Photos from my trip to Loftus Farm
The Pacific NW holds a special place in our hearts for more reasons than we can name in this article. Given this, we’ll narrow our focus to beer, then we’re going to narrow it even more and talk about hops! When it comes to beer and hops, look no further than the PNW as being the nation’s largest hop growing region. The PNW accounts for roughly 96% of all hops grown in the US and overall US hop production is roughly 40% of the whole world. Basically, we’re in a badass part of the country if you like fresh, hoppy beers! “I feel our proximity and our relationship with our hop farmers puts us at a huge advantage when it comes to brewing hop-forward beers,” says Cam, Head Brewer of Hammer & Stitch Brewing.
You might ask why is the PNW the king of growing regions in North America? “The 45th Parallel gives us part of the answer. When you look globally and then look closer to the regions on the 45th you’ll see a common thread. The PNW, Europe, Southern Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand all are on or very near to the 45th. Now if we dive a little closer you’ll notice that each of these regions all share a similarity in climate. All these regions do not see drastic climate shifts, and all get substantial rain fall. Our 3.5 months of summer are perfect! We get consistent sun, warm temps, followed by some rain, followed by more sun. We also have the benefit of super fertile, rich soil in our valleys that further creates this perfect environment for hops to grow. Add some amazing farmers plus a dose of education from Universities such as Oregon State and Washington State and you have one hell of a recipe for an outstanding crop!
Historically brewers used hops to create balance in their beers. When microbreweries started popping up, these brewers started to experiment with hopping rates, hop addition times and dry hopping. Dry hopping is the act of adding hops during and post fermentation. This technique will give a beer further complexity and bright aromatics. This experimenting also created a newer more personal relationship with the hop growers as brewers started wanting more variety and targeting specific flavor compounds. Hop breeding has been around since the early 1900s but breeding programs really began to flourish in the early 2000s. Now there are around 80 different varieties of hops.
In the last 20 years craft brewers have really leaned into the marketing of what hops they’re using. More recently it’s become the sole focal point for a lot of breweries. Today, it’s not uncommon to walk into a brewery or taproom and see over 50% of their offerings are hop forward beers. “Frankly, I think it’s a little out of control. Brewers are starting to use hops at an unsustainable rate,” quips Brewmaster Ben. “It’s been a race to see who can pack the most hops per barrel of beer.” “Our proximity to hops is something we plan to take advantage of,” Cam proclaims. For our part we plan to offer some hop forward beers. But, we will have a balanced portfolio. As we like to say, We love all styles!
As of this publishing we’re approaching hop harvest season. Breweries are getting ready for hop selection. Brewers will meet with their hop suppliers and “rub” the freshly dried, harvested hops. This act of rubbing, causes the aromatics and other compounds erupt. The brewer will hold his cupped hands, filled with hops, close to his nose and take it all in. They will take notes on various lots they rubbed, then make their selection. A lot of breweries are also gearing up for “Fresh hop” beers. Fresh hop beers are a true celebration of hops in their pure form. A brewer will work with a grower, acquire some freshly harvested hops, and get them into that brew. Some will brew with hops that were harvested that day! Hop harvest is truly a glorious time for all breweries as it gives us a glimpse of what great beers we can make in the future!
Fun. Soul. Grit.