Hunting For Hops
It’s harvest time. In the Yakima Valley in Washington, one of the biggest crops being harvested is fresh hops. Fitger’s Brewhouse brewers recently traveled to the region to hand-select the hops that will be used in our beers.
Seventyfive percent of the nation’s hops are grown in this area and in the 40-day window of the hop harvest, brewers from around the country travel to get the best pick of hops for their beer.
This year we were able to send Master Brewer Dave Hoops, Head Brewer Frank Kaszuba, Brewer Jason Krause, and Brewhouse Principal Tim Nelson to select our hops for the coming year. While there, they were also able to learn more about hops and new hop varieties as well as tour the farms and meet with the hop farmers.
“We know exactly where our product is coming from and we have a relationship with the grower,” said Hoops.
The group also visited a hop processing facility where they were able to choose from different lots of hops from individual growers. To choose which lot of hops they would like, they depend primarily on their senses. By rubbing the hop cone in their hands, oil from the hop is released, and from this the brewers are able to judge the flavor quality of the hops. This creates a great advantage, as we are able to create the exact product we want to by being able to have the premier choice in ingredients. Smaller breweries are often not able to do this and must instead work with the hops that are sent to them.
Before being sent to the brewers, the selected hops are often pelletized. Most modern breweries choose to get most of their hops pelletized rather than whole. Whole hops absorb much more water and create for far more trub (extra material left in the boil kettle) than the pelletized hops.
Contracts with these hop growers are made about three years in advance. These contracts give the brewery a predetermined amount of hops that they will buy from the grower. The amount of hops reserved varies between different hop varieties. For example – this year we bought 1100 lbs of Cascade hops, meanwhile some other varieties were only purchased in amounts of 140 lbs.
Although about 75 percent of the hops we use are sourced from Yakima, we still buy hops from around the world. Other places that we buy hops from include the Czech Republic, Germany, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand.
While on this years trip, our brewers were able to meet up with some of their friends from other Minnesota breweries such as Bent Paddle, Town Hall, Summit, Surly, and Indeed.