Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Our First Hop Harvest - A Cascade of Fun


The hop harvest is in!  Saturday, August 25 was our first commercial hop harvest. About 30 people braved the blazing heat to come and harvest a whopping 50 pounds of wet (fresh) Cascade hops!
We teamed up with the fine folks of Community Beer Works - a local nano-brewery - to make the party a success. Along with promoting the event, they brought along a sample of the amazing “Wet Frank,” a rendition of their popular pale ale, wet-hopped with McCollum Orchards’ Centennials harvested a week earlier. Wet Frank debuted at three Buffalo bars Coles', BlueMonk, and Mr. Goodbar.
Packaging loads of hops at McCollum Orchards

We kicked off the harvest party with a tour of the hopsyard and the renovated 100-year-old apple packing shed, where we showed off the dryer and sorting system we recently built. Then, with all eyes on him, Rich climbed a ladder and cut down the first hop bines. Volunteers then took them to the tents and tables in twos, carrying bines between them like a victorious hunting party back from the jungle.  
Getting ready to harvest the first hop bines
Soon, everyone was gathered around long tables set up under tents and harvesting. In no time, full bushel baskets of fresh-picked cones were ready to be sorted. Rich and a smaller group managed the sorting station inside the hop house. They spread the thousands of fragrant, emerald green cones on 3x6-foot burlap-covered screen trays, and cleaned out extraneous stems (called sprigs) and leaves before sliding the trays into the dryer. As an aside, most large, commercial hop merchants require at least 96% “clean” hops from farms. But, our pickers and sorters did such a good job that our harvest was 99.9% clean!
Check out the lupulin inside the dried hop cone
The party was a place for people to get acquainted and have fun around loads of fresh hops.  The crowd was a great mix of homebrewers, hops growers and local Lockportians. We were thrilled that local brewers joined us. In addition to C.B.W., folks from Big Ditch Brewing, Gene McCarthy’s, and Nickel City Brewing came out. Our good friend set up a homebrewing demonstration with fresh (wet) hops that had just been picked.
Pouring the Brew
 Our friend, and top-notch wine and beer writer for New York Cork Report, Julia, posted a superb write-up about the harvest. (And here's C.B.W.'s write-up, too.) The harvest was the culmination of over a year and a half of hard work and problem-solving to grow the hops into healthy bines. Seeing her report and everyone’s photos of brewing with McCollum Orchards’ wet hops was, in a word, awesome.

Getting to harvest them and see them put to good use in local brews made the whole endeavor come full circle. I’ll leave you with this image. As you turned in a circle, you could see the hopsyard, the harvest under the tents, the sorters and drying, the homebrew demo and a finished keg being enjoyed. Now, that’s a “farm to table” event – something only local producers can achieve together.
Results of a very good day
At the end of the looong day, a full seven pounds of fresh hops went home with local homebrewers…and 43 pounds went into the dryer! A week later, we packaged and stored 11 pounds of dried Cascade hops. They, along with our Nuggets and Centennials, are available at the farmstand on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and maybe more locations soon. We cannot believe the harvest is nearly over this year. We are already thinking up ideas to make next year’s harvest party even better. A big, huge, hoppy thank you to everyone who made our first harvest a success!

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