Take 30+ curious beer aficionados and a bumper crop of hops. Throw in a delicious barbeque and a keg of Altitude Brewing’s best thirst-quenching brew. Mix with a dollop of music and you have yourself a recipe for the Garston Hops 2019 Hop-Picking Party.
The Big Hops Harvest Problem:
200 hop vines on two farms — all of them covered in ripe, cone-shaped flowers. A tiny window of time in which to pick them — and only two busy farmers both trying to juggle multiple farm jobs. The big hop companies have this process all mechanised, but we’re a tiny outfit, just starting out.
Many small businesses have a special story to tell. They are built on passion, commitment and a long-held dream. Each has a flavour, history and ethos that is all their own. Some are steeped in history, others are brand-new and excitingly different. Altitude Brewing, who last year took all of our green hops to flavour the delicious “Me and Jimmy McNamee” beer, is one such business with a story to tell.
The other day I popped into their new building on the Frankton Marina, to visit partners Eliott Menzies and Eddie Gapper, and hear the tales behind…
All the stars aligned last weekend and suddenly the hop harvest was underway. The flowers are not supposed to be ready for another ten days, but the weather gods smiled and the hops ripened fast.
Fortunately, it was Easter and those of us with other jobs were free. The plans I had for a quiet holiday were shelved. The hops had to be picked fast, so the call went out — HELP!
And, luckily for us, people responded.
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.
It didn’t take long to identify the perfect hop-growing-spot on our farm. We call it the “Tree Surrounded Paddock.” Sheltered from the wind in every direction, flat as a pancake, beautiful soil… a southern paradise for hops we felt. And, two years down the track, the hops seem to agree.
Hops seedlings may 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.
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. But, with the drought sucking every drop of moisture out of the farm for months, the hops had to get by on short rations, just like the rest of us. They got watered each week, but not on the ideal daily basis
Interestingly, the hops don’t seem to have worried too much. I mean, just look at all the flowers!
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. Again friends and family and even the brewers rallied round and we got the whole crop done in two days. It’s not hard work, but it can be tedious. Fortunately, there was lots of good conversation, music and huge home-cooked meals to keep us all going.
Hops are used for making beer. The flowers contain a yellow resin which is used to flavour the beer. Different varieties offer different tastes and a brewer will blend them to get a distinctive flavour in the beer. Normally the flowers would be dried and made into pellets, to be stored and used when needed. But this year our hops are heading straight to Queenstown’s Altitude Brewing, who plan to make a special green-hop brew. Time is of the essence: the flowers must arrive 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.
Now, people are 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.
We aim to support our local micro-breweries by providing them with naturally produced, locally grown hops. Minimal food miles and maximum goodness. Sounds perfect to me.