Tiny emerald cones on 18-foot-tall hops plants trembled as workers whipped the freshly cut stalks into roaring machines here at Sodbuster Farms. Gnashing metal fingers then stripped off the sticky cones — female flowers of the Humulus lupulus — and poured them onto conveyor belts, setting afloat bits of hops, like ash from a fire.As an added bonus, there's a slideshow featuring a certain Hood River brewery.
The debris, flecked with a resinous, yellow powder called lupulin, stuck in workers’ hair and eyelashes. Even more persistent was the aroma: a lemony, leafy, earthy scent that is precisely what brewers try to harness when brewing fresh-hop beers in autumn...
Fresh hops must be harvested within a few hours’ drive of where they will be used in a brew, as they’re delicate and don’t freeze or ship well.
In Oregon and Washington, hop farmers call brewers hours before a harvest, when plants (called bines — vines without tendrils) have reached perfect ripeness. Brewers will drop everything when they get the call. Newborn baby at home? Too bad. Fresh hops require even more coddling.
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Fresh-hopped ales, though--that's something new under the sun. Breweries from other regions will plant hop fields and produce their own, but this will be an ad-hoc system (and an inflexible one: once the fields are planted with, say, Cascades, that brewery's fresh hop ales will always be fresh Cascade hopped ales). The Northwest will remain the motherland for hops, and local breweries will have the home fields advantage, able to produce a dazzling array of beers every fall. It may well be the development that propels the region into the consciousness of the rest of the nation.
Stories like this one are a promising start.