Monday, September 01, 2008

local hop harvest

Here we are in the last week of August and the hops are looking good. I had started to tentatively pick a few, but being a newbie at this sort of thing, I wasn't exactly sure how to dry them and preserve their dank smelly goodness. I had plans for a "wet hopped" beer, but the overall haul would warrant some preservation. I needed guidance, someone to talk to about their experiences. I had dehydrated a sandwich bags worth and was itching to show them to someone else and find out what I need to know. I hatched a plan to bring them down to the Oak Barrel and rap with their attentive and informative staff. The monkeys and I were nearing our final lock down of the ranch before loading into the car when a hop angel came to our door.

"Hey, you the green thumb out front?"
"Uhhhh, I don't know about green, but, yeah, I'm an amateur gardener."
"Those are Cascade Hops, aren't they?"
"Yep, stretching over the garden, and Northern Brewer climbing the house."
"Well, I drive by all the time and finally decided to knock on your door to find out who's behind it and tell you they look great."
"Really? They do? Sweet! Uhhhh, wow, thanks!" then realizing that the information source I've been needing had arrived, "hey, can we head out front and I ask you some questions?"

The hop angel Jesse was more than kind with dispensing the knowledge I needed. I asked him a bunch of stuff and came away with some key info. First: start picking them, now. Second: dry them over a few days time where air circulates, and keep them in the shade. Second and a half: any bugginess or leaf mildew problem I see is within the range of normal for around here. Third: use them now, then in the spring trade rhizomes with others and help bring the knowledge of cultivating hops to the world.

That all sounded good. It was just what I needed to hear. I did a little happy dance and sent him home with a blueberry hefeweizen as a wet token of my appreciation. Then I started picking and drying.

The next day I was brewing up a batch of something big, red, extra malty, and ready to absorb a lot of hop character. I'm familiar with the taste of Cascade hops (think Sierra Nevada Pale Ale), so I wanted to use exclusively Northern Brewer for my first "all homegrown hops" brew. This way, I'd start acquainting myself with their flavor profile. All in the name of science of course.

With the wort chilling, waiting to come down to yeast pitching temps, I went out and harvested yet more hops. You see, I won't be the only one using my hops this week. I'm working on an art project that will use local produce from the city limits of Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco. It turns out that the crazy twisted mess of hops in my yard are a wanted flavor. For the next exhibition, representing part of the beverage category, will be some beer by a local brewery. This will be "localized" even further by being dry hopped with a taste of oaktown. My little hip-hop neighborhood part. I am soooo excited to be part of this project and can't wait to see what the professionals can do with this years happy ending story from my garden.

So this past Thursday night, with 5 ounces of nefarious looking, homegrown dank green smelling hops, I went and paid a visit to the brewery. We bellied up to the bar and began talking to the bartender and asking for the brewer since we had some hops to drop off. He said we were expected and asked to see the hops. Pulling them from my bag, a distinctive aroma not unlike weed wafted up and around. As the two, nearly full gallon bags hit the bar, heads snapped up and started wondering about the produce being handed over. Now, feeling like some local street dealer (this is the corner of Haight and Masonic after all) and nervous as hell about handing over part of my first crop of hops (are they strong enough, too buggy, the right varieties) I had a few gulps of what sudsy goodness they have to offer and promptly settled down. After a tour downstairs to see where everything but the drinking happens, we came back up to have some delicious grub and another pint. Ending with a Dark Star Mild, I was feeling like I was somewhere in the drums/space combo before the start of the next set.

So, I'll know what the hops taste like in a little under two weeks. I'll be helping serve the beer at the art exhibit, and if this sounds like something you are interested in, check out the link above and make a point to drop on by.

Hope to see you there!


cookiecrumb said...

This is the nicest thing I ever read.
Although I'm not a fan of hops. (WHAT?)
I'm just so tickled you got a stranger to be your educator. Very 2.0, and I love that.

leena! said...

Hey Monkey Man. Just wanted to say happy end of summer. I love reading about your alcoholic adventures. I've been thinking of tackling ginger ale and ginger beer myself (because apparently America doesn't make a decent ginger beer. Damn Yanks.), but I haven't made the jump yet. Until then, I live vicariously through you!

Monkey Wrangler said...

Cookie: That's right nice of you there ma'am. Thank you. Since then another "angel" came by!

Leena: Yeah! DO IT!!!!! Good call starting with the ginger ale. Anyone will give that a try or mix it into something. Easy to give away. Ginger beer though? Hot damn!

Sssshh! I hear something (whispers) if you brew it, they will drink it!