Fresh hop season is always a tremendously exciting time for anyone in the beer world, from brewer to drinker. It means an overwhelming aroma of a fresh picked flower exuding throughout the brewery. Fresh hop season means early mornings and long drives to pick up the finest hops in the Pacific Northwest alongside a race against time to get them back to the brewery in less than 4 hours. And the best part of fresh hop season is that we will all be soaking up the freshest beer in a matter of weeks.
My name is Ashley and I am the Marketing Manager at Three Creeks Brewing Company. I have only been a part of the beer world for a short while, so when I was asked to make the 3 hour long haul to Woodburn, Oregon to pick up 450 pounds of fresh hops for our two styles of fresh hop beers, I was ecstatic…until they told me what time we were leaving.
This is my journey to a hop farm.
By 6am on a Wednesday in late August, our production manager and brewer, Jeff Cornett and I were heading to B&C hop farm. This was the second day in a row that the Three Creeks Brew staff was making the trip, meaning each day we were bringing back 450lbs for each 30 bbl batch or 900 lbs total for the 60 bbl double batch. In layman’s terms, that’s a lot of hops.
The drive was over 3 hours, but anyone who has driven from Central Oregon to the Portland region know that that drive is nothing short of scenic. However, while the drive might be lovely, someone who isn’t a…well… let’s just say, morning person, was struggling at the thought of driving so long just for some hops! “Why are fresh hops that big of a deal?” I wondered to myself as I was fighting heavy eyelids.
I’ve seen hops grow on vines here and there, and in front of some breweries almost serving as décor, but what I drove up on was nothing shy of a hop wonderland. For acres and acres, as far as the eye can see, strings of hops were growing up from the ground, giving the illusion of a jungle. Immediately, I knew that the morning commute was well worth the trip.
Fields and fields of hops filled my vision as we entered into the farm area. We must have been driving for over 5 minutes before we saw anything but hop vines. Enormous machinery was flinging these vines left and right, as hop machines were gently and precisely removing the cones, loading them onto these moving platforms, getting them to where they needed to go. The factory honestly reminded me of something straight out of Harry Potter’s moving staircases.
We got out of the car and before finding Charlie, Bill and Bruce, the owners of B&C Hop farm, we took off on our own to go explore. The first thing we stumbled on was the drying floors where kilns blow hot air to dry the hops. I was immediately struck by the smell. It was so aromatic, but intense. I was taken aback, but then quickly began to welcome the pungency. I can’t even begin to describe what the scene of drying hops looked like. It was as if a football field of beautiful, neon green cones were shrinking in front of my eyes.
We were then summoned away from the pool of hop cones (which I would have loved to swim in) and directed to the, as I like to call it, “waterfall of hops.” We met with Charlie and Bill of B&C Hop Farm who held open big old tweed sacks as hop cones literally fell from the sky off of a conveyor belt. They filled probably 10 of them. They helped us load this 450 pound delivery into our car and talked to us for a while, until we remembered that we were in a race against time!
As we hurdled back into the van, we text our head brewer, Zach Beckwith, letting him know our 3 hour ETA so he could mash in. As we barreled down highway 20, the scent inside the van was intoxicating. We raced back to the brewery, and within ten minutes, all of the bags were emptied into the hop back and the sweet wort was pumping through them.
There was this unexplainable, overwhelming sense of joy and adrenaline that came with that trip. Perhaps it was a matter of watching something go from “farm to glass.” It might have been the smell of the brewery as we were dumping the hops into the kettle. It could have also been the race against the clock. Maybe it was watching an idea come to life. One moment, I was holding a cone hop, the other, I was drinking Cone Lick’r Pale Ale. But all I know is, my trip to the hop farm was worth it, and if you ever get a chance to go, do it.
Scroll down for my photos from my adventure at B&C Hop Farm.
Be sure to stop by Sisters Fresh Hop Festival on Saturday, September 30th at Village Green City park in Sisters to try both of our styles of fresh hop beer, alongside 25 other Oregon breweries.