Chinook. Cascade. Nugget. CTZ. What are those four names identifying?
Those are the four varieties of hops grown by farm manager David Warren at High Wire Hops. Warren is a partner in the hops farm with Hal Brill and Russell Backhouse.
Right now it's harvest time at High Wire Hops. Each variety has its own ideal time to be picked, Warner explained. The Cascades and the Chinooks are ready to harvest about the same time.
"We send samples to a lab in the northwest, and they do an analysis on them to help us determine when the optimum time to harvest them is. That's when the oils are just right for each of the varieties," Warren said. The alpha acids and oils are the brewing values the brew masters are specifically looking for. "If harvested too early, [the hops] won't impart the flavor they are looking for," Warren said.
Hops are long-lived perennials which, under proper care and safe from disease, can be productive for 30 to 40 years.
"In the northwest, the average-size farm in Oregon, Idaho and Washington is over 500 acres in size," Warren said.
Those farmers experience problems with disease, because the hops are in fields right on top of one another and disease can spread easily.
"They can manage their fields well, but after 10 years the yields can decrease so much that they will replant."
In the North Fork Valley, fields of hops are not planted as closely and there is less disease. The long, hot, dry days and really cool nights in the North Fork Valley are ideal for growing hops.
"Those two things were really important to us in deciding to grow hops," Warren said. "With fruit you have the potential of not having a crop at all in a given year just because of a hard frost in the spring when the trees are blossoming. The same with wine grapes. Often times, you don't get a crop."
Hops are very hardy plants. They emerge in the spring and when the hops are about six inches, they are cut back to the ground. When they come back in about two weeks, the hops are more vigorous and concentrated. Hops are climbers and are trained to climb the infrastructure of trellises that are built in the fields. The trellises are 18 feet high. A series of wires runs in a checkerboard fashion to support the plants. Coconut hull cords which are a quarter-inch in diameter are manually tied to the top of the wires and then hung to the ground where they are secured.
"We actually train the plant around the cords," Warren said. "They have to be trained in a clockwise fashion." Each plant will have 30 to 50 bines, which look almost like octopus tentacles, Warren said. The hardiest of the bines, between four to six, are trained. Everything else is cut back. "By the time we've trained them, they have grown 18 feet in three weeks."
Once they stop growing up, they bush out and produce the cones and side arms.
High Wire Hops has four acres in production, and just planted two more acres that will be ready next year. They have about 1,100 plants per acre. Next year, Warren plans to plant hops on the remaining two acres at the farm.
This is the farm's third season.
"We specialize in selling our hops fresh or wet. Historically and traditionally most hops are dried and stored," Warren said. "There's a new niche of brewers who want to use these cones fresh, as soon as they come off the bines."
High Wire Hops harvests their hops in the evening, puts them directly into a walk-in cooler and then early in the morning before first light they deliver their hops to breweries in Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins. They also sell both fresh and dry hops to Revolution Brewing in Paonia.
"With small scale farms, we have the opportunity to pay attention to detail. The quality is really unsurpassed. That's what really sets us apart from the large farms in the northwest."blog comments powered by Disqus