Thursday, August 21, 2008

After hop-picking

It was apples that Robert Frost contemplated in verse, turning the seasonal experience of picking them into a window on life lived and mistakes and regrets.

The guy seriously needed a beer, some hops. That's what he could have done after apple-picking.

But anyway, we know what comes after hop-picking. Or we'll find out this weekend.

On Tuesday, we spoke to Dan Weirback, who noted that he and wife Sue will harvest their Nugget and Cascade hops throughout Saturday.

Make that the rest of their hop crop.

They harvested about 60 pounds earlier this month, most of them Cascades, spending about nine hours plucking the cones from bines they cut down. Those hops are already beer: They went into the hopback to infuse some great aroma into an IPA Weyerbacher brewed last week.

Now the task at hand is to bring in the remainder of the crop, with the help of about eight friends who'll party while they work. (Dan says the plan is to systematically cut bines and hand them off to a table of pickers who'll strip off cones.) In the rolling hills of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, this will probably be the beer equivalent of a barn-raising.

Pound for pound
It looks like the yield will fall short of Dan’s forecasts. No big deal. It takes a lot of hops to make a pound, and there’s really no sure way of knowing until you put what you got on a scale and see what it totals.

But remember, these are first-season bines, and for much of that time, the plants expend more energy claiming their turf, establishing a root system that will serve them well in the future, than bearing fruit.

So, in the meantime, crack open a Hops Infusion or Double Simcoe IPA and check out Dan and Sue’s saga in moving pictures and sound on tape. (FYI: We may repost this; we're going to see if we can process the audio a little better.)

About the video
We shot the interviews with Dan and Sue in late June, rounding those out with on-cameras from others in the beer or farming business a month later to hopefully bring some background or perspective to things. So some acknowledgments are in order for those who spared time from their busy schedules ...

A big thanks to John Grande and Ed Dager from Rutgers’ 390-acre Snyder Research and Extension Farm in scenic Hunterdon County. (John is the farm director; Ed is farm manager.) Snyder’s mission is sustainable agriculture, exploring potential new crops for Garden State farmers. That’s how hops ended up on the farm's radar in the 1990s, just after craft brewing took off in New Jersey, and it's how Dan and Sue came to reap the benefits of fresh, regional research.

When Lew Bryson isn’t speaking about beer or writing about beer, he’s probably just drinking beer (but we’ve seen him do both – speak and drink – at the same time, ha!). Or maybe he’s got a great bourbon or scotch whisky in the glass, one of his other areas of expertise (he’s managing editor of Malt Advocate magazine). Lew has staked out the mid-Atlantic states as a beer coverage area, with guide books on the breweries of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and most recently New Jersey. In what's surely a sign of modern times, Lew also has an bio in Wikipedia (albeit a brief one, but one there nonetheless.)

Greg Zaccardi of High Point Brewing helped us out last year with an Oktoberfest-themed video, and since he often travels to Europe, he was a logical choice to size up the business culture of US brewers vs. their counterparts across the pond. And as the owner a craft brewery, Greg, like his industry colleagues, had to face the bitter truth of the hop shortage and subsequent price spike.

And of course, there’s Dan and Sue, the hop farmers. Thanks.

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