Sunday, September 16, 2007

how it's made: pre-beer

saturday mickey, our friend karen and i had an amazing opportunity to tour a hops farm, thanks to an amazing woman, friend and former coworker of mine, amy. karen, mike and i are big beer fans, not to mention homebrewers ourselves, so this was a great chance to see how our beloved beer starts out.

located outside keizer, amy's family farm supplies an insane amount of hops to anheuser-busch, as well as to a local hops distributorship which supplies hops to local microbrewers. her family has been farming this land for three generations. incredible.

amy gave us a complete tour of the working farm, which is in full swing these days, harvesting and drying nugget hops. the tour started in the field, where we watched the hops vines get cut from the tall wires where they've been strung for growing. the hops vines are transported by large red trailers to the processing building.
hops cutters in the field

to start the processing, the hops vines are hooked on large meat hook-like devices and run up to a machine that essentially rubs the hops cones from the stems.

hops being strung for processing

through a series of conveyor belts and sorters, the cones are separated from the vines, and run across the road to another building. here, the hops are left to dry in heated swimming pool-sized compartments for nine hours.

the sorting process
mickey, karen, me and a pool o' drying hops

after drying, they're moved to a huge warehouse, where they settle for another day. then it's off to be bagged, and finally the hops are driven to the local buyers, where they're sold to make yours truly her favorite beer of choice.

we (loosely) calculated the following:
  • each bag of packaged, dried hops holds 200 pounds, or 3,200 oz
  • at roughly 2 oz of hops per home-brewed batch of beer, that means that each bag has enough hops to produce 1,600 batches of home-brewed beer
  • our 5 gallon batch of homebrew produces 52 beers each, so conceivably, the hops in each bag are used to make about 88,000 bottles of beer.
but wait, there's more.

we saw at least 50 bags in the warehouse, waiting to be driven to the distributor. that tallies to 4.4 million bottles of beer. !!!

AND: that doesn't include the bags they'd already taken to the distributor that morning; nor the 10x10x30 pile of dried hops waiting to be bagged; nor the two full swimming pool-size drying compartments; nor their entire harvest of willamette hops that had already been processed and shipped earlier in the month.

amy jokingly said, they're changing the world at their farm. she's not kidding. that's a LOT of happy beer drinkers. i feel drunk thinking about the magnitude.

in addition to growing hops, amy's family also is the largest hosta grower this side of the mississippi, and also grows thousands of other perennial plants for nurseries and plant sales. as we drove through their farms, amy was sweet enough to give us several plants to take home. oh, and we left with a bag o' freshly dried nugget hops that will probably allow us to make at least 5 batches of beer.
our hostess with the mostest, with her favorite flower on the farm

as if hops and free plants weren't enough to put us in a state of delirium, amy's mom had prepared us the most delicious lunch to enjoy on their swimming pool patio: the richest, tastiest chicken salad sandwiches served on croissants, homemade pasta salad, fruit, and for dessert, a pistachio cream cake that put me in a state of such ecstasy that i could barely drive back to portland.

i'm honored and extremely grateful to amy and her family for sharing her farm and its bounty with us. it was beyond anything that i could have expected when she invited us down.

truthfully, i can't think about a more perfect way to spend a september saturday. THANKS AMY!!!!

No comments: