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Fresh hops from the field flavor local brews
Do you know what's in your beer? We're betting that while you know it's an IPA — or a red, pale ale, porter or amber — you probably don't know what type of hops were used, or where they came from.
For any craft brewer in Oregon or the Pacific Northwest, that's where it all starts.
Hundreds of large and small brewers in Beervana, Oregon and around the world source their hops from Crosby Farm in Woodburn, a 350-acre farm with 10 hops varieties.
That's considered a mid-size hops farm in Oregon, which is the second-highest hops-producing region in the nation, behind Yakima Valley.
Most of Oregon's other hops farms are third- or fourth-generation growers with an average farm size of 200 acres.
Crosby Farm is a fifth-generation farm that just completed its 117th harvest this year, which is quite a feat considering the unpredictability of farming.
"You're subject to Mother Nature, year in and out," says Blake Crosby, chief executive officer of Crosby Farm, where his mother, father and uncle also currently are involved. "We always get through it one way or another. The agricultural community is pretty resilient. But you roll the dice every year."
To help tell the story of the farm's harvest — a cycle that happens outside of the public eye (especially now in the age of brewers' tours) — Crosby Farm has just released a time-lapse video showing the full cycle of hops, from planting to harvest in 2017.
The goal is to tell the farm's story as well as highlight Oregon's beautiful Willamette Valley, Crosby says.
"We have a couple newer varieties we're working with that continue to become more and more popular," he says. "We're also working with a breeding program to bring new varieties to market."
More than two dozen hop varieties are grown in Oregon; some of the most common are Willamette, Nugget, Perle, Mt. Hood and Fuggle.
In 2013, Oregon's nearly 5,000 acres of hop farms earned more than $31 million in farm gate value.
Crosby's hops are featured in more than 30 local breweries, including Deschutes, Ninkasi, Breakside and BridgePort.
At this time of year, brewers covet the farm-fresh hops — those that start becoming available at the end of August and are not dried or further processed.
Diverted from the picking machine to the breweries, they're generally used within hours — both in Portland and in places including Texas, where they're shipped by air cargo.
"It's very different than using kiln-dried (hops) or a pellet," Crosby says. "(Fresh hops) can be more intense, more aromatic. Sometimes they have a little more vegetative character. Ideally, you want that — it's a more exciting expression of what the variety is."
Many fresh hop beers are just finishing fermentation now, and are being released to thirsty hop heads.
At BridgePort Brewing in Portland, brewers offer an annual release made from Centennial and Mt. Hood hops from Crosby Farm that go from field to bottle in one hour.
In the middle of harvest each year, BridgePort's team drives to the fields to pick up several hundred pounds of freshly harvested hop cones.
They drive the green hops straight to the brewery, where they are immediately tossed into the brew in order to capture fresh flavors and aromas that would normally be lost in the drying process.
This year, BridgePort has made a double fresh hop IPA using fresh Centennial hops in hopjack on the day it was brewed, followed by a large batch of fresh Mount Hood hops near the end of fermentation.
The result? A golden, hop-tastic but smooth beer that isn't for everyone, but like liquid gold to those who crave it.
"Each year, it seems like more breweries are requesting (fresh hops)," Crosby says.
Warmer summer temperatures this year made for a slightly above-average harvest, Crosby says. The quality comes from a higher level of oil in the hops, which give the beer more flavor, aroma and character.
While farming isn't for everyone, Crosby wouldn't want to do anything else: "We're just really excited to be growing hops in Oregon."
Watch the Crosby Farm time-lapse video of this year's harvest: www.crosbyhops.com/hop-harvest-2017.
Check it out
BridgePort Brewing's HoptoberFest PDX is noon- 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28.
Celebrate BridgePort Original IPA's 21st birthday. This Oktoberfest-style festival includes two new beer releases, a DJ, photo booth and more.
BridgePort Brewing is at 1313 N.W. Marshall St.
Tickets are $15 at signmeup.com/122627 in advance, or $20 at the door.
Tickets include three 10-ounce pours of fresh hop beers, a slice of birthday cake, snacks and a BridgePort stainless steel tumbler.