Tag Archives: ny

Growing Hops: Dipping Our Hands Into Agriculture

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Written By The Van Houte

the hops are coming

Thanks to the forced entry into the homebrew hobby by the main author of this blog, I like most have continued to advance this passion over the 5+ years that I have been brewing.  Transitioning from extract to all-grain to larger batches etc., it wasn’t till I left NYC that I got the opportunity to add the next phase of homebrewing:  hop farming.

The growing man: uncle James

I have always loved to grow things, but my current location fortuitously puts me 15 minutes from our family farm in Schaghticoke NY (it is the correct spelling) and the current location of our new business of growing 4 varieties of hops:  Cascade (2nd-year), Sterling, Mt. Hood, and Zeus (all 1st-year).

new girls

Two years ago we decided to devote a small plot out of 4+ acres available to growing hops.  The first plantings were 6 Cascade hop rhizomes purchased from Northern Brewer.  I knew cascade hops would grow well with little fuss in this area and chose them to start.  That first year we had better than expected cone development considering the first two years are really devoted to developing the root system of the plant, with full yields happening after the 2nd year.  With these I made a dry-hopped, estate bottled IPA with mixed results (mostly because it was my first time actually making an IPA).  Needless to say, it was a good learning experience and we wanted to plant more varieties to expand our portfolio.

Last year we bought 3 new varieties: Sterling, Mt. Hood, and Zeus.  We were debating whether or not to actually buy the “Noble” hop varieties as we brew mostly lagers, but ultimately decided on hybrids knowing that they would still grow well in NY climate and be more resistant to pests.  They also have larger yields, which is always nice.  I also wanted a high alpha acid hop and settled on Zeus although never actually brewing with them.  In addition we trumped our original trellis system and constructed 22-foot tall trellises using maple saplings.

The Trellis system

22 feet high is the normal standard for hop fields and we were excited, except for the fact that our 2nd-year Cascades grew at an astounding rate: 2 feet in one day was our maximum growth rate that we have calculated thus far!  The 2nd-years grew so fast that they outgrew their original 14-foot high trellises that they were trained on and before we could train them onto the new 22-foot trellises. This proved disastrous in terms of our yield, as the plants will begin to grow downward in search of a new line and then back up.  It’s a learning experience right?  We still have more cascade cones than one brewer would need.  The first year plants didn’t grow as well as the cascade plants did in their first year with the exception of the Zeus variety.  The Zeus plants are on par with the cascade plants.  We did have a scare regarding pests.  We have seen aphids and caterpillars, along with what might be certain fungi, and during one check-up, our hops did not look happy.  As newbies to hop farming, we didn’t know what exactly was negatively impacting our plants.  We had a very dry July, and luckily August has had more precipitation and the plants have bounced back.  Therefore it seems that pests or lack of nutrients were not the cause of our plants being unhappy, especially since we try to be as organic as possible.

up, up and away to 22 ft

The Sterling and Mt. Hood varieties have been more troublesome and they don’t seem to want to grow upward.  We were confused by this but basically have concluded that these varieties just might be a bit slower the first year than the other varieties.  We see no issues with pests, or water, nutrition, etc. at this point.  No matter how often/hard we tried to train them to strings, they just remained “bushy”, with a few exceptions.  Hopefully they will be happier next year and demonstrate more “typical” upward growth that we saw in the cascade variety.  Sadly, it doesn’t look like we will see cones from the Sterling or the Mt. Hood this year.  Of course there is still time left.
Growing hops now for 2 years has been an interesting journey.  Obviously its great in that we get to use our own hops, dried or fresh, straight from the farm, but it is also a lot of work to train and maintain the plants.  We continue to educate ourselves in this practice and try to consult with professionals in the field.  We are also in contact and are following those pushing to make NY State #1 again in hop production.  We are very excited about the new Farm Brewery Law (http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S7727-2011″ http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S7727-2011) that will help push hop production and homebrew/craft brewing in NY even farther.  Maybe even be able to sell our beer straight from the beer garden located at the farm, much like a winery!  In the end it has been great to use the land to benefit my hobby and we look forward to our third year and hopefully a full yield out of our Cascade plants.  We most likely will expand and double our plot next year so if anyone has any good suggestions on particular varieties/favorite varieties, let us know.  Initially I wanted to plant really rare and unique varieties, but being rare also means not finding the rhizomes.  Regardless we will plant more of these varieties and perhaps round out the portfolio with the other “hybrid noble” hop varieties.  Lastly, harvest is right around the corner and Chris is hoping to help out this year and take some home for everyone to try.  If anyone has any suggestions or interest in helping out or a visit someday, let us know!  More to follow soon about harvesting, drying, and packaging.

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ZOMBIE HOPS!!!! back from the dead!

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All things die

This year, after having a wonderful early spring with sun and warmth a plenty,  Mother Nature decided to be a real dick for about 5 weeks. With cool temperatures and more rain than i knew what to to with, all my my hop plants died.  Or so I thought.  After a good amount of care, fertilizing, and pruning of dead leaves, my hop plants have recovered, starting to grow once more.  Hopefully I can still get some harvest out of my two second year hops, but the first year are really struggling. Here are some pics:

Nugget second year

Goldings second year

Sterling year 1

Willamette year 1

A day trip to some local breweries: Barrier and Great South Bay

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This last Saturday was a perfect storm of plans falling apart, which made my day wide open to finally get out to some local Long Island breweries.

The day started off at Barrier Brewing in Oceanside.  I know this place makes great beers and the brewery did not disappoint, outside of the fact that the brewery is located in what is essentially an industrialized warehouse in the middle of suburbia that is hard to find.

It warped me back to playing hardcore shows in some random back alley warehouse… ahh, youth….

I was able to try 6 brews which all had a great smooth balance to them.  Each one was very well crafted beer.  However, there was very little to see at the brewery.  The brewing system is set up in the background and there is nowhere for you to sit, or really explore.  This is very much a destination to go to if you want to get the freshest beer possible, not for a fun trip with friends to hangout and enjoy the scenery, but tours are available.  It seemed like it is mainly open for really delicious growler fills.

After Barrier, my lady and I continued to Great South Bay Brewery. This brewery has a very similar vibe to Barrier, but triple the space – much easier to stand around to enjoy the tastings.  Both breweries brew on a one barrel system, but at Great South Bay you could actually check out the brewing set up.

The beers on tap were great, but unfortunately, my favorite beer, Marauder, a Scotch Ale that is aged on bourbon casks was not on tap.

Merauder waiting to grow up

This was fixed by Ryan the bartender, who was kind enough to pull a small taste out of a cask.  After tasting all the beers and finding out about the breweries future expansion plans (which is on the same plot of land), I got a growler of the Saison and took off.  This was the coolest brewery visit i have had the opportunity to experience.  They even post their brew sheets (including brew day details!) on their primary fermentation fridges.

me teaching Karen

Ryan and his lovely lady, Mackenzie were great at explaining everything and took the time to really go in depth with all of the beers.  It was obvious that Ryan was passionate about the beer he was pouring.  I look forward to heading back there asap – tip them well!

Here are some tastings of a beer from each brewery:

Bulkhead Red Ale

Barrier Brewery Bulk Head Hoppy Red Ale

Appearance: Light amber brown that is wonderfully clear

Nose: Malty and sweet with bready tones

Taste: Smooth husky dryness. Maybe a rye backbone? Raisin and dark fruit undertones

Mouthfeel: Low carbonation and easy finish

Overall: A really nice smooth beer. I could drink a lot of these.  Really good out of 10

GSB Saison

Great South Bay Brewery Saison:

Appearance: Cloudy straw yellow color with a nice full head that stuck around for awhile

Nose: Bready yeast essence with tart, citrus, and  flora notes

Taste: A crisp bready phenolic taste that ends in a citrus flora lemon character with a significant yeast character

Mouthfeel: Nicely carbonated with a quick dry finish

Overall: A good light Saison with a bit of booze. I like it, but a little light and lemony for my tastes .  Very nice out of 10