Drake’s Field Trip to the Hop Farm


This is the result when you tell us to “point to the camera.”



As our friends over at the SF Brewers Guild point out, it’s hop harvest season, and that means wet-hopped beers- beers hopped with fresh, unprocessed, “wet” hops.  “Wet hops?” we hear you ask, “where do you get those?”  Well, in this case, we got them from Hood Hops Ranch, in Hood, CA.  And by “get them,” we actually mean “physically go get them.”  At 9am Saturday morning, the bus pulled away from Drake’s, bringing a few dozen blearly-eyed Drake’s staffers up to the outskirts of Sacramento for some good ol’ fashioned manual labor. (It’s okay though, we had beer.)

These hops are ready to become beer.

These hops are ready to become beer.

Two hours later, we pulled carefully into the narrow Hood Hops Ranch driveway and were greeted by Greenhouse Nursery GM Chris Peck, who gave us a quick tour, told us where to set up the jockey box, and most importantly, introduced us to Ginger.  After we filled up our canteens, we each grabbed a burlap sack and got to work, before the afternoon sun really started beating down.

When picking hops, you want to go for big cones that are dry to the touch, and have a bit of “rust” on them, like these ones to the left.  With that agricultural crash course out of the way, we set out among the rows of hop bines to hunt for our lupulinic bounty.  After a leisurely two hours of hop picking, dog petting, and spider swatting, we’d gathered a good 60 pounds of doesn’t-get-any-fresher Cascade hops, the current sole hop crop of Hood Hops Ranch.  We say “current,” because that’ll be changing soon, as Peck explains:

One for you, one for me. One for you, one for me.

The 10 acre piece that we have dedicated to the hopyard has never been farmed. The soil is fertile and the hops are happy. The entire ranch consists of apples, pears, various fruit trees and alfalfa. The hop yard is a little over an acre of Cascade Hops. We plan to double the size for the 2015 season. We propagate all our own plants from clean nursery stoke we have built up in greenhouses. Most of the 2015 plants have already been propagated and will be planted this fall. The hopyard plants have been in the ground for 2 years. Second year harvest looks much heavier than the first with cones as long as 2.5-3 inches. For the 2015 season we will offer Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, Ultra, Tahoma, Yakima Gold, and Cashmere.

After we consolidated & weighed our booty (as the graveyard brewers insisted on referring to it), it was time for lunch.  The HHR crew had prepared a bona fide feast for us, with most courses made with a different Drake’s beer.  The cheese dip featured 1500, the tri-tip was marinated in our IPA, the beans were made with Black Robusto, and the salad was dressed with a hop-infused honey-dijon vinaigrette.  Major thanks to the Hood Hops crew for all their great work, both agricultural and epicurial.  Once the 1500 keg was noticably lighter than when we arrived, we said our goodbyes, left HHR a few refreshments of their own, and made our way over to Berryessa Brewing.  I mean, we weren’t gonna drive a quarter of the way through California without visiting another brewery, were we?

Lori tours us through Berryessa Brewing.

Lori, foreground, tours us through Berryessa Brewing.

We spent our time at Berryessa rehydrating ourselves (beer does that on hot, sunny days, right?), and then co-owner Lori Miller toured us around the brewery facility, giving us the history of the farmhouse brewery, and letting us in on a few future plans.  After the tour, we retired back to the tasting room, where we enthusiastically showed our appreciation for their hospitality by sampling a little of everything, and before long, it was time to head back to the Bay.

But then what?  We picked the hops, had lunch and a few beers, but what was the actual point of it all?

The beer.  As always.

You see, most of the time, hops come dried, pelletized, and in a vacuum-sealed bag. Hops are an agricultural product like any other, and that means they eventually go bad, like kale you bought that you were totally going to start using in everything.  Drying & pelletizing them ensures they’ll be ready to go whenever we need them, no matter how far from hop season it is.  Modern production techniques make sure the hops retain a lot of their individual characteristics- flavor, aroma, alpha acid levels, etc- but as with most things, it’s just not the same as a fresh-picked hop, and that’s why hop harvest season is such a fun time for all of us.  As brewmaster & industry treasure John Gillooly puts it…

A fresh hop really has a lot a flavors you don’t get from dried ones – the aromatics have notes of kiwi and watermelon to complement the oils that give all those spicy/floral/citric notes. They can be more tricky to use though – you don’t want to extract a bunch of chlorophyll and just make your beer smell like boiled grass. But when you get it right it is a lovely complement/enhancement to any beer – particularly an already hoppy one. These hops are destined for a batch of 1500, with plans for some fresh hop Aroma Coma and Alpha Session in the mix.

We’re of course making sure you loyal Drake’s fans get in on the fun, too. On Friday, August 22nd at 4pm, we’ll be pouring special wet-hop flights of some of our signature hoppy beers- 1500, Aroma Coma, and Alpha Session.