Nothing but Flowers

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Hawksbill Hop Yards - Varieties

An element of the business plan for Hawksbill Hop Yards includes selecting the varieties of hops we'll plant.  The deadline for ordering rhizomes via the hops co-op is February 1, so I have been working on making some selections for planning purposes.

Some of the useful information I have received from the co-op includes the suggestion that Cascade and Chinook are varieties that have done well, and a quick check of the varieties grown by the other members seems to confirm this.  I also ran some analysis based on the book Designing Great Beers, by Ray Daniels (Amazon link at the end of the post) to see what varieties were used in a few of my favorite beer types.

Daniel's method was to analyze recipes from many popular beers to determine the hop varieties used in them.  He then counted up the incidence of each to make totals.  The table below summarizes his analysis - my thought would be to build on the co-op recommendation with a couple of additional varieties chosen from those most frequently appearing in the popular recipes.

The choice of Cascade was confirmed; in fact, it occurred in the recipes most frequently and it was the most popular variety in IPA, American Pale, California Common, and American Brown.  Goldings was second place for frequency, and it was the most popular variety in English Pale Ale, ESB, British Porter, and American Porter.  So I am planning to plant these two varieties to start with.

Chinook, the other variety recommended by the co-op, is one of the top five most popular in the recipes, which I will take as a confirmation of its marketability.  It is my third variety.

Finally, while Cascade and Goldings fall in the lower end of the alpha "spectrum" - alpha acids being a major component of hops flavor, and Chinook falls in approximately the middle, it seems that I need to select a high alpha variety to cover all the basis.  Dan told me that he had good success with his first year Columbus, and checking the co-op page, I see a couple of growers planting Columbus.  Thus, even though Columbus isn't acknowledged in Daniels book, I am going to add it to my plan for the hop yard, with a fallback to Zeus, which is similar and often substituted.

Now to get to work on placing my order - hopefully all of these varieties are available in the quantities I need.  We'll order at the end of next week, and then plant in the late March - early April timeframe.

Here's the link to the book I mentioned above:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Watch This Space

This big Cat will be used to clear the land.
Well, I guess it is time to come clean on one of the reasons I'm cutting back on posting this year.  For the last couple of years, as I became increasingly interested in brewing and then growing hops, I started to put together a plan to grow them commercially - on a small farm, in a way that is trendily known as "hobby farming."

The plan really became to come together last October, during the trip I took out to go to the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction, and then up to the meeting of the Old Dominion Hops Co-op up in Purcellville - the post about it is here.

I'm excited about the new logo!

Clearing the land - maybe an understatement!
There are simply a lot of ducks to get in a row just yet, so I don't have a lot of details to post.  However, at the beginning of the year, I made some arrangements to get this project started on two rented acres near Luray.  The farm (actually a farm within a farm) is going to be called Hawksbill Hop Yards, and work on clearing the acreage is just getting underway.

I'll use this blog to  post periodic updates, along with a Facebook page (here), and eventually a business web site.  I'm really looking forward to it, and hope that my readers will get a chance some day to come out for a visit.

There's still a lot to do though - so I'll keep this first post short!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Our Icy Beaver Pond

Last weekend we arrived Friday night after dark.  It had been a week of temperatures below freezing, so when I got up on Saturday morning to take Tessie out, I was greeted by a view of the beaver pond over in the hollow - frozen solid.  I snapped a nice Instagram photo here later in the day.

I had a good chat with Brian (of Breakfast at Epiphany's fame - check the blog list to the right!) about the frozen pond.  He asked if we skated on it, but since I grew up in Florida, that was never a skill I picked up.  Mary may know how, but she's never let on, so the answer was no.

I have no doubt it would be safe on many mornings, but by the end of the weekend, the temps were holding in the 40's and the ice was starting to melt.  There were clear patches near the dam, and especially further back where the streams come into the pond.

I took a second photo on Monday afternoon.  The grass in the fens along the front of the dam is doing well with the little sunshine it is getting, and the lodge is barely visible as a bright spot right at left center of this photo - there are some rather large branches piled on it.

This is my first post of the year - that is the longest I've gone without a post since I started the blog in 2007.  I picked up a lot of extracurricular activities this winter; they will give me plenty to write about, but I won't be able to post as often.  I'll set a goal of trying to be sure and make 100 posts during 2015 - I love the writing discipline and exercise of this blog, and I hope my readers will stay with me.

Happy 2015!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Recapping 2014: Those Brewing Adventures

Brewing a batch of Black Widow IPA with fresh hops.
When I started this little recap series, I mentioned how the topics in my blog posts have evolved since I started Hawksbill Cabin in 2007 – from the projects renovating the place in the early days, to getting to know SNP through a series of hikes and research, up to now, when my posts are dominated by brewing and other beer related subjects.  This morning I did a quick scan of the posts in 2014, and there was not a month that went by when I didn’t write something on the topic, so I guess it is fitting to close out the year with one more post about brewing.

A glass of the finished product.
I started brewing with one gallon kits in 2011 – I’d grown interested in it over the years as friends and acquaintances would break out fresh brews they’d made for the holidays, dinner parties, or for no reason except friends getting together.  My friend Stan has been brewing for more than 20 years, and so has neighbor Dan – they both invited me to help them on a brew day, as did Brendan, and that’s all it took.  My formative beer-drinking experiences were spent in my 20’s in Berlin (the base I was stationed at was near a brewery, in fact!) and Western Europe, so I suppose that only added to my interest.

Dan at the start of his harvest in July.
Starting from those three basic ingredients outlined in the Reinheitsgebot – the German purity law – which were water, hops, and barley (yeast isn’t listed but is at least as important as the others), there is plenty of room to create something new and special.  I guess that is what I like about it: in addition to the styles to try and master – saisons, farmhouse ales, porters, stouts, IPAs, bitters, and (someday) lagers – you can vary the ingredients to produce a craft that ranges from honey lavender kolsch to whiskey barrel porter (I’ve made or I'm making both!)…there’s simply a lot left to try and do.

Some of Dan's Cascade hops in the dryer.
Looking back on the year as a brewer – I’d have to rate the experience of picking Bill’s hops and then brewing those IPAs (here and here) as one of the biggest successes of the year.  Not only did I get to extensively use a locally produced ingredient (and I still have enough left for two more batches), but the black IPA recipe was adopted and customized for my equipment.  I went as far as to dry hop some commercial hops at the end for aroma in order to be sure I had a well-rounded product I could be proud of – and it was that.

Hops picking with Bill and John, maybe one
of my favorite photos of the year, too.
In 2015 there are going to be a number of opportunities to create beers with local ingredients again – there’ll be the hops, of course, and there is a crop of Page County grown barley that was recently malted for brewing by my friends at the Blue Ridge Brewers Association.  We used that barley recently for a batch at Dan's brewery.  Plus, there are local ingredients that we can add to make unique beers:  honey, lavender, cucumbers, watermelon, and pumpkins – not to mention the rye whiskey they’re distilling around these parts!  It will be a good year for brewing, building on all that I’ve learned in 2014.

A portion of the fresh Cascade hops from
Bill's hop yard.

One of the vendors I buy a lot of my ingredients from has a motto:  “Brew, share, enjoy.” That’s probably the part of the experience that is most important to me, especially the “good friends” part of sharing and enjoying.  So here’s to all of you, readers – have a great 2015, and most importantly, enjoy the journey!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Recapping 2014: Backyard Hops

Homebrew and home grown hops.  What's not to like?
Not long after we bought Hawksbill Cabin, we met our neighbors Dan and Sally just up the hill.  They have what is probably the oldest house in the neighborhood – and one that probably has been the scene of many summer parties.  Along with everything else they are famous for, these days, Dan has a small hop yard and brews some delicious beer out in the barn, which we call Beaver Run Brewery.

Certainly the beer is a worthy topic, but I have posted on it plenty of times in the past.  Today I want to write a recap about home grown hops, which Dan introduced me to last year, (and I've learned a lot more about it through the Virginia hops growing community).  Now I've got a couple of plants going on, and some other friends and neighbors do, too – some of them growing second generation plants off of Dan’s rhizomes.
Dan, adding home grown hops at Beaver Run Brewery.

In Dan’s backyard, he has about a tenth of an acre set up with around two dozen plants, representing five or six varieties of hops - see the harvest post here.  The Cascade plants have been the most successful, but he also has Fuggles, Goldings, Centennials, and others.  I think one I am forgetting is Willamettes, but they haven’t done so well.

I frequently benefit from his production, and I’ve used the dried hops in several different brews – Cascades in ales, and the Fuggles in porters.  One thing leads to another, and I decided to put a couple of rhizomes in at the house in Alexandria.
My Willamette bine in Alexandria.

First I tried Goldings, which did produce in the first year, but not so much in the second; I also have a Willamette plant that produced a small harvest in the first year, so I used the hops during secondary fermentation of a recent batch of honey porter.
John and Bill picking Cascades.

Bill's fresh picked Cascade hops.
One of the highlights of the hops season for me this year, however, was the opportunity to help our friend Bill with his harvest of Cascade hops.  He got the rhizomes from Dan – I think there are six – and they were prolific, ready to harvest in the July-August time frame.  I was out for the weekend Bill decided to pick them, and invited myself along to help.

It’s hard to describe how rewarding it was, sweating profusely while picking those herbs, all of which we knew would be going to use to flavor and preserve some delicious home brews.  Only, who would be the brewer?  I was very surprised when Bill offered them to me.

I mentioned that his plants were prolific – we probably picked six pounds of wet hops.  If we were dehydrating them, that would come down to about a pound and a half – enough for thirty gallons of craft beer. 

Black Widow IPA - the first batch from Bill's Cascades.

So far I’ve used the hops in two five-gallon batches of what I am calling “Black Widow IPA” – it’s an adapted IPA recipe that comes out at around 7.5% ABV.  I’ve shared some with Bill, obviously, to acknowledge his green thumb, and with John, seen in the picture above helping with the harvest. 

I’ve even enjoyed a glass or two with Dan, so that this hop growing thing has come full circle.

This part of the brewing adventure still has a way to go.  I’m looking forward to the 2015 season to see what we get – and I still have a couple of batches to make with last year’s Cascades!