Hops In A Hurry

All the stars aligned last weekend and suddenly our hop harvest was underway. The flowers weren’t supposed to be ready for another ten days, but the weather gods smiled and the hops ripened fast.

Fortunately, it was Easter and so plenty of people had a day to spare. My plans for a quiet holiday flew out the window. We had to get the hops picked pronto, so the call went out — HELP!

Thank goodness, our family and friends rallied round.  

A Trial Crop

Hops are an interesting crop — and an experimental one for our farm. You see, according to some experts, hops shouldn’t thrive this far south in New Zealand. It’s too cold; too windy; too far down at the bottom of the world. But the experts hadn’t seen the vine Cousin Matt had been quietly nurturing in a sheltered corner of his garden down the road. We knew that one hop plant would grow, but could they grow on a larger scale? We decided to find out.

Hop frames in a tree lined paddock.

It didn’t take us long to identify the perfect hop-growing-spot on our farm. We call it the “Tree Surrounded Paddock.” It’s sheltered from the wind in every direction and flat as a pancake. Add in some beautiful soil and you’ve got a southern paradise for hops. And, two years down the track, the hops seem to agree.

Little boy measuring a hole in the snow.
Even the youngest McNamees joined in when we put up the hop frames.

Hops seedlings start out small, but in just a few months they shoot up four metres or more. Everyone in the family helped to build the frames needed to support such tall plants.

The brewer from Altitude Brewing inspects our towering hop plants.
Eliot Menzies from Altitude Brewing came to help harvest the hops for his Green Hop Beer.

Hops need plenty of water and fertilizer, so we put in a small automatic watering system. Last year the timer worked perfectly. This year it didn’t. We watered them when we could but the drought sucked every drop out of the farm for months. So the hops had to get by on short rations. Just like the rest of us.

It didn’t seem to bother them much. I mean, just look at all the flowers!

Hop plants on the sorting table.

Harvesting Hops

To harvest the flowers we cut the vines at the top and bottom and carted the whole plant to the picking room aka my brother-in-law’s carport.

On a large hop farm with a huge volume of flowers, this is all mechanised but we must pick and sort every flower by hand. With our wonderful friends and family, we set to work. Eddie and Eliot from Altitude Brewing brought some friends along to help. 

Somehow, we got the whole crop done in two days. It’s not hard work, but plucking flower after flower after flower gets rather boring. Unless you’ve got “Me And Bobby McGee,” and “The Gambler” on your iPod.  Fortunately, we had all the classics to get us through: music, conversation and lots of food.

Hop flower split to show yellow resin inside.
Inside a ripe hop flower. The yellow is not pollen, but the resin which provides the distinctive hop flavour.
Hops are one of beer’s four essential ingredients. When the flowers are ripe they develop a distinctive yellow resin. And that’s what flavours the beer. There are many different varieties and they all offer different tastes. Craft brewers spend ages blending hops to create their own unique recipes.
Mostly, the flowers are dried and made into pellets which are easy to store. But our hops are heading straight to Queenstown’s Altitude Brewing. Eliot’s planning a special Garston green-hop brew.
This means time is of the essence because the flowers have to be fresh. There is a very short window of opportunity when making this sort of beer.

In New Zealand, and indeed worldwide, there is a burgeoning interest in craft beer. Homebrewing is on the rise and microbreweries are springing up in all sorts of interesting places.

Nowadays, people are more and more interested in beer as a drink to savour and appreciate. I think it’s all part of the slow living, back to our roots movement that’s happening all over the world.

Beer bottles with sun between them.

We’re aiming to support our local micro-breweries.  Wouldn’t it be great to give them  naturally produced, locally grown hops. Minimal food miles and maximum goodness, that’s the plan. Sounds perfect to me.

Cheers!

More Hop and Beer Stories To Enjoy On The Blog

Altitude Brewing: The Great Adventure

Town and Country: Team Building At Its Best

Party On: Harvest Festival At The Hops

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