by: JEFF MCDONALD  -  The event raised money for local community organizations and celebrated the connection between local growers and brewers. Things were “hoppin” at The Bullpen on the St. Paul Rodeo grounds Saturday night.

That is where hundreds of farmers, brewers and city dwellers alike gathered for the first annual St. Paul Fresh Hop Festival.

The nonprofit event attracted about 650 people who poured about $7,000 into the coffers of local groups, including St. Paul athletics, FFA and local schools.

“Our vision is that hopefully the festival will get bigger and bigger,” said Justin Schaffner, president of the St. Paul Jaycees, a junior version of the chamber of commerce, which also runs the beer garden during the St. Paul Rodeo.

“We were looking for another fundraiser so we could give more money away,” Schaffner JEFF MCDONALD  - Global FM rocks the house at the first annual event.

Just like their name suggests, fresh hop beers are made with hops picked fresh off the vine.

The result is a beer that has a more intense flavor that brings out the essence of the hops more than a standard, processed beer.

“People like the different taste of beer when it’s made fresh instead of dry,” Schaffner said. “The fresh hop beers bring out the flavor and aroma of the hops.”

The Willamette Valley is the state’s leading hop producer with about 20 growers growing 26 different varieties of hops within a 15-mile area from Independence to Butteville, according to the Oregon Hops Commission. The area includes Woodburn, Hubbard and St. Paul.

A year in the making, the festival attracted 19 breweries pouring beers made from 14 different hop varieties, all grown by local farmers, said Bruce Wolf, owner of Willamette Valley Hops, a local hops dealer which sells to roughly 800 customers in the U.S.

Local growers donated hops to local brewers, who in turn, made fresh hop beers for the event, Wolf said.

The event raised money for a mix of local schools and athletics, event sponsors and fundraising for continuation of the event next year, said Wolf, who helped organize the event.

Ten percent of the proceeds from the event were slated to go to the Oregon Hops Commission, 60 percent back to the community and 30 percent to next year’s event, Wolf said.

The event also gave local hop farmers the ability to promote their products, said Cheyn Fobert, manager of Heritage Hops Inc. in Hubbard. by: JEFF MCDONALD  - Kevin Christensen, Shannon Ernst, Neville Wallace and Butch Kirk celebrate at the St. Paul Fresh Hop Festival Saturday.

Fobert used the festival to spotlight a couple of his farm’s unique varieties – the Fuggle Cascade and the Crystal Nugget.

The Fuggle variety caters to a niche market and is sought after by brewers, he said.

“With us being a small farm, we’re able to cater to niche tastes and respond to demand much quicker,” Fobert said. “People are more knowledgeable about their beers and want to know what hops are put into each brew.”

As the taste for smaller, craft-industry brews continues to grow, local hop growers could see more demand for their crops, Fobert said.

“We’re at 50 percent capacity,” he said. “We could double our capacity with our existing equipment if the market demanded it.”

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