September 2015 Greetings From Tim – Harvest Time
Congratulations! You have successfully clicked on Tim’s Blog. If you are a first timer, welcome. And to my veteran followers, thanks for returning. The other morning I woke to a temperature in the low 50’s with a forecasted high in the mid s60’s. That’s kind of cold for late August. Summer is coming to a rapid end. Every morning, more and more school buses are hitting the roads, the bitter sweet plans for the Labor Day weekend are being made and farmer’s markets are in full gear. It’s harvest time for sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers and many other fruits and vegetables.
It’s also harvest time for one of my favorite crops, one that you might not think would be indigenous to Wisconsin. It’s not a crop that you will find in your favorite casserole or dessert, but it could possibly be found in your favorite drinking vessel on your dinner table. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m talking about hops, one of the 4 major components of beer. (The others being water, malt and yeast) On August 25th, I was invited up to one of my customer’s farm to help him harvest his hops. (Of course I accepted the invitation)
Steve purchased his farm just north of Random Lake in 1976. He has planted corn, potatoes, carrots, beans, peppers, squash and just about everything under the sun, literally. But these days, his prized possession in his 100 foot row of hop vines. He has several varieties, one from New Zealand, a few from Germany, but the most from our very own West Coast of the United States. Why, you might ask, are these his prized possessions? Does he sell them at market and make a ton of money? Was it a family tradition that he desires to keep alive? Actually, no. They are for one of his great passions, home brewing beer. Every one of these little flowers we picked that day will be used in his ales that he creates in the basement of his farm house. How passionate is he about brewing beer? Well, he had a 5 gallon batch in his fermenter on harvest day by 10 am., using the freshly picked hops of course. Enough said.
Steve, like all farmers, was up at the crack of dawn. He started the harvest at 6 am. By the time arrived, around 1 pm., he had cut down and picked about 2/3 of the crop. The remaining vines were wrapped around strands of twine that were staked from the ground up 15 feet to a long, outstretched cable. This cable spanned the entire length of the row of vines. He climbed up his aluminum ladder to the top of the vines with his pruning shears. With a swift cut, down came the vine with hundreds of hop cones. Then we just started picking them off the vine, one by one, into a medium sized pail. Each variety was put into its own pail so we wouldn’t mix them together. Some hops are used for bittering, others for flavoring and aromatics. Hops are also a great, natural preservative. Steve had me gently peel back the tender, green leaves from one of the cones, revealing a gold, sticky dust. This is the lupulin, the stuff that makes hops so special. There’s nothing like the smell of a fresh hop crushed in your hand. Ask any beer geek.
After all of the miniature, pine cone shaped flowers were picked off of the vines, they were taken into the barn and placed on large screens to dry. In about 4 days, they will be ready to be vacuumed sealed and frozen for use in future brews. Steve was a little disappointed with the size of this year’s harvest, estimating that it was about half of last year’s. He thought it could possibly be due to the late spring and relatively dry summer. He is still very happy with what we harvested and looks forward to brewing more beer with his own, homegrown hops.
When all was said and done, we sat down in his kitchen and shared a bomber of one of his latest creations, a pale ale using a Kolsch yeast strain. It was an excellent effort. He really knows what he’s doing. I hope to get back up to the farm and make a batch with him. Sounds like another blog to me!
So what’s happening at your favorite Otto’s location? Oktoberfest and pumpkin beers are in stock with a record number from which to choose. This is the greatest time of the year for beer lovers as far as I’m concerned. New breweries, (at least new to us) like Surly from Minnesota, Toppling Goliath from Iowa and Great Dane and Karben 4 from Madison with others on the horizon are more great reasons to stop in and see us. The beers are calling, see you soon! Until next time, Prosit!
– Tim –