! Click HERE for more info and to book your tickets!