Where I Want to Be

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Watchful Eye @hawksbillhops

Here's a branch of Chinook cones.  Piney goodness.
This weekend we walked through the hop yard scouting the plants for signs that they are ready - our conclusion is yes they are!  We have finally agreed upon the dates we're going to do this:  August 6-12.  We're planning an event associated with it, so those details are forthcoming.

I've been writing about the varieties we're going to have at harvest, and after our walk yesterday it is clear that we are going to have a decent quantity of each of the Cascade, Chinook, and Columbus varieties.   I suspected the Goldings and Fuggles might need a couple of years, and that is the case.

Those same Chinooks.

After the walk, we sat on the front porch across the street for a little while and enjoyed the view of the new hop yard.  If you'd asked me last October, when we really buckled down to write the business plan for this venture, or even last March, when I went to the hop growers conference in Winston-Salem - there's just no way I could have foreseen that we would be here doing this right now.

But that is how it goes sometimes.  It's been a lot of fun so far, and I'm looking forward to each step of the way.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Getting Close @hawksbillhops

Here's a great big Cascade cone!
Since I knew that harvest is nearly upon us, I decided that I would stay back in Alexandria last weekend.  I took care of a few errands I have been trying to get to - and I brewed two batches of beer using some honey a work colleague gave me.  In the meantime, I missed my check-in at the hop yard, but fortunately David indulged me with a few snaps.

By the way, the two brews were a honey lavender kolsch - this will use the lavender tincture process I've discribed before (click on the label with this post to see how that was done), and a honey peppercorn saison.  The backyard honey I had was a very light amber, so I figured I'd use it in summery brews.  Later I'll get some buckwheat honey from our cover crop that I will use in a porter.

We've been tracking the Cascade, Chinook, and Columbus for the last few weeks, since those plants all did well enough in their first year to give us a harvest.  The Fuggles and Goldings all have cones as well, but the quantities aren't enough to consider them with the same intensity.  I will likely go out this weekend and hand pick the cones from those.

That situation isn't unexpected, and it's also nothing to worry about.  Especially with the Goldings, I figured the plants might need as much as three full years to mature to full yields - so we're going to patiently wait on them.

I suppose I have been obsessing about the harvest almost since we planted the rhizomes back in May - and my worries only increased once we started getting burrs on many of the plants.  At around July 4, I'd even picked a lupulin laden Columbus cone off of one of those bines.  I'm still not happy with myself about the harvest plan - we've never been through the cycle before and we definitely don't have a solid process, so I'm a little worried.
Here's a monster Chinook bine.

The other side of the argument is that it is the first year, so the yields are unpredictable anyhow.  The range of maturity times throughout the hop yard is varying widely within the varieties and between the varieties, which is typical of a first year crop, from what I hear.  So the decision we've made is to go ahead and harvest all at once, setting a date that is about a week later than what we're hearing from the guys down in Richmond and Charlottesville - we're one growing zone away from them, as confirmed by the arrival of Japanese beetles a week or two after they all got them.  

So that's our story for now.  We'll be working on the logistics for the harvest, and for oasting, as a next step.  The real fun is about to start!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Important Visitors @hawksbillhops

The team under our new trade show tent, with the new
banner and stuff.  (left to right: Kenner, me, David)
Funny how progress goes.  I'm stretched for making a post here because a lot of our activities at Hawksbill Hop Yards right now are watching the bines grow - which they are, enthusiastically! - but I do have an update to report at last:

We had our first brewery visits a couple of weekends ago!

The growth of craft brewing in Virginia has been astounding.  After a few years of languishing behind other states (I'm not talking about California, Colorado, or Vermont here - I'm talking about Georgia, Maryland, and North Carolina, for goodness sake (no disrespect intended)), at last Virginia is seeing a surge in breweries.

Visiting with brewers from Tin Cannon and Pen Druid.
In 2013, the Brewers Association listed a mere 60 breweries, including the Coors establishment in Elkton and the Anheuser Busch operation in Williamsburg.  A directory check at Virginia Beer Trail now will offer over 120 breweries throughout the state, with even more scheduled to open through the rest of 2015!

At the hop yard, we hope to supply some of the new breweries, especially in the Shenandoah Valley and Northern Virginia areas - geographically close to us - with our high quality hops.  So we invited a few of the new brewers out, and we were very pleased to welcome Pen Druid Brewing from Sperryville and Tin Cannon Brewing Company from Gainesville to the yards on a recent Sunday morning.  In addition to the breweries, a couple of local VIPs joined us - our ag extension rep, Kenner, and Ligon from the Page County Economic Development Authority.

We had a good time with a brief tour of the rows and discussion of how we got this whole thing started, as well as our plans for the harvest.  As we get closer to that, and solve some of our logistics challenges - nothing too difficult, in fact very typical for any start-up - we'll be reaching out to these folks and other brewers with news of what we have to offer.

That'll be great progress and we're looking forward to it!  The next post will be an update on how the hops are doing, along with a preliminary harvest schedule.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Bethesda Flyover

Off and on during my career, I've had offices in the Clarendon or Ballston areas of Arlington, Virginia.  Among the other advantages these neighborhoods enjoy, one is their proximity to Arlington Cemetery - and because of that, there are regular flyovers of memorial formations for the military funerals that take place there.

After a six year Air Force enlistment - one that had amazingly few encounters with military aircraft, given my career field and the locations I was assigned, I am still thrilled whenever I see one or more of our military aircraft flying by.  So I was attuned to the sound of a military flyover when I worked in those Arlington offices, and I would rise and rush over to a window to check them out.

Flyovers happened a few times now in my Bethesda digs.  I imagine that whenever the aircraft are based somewhere north along the east coast, the sortie exits the area by flying along the Potomac, which takes them into our field of view.

And so it happened a few weeks back that I caught site of this squadron on its way home after a ceremonial Arlington flyover, the missing man just catching up with the rest of the group and preparing to form up.

Whenever I have the opportunity, I'll stop and look up for this - pausing my thoughts just long enough to consider the significance of the flyover, and then picking back up with the thrill of seeing the planes.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Profiles in Hops @hawksbillhops - Cascade

Here's a look a one of the Cascades, showing plenty
of burrs in development.
This is the final post in this week long series about some of the hop varieties we are growing at Hawksbill Hop Yards.  I posted about the Columbus and Chinook earlier, so today is about the Cascades.  We planted 300 bines, and of all the varieties, it looks like the Cascade will be the champion.

As with the other two varieties, I'm citing the Wikipedia article about hops varieties, which you can find here.

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about Cascade:
Very successful and well-established American aroma hop developed by Oregon State University's breeding program in 1956 from Fuggle and Serebrianker (a Russion variety), but not released for cultivation until 1972. It has a flowery and spicy, citrus-like quality with a slight grapefruit characteristic. One of the "Three Cs" along with Centennial and Columbus. Substitutes: Centennial and Columbus (but they have a higher Alpha Acid content).
Backlit shot showing a lot of burrs on another Cascade.

The Cascade have been the high-achievers in the yard:  they were the first to reach the cable at the top of the trellis, and the percentage of plants with burrs far exceeds the other varieties.  If I didn't know this already from how well they do in Dan's yard, or Bill's, or Kevin's, then all of the other growers telling me about them at the Winston-Salem conference or other Old Dominion Hops Cooperative functions would have - and the proof is certainly in the pudding, based on my walk last weekend.

To me, it seems like the yield here is better than I expected at the beginning of the year, but we'll take it.  There is a lot of work to be done to get these picked and processed, but fortunately we have a few weeks to go before it's time for that.  

I posted last year about Bill's harvest, here, and then I brewed two batches of a "Harvest Black IPA" with those hops - posts here and here.  If things work out, I may do a homebrew batch or two of harvest ale, using either Chinook or Columbus for bittering and Cascade for aroma.  I'll need to get my ducks in a row for that one - I'm already committed to doing a couple of honey porter brews in the fall, which will hopefully use whatever Fuggles and Goldings we are able to harvest from the first-year bines.  

I won't post a profile piece on those two varieties - they need time to grow, and we're not planning to take them down during the main phase of harvesting.  Although, as I mentioned, I would like to brew with them if there are enough cones for a batch or two.  I'll keep an eye out for that.

In the meantime, our Cascades are busting out.