It’s an exciting time of year in the Northwest. We’re now knee deep in hop harvest season, which typically runs from August through late September, depending on the hop variety and the local climate of the hop field. It’s also prime time for making “fresh” or “wet” hop beers, which are brewed with freshly picked, undried hops that spend little time between the field and the kettle.
Atwood Ales Farm Brewery in Blaine, WA is among the many breweries in our area making at least one fresh hop beer this year, but Atwood took things a step further by harvesting hops from its own hop yard. Some of the collected hops are being used in a fresh hop beer (a saison being made with freshly picked Tettnang hops) and some will be aged for future Belgian-style sour ales, but most were dried in a custom-made oast, vacuum sealed, and then stored for future beers.
Last week, Atwood owners Josh and Monica Smith hosted a couple private hop-picking parties with friends and family, and thanks to the many generous volunteers, they successfully harvested 60 17-foot-tall hop plants — all by hand. Varieties included Cascade, Willamette, Centennial, and Tettnang. The Smiths hope the collected hops will last them through the coming year.
“We use as much as we can from the farm,” Monica says, “and growing our own hops is just part of our self-sustaining approach.” The farm brewery also reuses and recycles as much as possible, including brewing waste water, which is stored and reused for irrigation.
Aside from the financial and sustainable benefits of using farm-grown ingredients, the Smiths say that brewing on a farm is a source of inspiration and creative ideas.
“It’s fun to go for a walk around the property to see what’s growing and what’s becoming ripe,” Josh says. “There are things we grow purposefully, like hops, raspberries, blackberries, and apples. But there are also random native and ornamental plants that grow naturally, and much of it could be used to make good beer, such as honeysuckle and nettles.”
Most of Atwood’s beers are made with at least 80% Skagit Valley Malting malt, but their fresh hop saison brewed with Tettnang wet hops (I hope they call it Wet Tett!) will be made with 100% SVM malt and 100% Atwood hops, so it will be a truly local beer.
Monica says it may be a romantic idea, but they try to do all they can to live the traditional farmhouse lifestyle. “People think we’re rich,” she adds with a laugh, “but we picked two of the smallest-margin businesses, which means we’re super poor and we work really hard.”
But at least they’re rich with passion and lifestyle. And thanks to their hard work, we all get to reap the rewards of what they sow.