Hops crave sunshine, but only at certain times of the year. And when they’re hungry for sun, you better make sure they get as much as possible. Ideally, hops want 15 hours (or more) of sun every day during the growing seasons. At Rogue Farms, that begins around May 20 and lasts for two months. This is also the time when the clouds and rains of winter have finally faded away. It’s all about location, climate and soil. In other words, terroir.
During late spring, hops put all their energy into growing leaves and climbing the strings. By late June, they’re growing a foot per day. You can literally watch your beer grow.
Hops are photoperiodic, which means they’re highly tuned to how much sun they’re getting. After the summer solstice has come and gone, with the days getting shorter, hops have something like the botanical version of a panic attack. It’s as if they’re saying, “Holy cow, we better start growing cones before we run out of sun!”
Sure enough, within days of the solstice the first flowers appear. From now until harvest, hops are focused on growing cones and producing the wonderful yellow lupulin that gives beer its amazing bitterness and aroma.
It’s the day we’ve been waiting for, the start of the month-long hop harvest. Crews and machines roll through the hops rows, trimming bines from the trellis wires and mounds and gathering them into large trucks or trailers. Just a few feet away is Rogue Farms’ onsite processing facility. The bines are loaded into a series of stripping machines, conveyor belts, dribble belts, fans, kilns and a baling press. The place looks like it was designed by a deranged engineer. Some have compared it to a medieval torture device. But despite appearances, it’s very efficient. When the work is done, you’ve got a whole year’s worth of hops pressed into 200-pound bales.
Fall is the season when the hops prepare for their winter sleep. No longer chasing the sun, the uncut bines slowly die off and transfer their energy to the rhizomes beneath the soil. The bines, shoots, leaves and strings left over from processing are mulched and returned to the hopyard to protect and nurture next year’s crop.
The harvested hops are in cold storage where they await the call of Rogue Brewmaster John Maier (above) to become a future Rogue ale, porter, lager or stout.
Rogue Farms will be open every day during the 2015 hop harvest, which is expected to begin in mid-August. But the exact starting date remains a mystery. The timing is in the hands of Mother Nature. Come see how Rogue grows beers and spirits from ground to glass!