COVID-19 Update: Bale Breaker Brewing Company’s taproom is temporarily closed to the public, but we are running weekly 12-5pm Saturday Drive-Thrus. Visit our blog for this week’s menu.
By Marguerite Washut, BBBC Marketing & Events Coordinator
I’ve always heard going into business with mother nature is not for the faint of heart. 2020 has proven that saying to be true, tenfold. A lot of you wrote in inquiring about how the current state of affairs are affecting hop harvest, so I sat down with Patrick Smith, self-proclaimed “hop farming brother to the Bale Breaker family” over at Loftus Ranches to have him answer all of your burning questions (pun too soon?).
GMH: How was this year’s harvest?
Starting in March, we took some reductions on our acreage for the year to maintain some sort of balance and not over-produce hops given that the expectation was that the pandemic was going to have an effect on beer volumes. Then we were hit with some atypical weather patterns with a dry and warm early spring followed by a relatively cool and wet May and June, so the hops just got off to a bit of a funny start. We finally received some reprieve when some more normal seasonal patterns started to set in July and August. Due to all of this, the overall yields across the region are going to be below average in Yakima Valley.
GMH: How did the smoke from the recent WA state wildfires affect the hops?
As far as quality goes, during harvest and over the last few weeks, we’ve been blanketed by the wildfire smoke like much of the west coast has. That had a strange impact on the hops. The reduction in the solar radiation that reaches the plant didn’t allow for the maturity to quite fully finish out. But overall, the aroma quality is still good, and I haven’t noticed any smoky character in the hops, although I have heard some reports of some lots coming in smelling a little smoky. I, personally, have not experienced any of that, however.
GMH: How many cones does a vine produce?
Never had that one before! Quick mental math: if we have 2000lbs per acre which is about 4 grams in a pound, let’s say each vine produces about 1,350 cones.
GMH: What do you do with the rest of the plant after the cones are harvested?
PS: Great question! Roughly half of the biomass that the plant produces is the non-cone material (i.e. the vine and leaf material). We compost all of that material up, haul it to our 10-acre compost site nearby for around 18 months, and then put it right back into the fields which helps boost our soil health.
GMH: How many cans of beer are in an acre of hops?
Wow, you’re really making me flex my mental math today! This of course depends on what the beer’s recipe calls for, however, let’s use Topcutter as an example. Topcutter’s recipe calls for about 4lbs of hops per barrel. So that’s 500 barrels of beer per acre of hops. There are about 150 cans of beer equivalent in a keg, which is only a half of a barrel, so 300 cans of beer per barrel multiplied by the 500 barrels per acre, that amounts to 150,000 cans of beer per acre of hops.
GMH: Would you consider using cryopellets and/or leaf hops a fresh hop beer?
To me, a fresh hop beer has to be made with some quantity of undried hops. So, pellets, cryo, and whole leaf hops that have all been dried – in my definition – do not meet that definition. I know there is some semantic debate inside the craft brewing industry between fresh hop vs. wet hop beer, but let’s not get into that one…
Sounds like I may have found my topic for next time. ;) Until then, stay safe out there, folks and remember to mask up so we can finally open up!
Girl Meets Hops: A monthly column highlighting what really goes on behind the buzz at Bale Breaker.
Posted October 01, 2020