Harvesting Hops

Oregon is affectionately known as Beervana. Oregonians are beer crazy. Bend, Oregon, has been dubbed Beer City USA because it has the most craft breweries per capita.

And I have received a "beer-ducation" since arriving here 2.5 years ago. I have learned all about hops and barley and IPAs, and ales and lagers and nitros and casks and more.

So imagine my surprise when I stumbled across the fall hop harvest here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. I was on my way to visit a student teacher at a local high school and came around the bend to see a team hard at work harvesting this beer staple. Oregon is the second largest hop producing state in the US (behind Washington State and just ahead of Idaho).

Here is your hops education.

Hops are a flower. So, why are there hops in beer? There is a long, complicated answer about beer headiness and the favorable environment hops created for brewers yeast as well as acidity and antibiotic properties (Read more here if you are interested). The short answer is hops give beer a unique taste and aroma.

Hops grow on guy wires between poles 20 feet in the air and are grown in a relatively packed space. In fact "A one-acre, high density hop plantation can easily contain 75-85 poles, 1200 plants, and cost $10,000 or more to establish." It is also a labor intensive crop. "Currently there are no mechanized implements for hop cultivation or harvest. Hand weeding and hand harvesting are the only reliable tools. Harvest is by far the most labor intensive, requiring up to 30 minutes for a single person to pick a bine (the woody vine they grown on) clean." (Source)

Hops are in the Cannibis genus (yup, same family as marijuana) so they have to be harvested in long sleeves and protective clothing because they have an irritating effect on the skin. The crew I saw were feeding the cut bines into a machines to remove the flowers. Despite the warm September weather in Oregon, they were in long sleeves, hats and gloves. This picture shows the bines being cut from the wires.

While some brewers use whole, wet hops from the bine, most are dried and used in a pelletized form. These hops will be taken from the bines, dried and become yummy beer - the only real commercial use for hops.

Great, now I am thirsty!

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