We’re about to enter the high holy days on the craft beer calendar — the annual hop harvest in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. It’s always a time of the year when we like to reflect on one of our four favorite ingredients in beer — hops — which are easily the most unique. There are a lot of things you can make with water, barley and yeast, but if hops are in the recipe, chances are about 99.6 percent that you’re brewing beer (we did the research).
Considering how important hops are to beer, it’s surprising how little we know about how they’re grown. So our friends at Craft Brewing Business asked us at Rogue Farms in Independence, Ore., to show its readers how the life cycle of Humulus lupulus really works. After all, Rogue has been growing its own hops since 2008, so we’d be the perfect candidate. SO, let’s head to the greenhouse.
This is where it all begins. Rogue Farms started their 42-acres of hops in the greenhouse. Hop rhizomes, or cuttings, are planted in small pots and growers have control over temperature, moisture and nutrients. This gives hops the best start possible before they’re transplanted into the hopyard.
Every year’s a little a different, and lately, Rogue Brewmaster John Maier has been wanting a stronger aroma profile for the beers brewing Rogue-grown hops, so Rogue Farms switched from growing Newports to Yaquinas hops. That’s the example we’ll use here. Regardless of the variety, the right time for planting depends on the location. Growers in warmer climates can plant sooner than growers further north. The rule of thumb is to wait until there’s no chance of frost killing the young bines.
Rogue planted its newest variety, Yaquina hops, during May, the first month of the prime growing season in Oregon. Newly planted hops need two to three growing seasons before they’re mature enough to produce a harvestable crop.
Once a hopyard is established, hop growing has six seasons — winter, early spring, late spring, summer, harvest and fall. Each marks a different stage of growth or dormancy.
This is the time of year that hops take a break. They’re underground, dormant, saving their energy for the growing season. But hop growers can’t afford to rest. Winter is time for repairs, fixing trellis wires, replacing poles in the hopyard. Old and dying bines are pulled up, and new rhizomes split from younger plants take their place. A well-maintained hopyard lasts for decades.
Longer days and warmer temperatures are the cues that signal the growing season has begun. Bines emerge in early March and will grow 18 feet or more within a few months. None of this would be possible without farmers. Hops need something to climb, so every spring Rogue Farms starts from scratch, stringing the hopyard, staking the strings and training the bines.
Crews ride high through the hopyard, tying one end of a piece of twine to the trellis wires and letting the other end fall to the ground. Rogue Farms uses 63,637 strings, or pieces of twine, every spring. Each of those 63,637 strings is tied by hand.
After the stringers have moved through, they’re followed by another crew that stakes the strings deep into the soil. Just as before, all 63,337 strings are staked by hand.
Training, the final big chore of spring, is usually finished by mid- to late-April at Rogue Farms. Bine growth remains slow, but not for long.
Click “Next” to continue reading this story, or you’ll never see how hops actually become big and beautiful (and beer!).