Humulus Lupus (hops) are the flowering cone of a perennial climbing vine that are primarily used in the beer brewing process. Hops have been used in brewing since the early days to ward off spoilage from wild bacteria and bring balance to sweet malts. Hops also help with head retention, act as a natural filtering agent, and impart unique flavors and aromas, including (but certainly not limited to!) the bitterness in beer.
The Yakima Valley has proven to be the ideal combination of the right climate, day length, soil, and access to irrigation systems for hop growing, which is why 75% of the nation’s hops are grown here.
Hops are perennial! Which means the plant comes back year after year without any planting necessary. After harvest, the climbing vine remains dormant underground through fall and winter before sprouting again in the spring.
Around the Yakima Valley, the annual hop harvest generally starts towards the end of August and lasts throughout most of September. Most picking facilities run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for close to 30 days. Come back and see us while the hustle and bustle of harvest is on and experience the entire valley smelling of drying hops!
We have a thorough blog post covering this you can check out here, but here’s a quick primer:
First, an adapted tractor called a Bottomcutter (sound familiar?) cuts the vines near the ground.
Next, a hop truck is driven down the row, followed by a different adapted tractor called a Topcutter (hmmmmmm why does that ring a bell…?). The topcutter tractor cuts the bines at the top and they’re loaded into the hop truck for transport.
These hop bines are transported to the picking shed, where they get loaded into a conveyer and stripped of cones and leaves. Leaves and twine are composted.
Conveyer belts separate the hop cones from the leaves and stems and move them into kilns for drying.
Hops are dried in the kilns, why are powered by propane blower/heaters. They take about 8 hours to kiln and are monitored for temperature and moisture.
Hop cones are cooled on the bailing room floor, where they equilibrate in moisture and temperature.
Hop cones are compressed and made into 200lb bales. They’re wrapped in burlap and labeled with the farm’s information and a lot code. (Fun fact: our name, Bale Breaker, came from this process – as 4th generation hop farmers, we were finally able to break open these hop bales and make our own beers.)
Hop bales are delivered to a processor, where they are turned into extract, pellets, or smaller packages of whole cones. Brewers will use these all year until next harvest.
A fresh hop beer is a beer made with the hops BEFORE they hit step 5 above, where they’re dried in the kiln. They’re made with these “fresh” or “wet” hops, which can only happen right after the hops are harvested from the fields. Here at Bale Breaker, we have a distinct advantage when it comes to fresh hop beers – our beers are FRESH fresh, made with hops that go from our family’s farm to our kettle in 4 minutes flat. Here’s a timelapse of that journey from parking lot to parking lot – blink and you’ll miss it:
Round out today’s Hoppy YumYum info sesh with some info about hops that’ll surely impress your friends at the bar: