Ramble On

Friday, December 4, 2015

Visiting Hopkins Ordinary

We took a little drive over to Sperryville on the weekend – I wanted to show Mary one of the craft breweries over there.  This one is located in the basement of a bed and breakfast called Hopkins Ordinary.  We’d stopped by once before, in the summer, so I could deliver some hops from Hawksbill Hop Yards to them.

There is a second brewery in Sperryville called Pen Druid – we’ll hit that one sometime this winter, and I’m sure she’ll enjoy it as much as this one.  One of our discoveries was the addition of a new beer garden on the grounds there, complete with tables and a firepit.  That’s where we decided to do our tasting.

They typically will have a good range of offerings on tap at Hopkins Ordinary, and many of the beers include a local ingredient or two.  I think everything that was available during our visit used local malt procured from Copper Fox Distillery, and the saison used local persimmons.  The offerings on tap were:
  • Little Devil Blonde
  • Fallen Fruit Saison
  • Stoney Man ESB
  • Wildflower Honey Brown Ale
  • Smiggy’s Wee Heavy Scottish Strong Ale
  • Innkeepers IPA

We had a nice time sitting outside by the firepit.  Looking forward to more adventures over on that side of the mountain – they’re neighbors, after all!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Fall Soup

Some of the Thanksgiving traditions we enjoy is the curried butternut squash soup I have been making for the last 20 years or so.  This year was no different – even though we couldn’t get down to North Carolina to join the family, we did have a visit with friends in Bethesda, and I made the soup.

Although I do follow the recipe closely, each year it is a little different – by the way, the link at the end of this post will take you to one that has the recipe.  Variations come from the type of winter squash used (I have used acorn squash, butternut, and banana squash – but there are plenty of others), the type of stock and amount of juice used (the last few editions have been vegetable stock, but I’ve used chicken stock before; also I’ve substituted wine or cider for the juice component of the recipe), or the type and amount of curry used (I always start with about a quarter of what’s specified and add more to taste).

Adding to the excitement this year, the kitchen tool that I use for dicing the onions broke while I was working on the batch, and then our old blender had broken as well.  Fortunately, we got a new Cuisinart food processor this year – that actually made the whole thing easier!  

I doubled the recipe for this year because the headcount for the meal was more than I had prepared for in the past.  We calculated that there was a gallon and a half of soup!  There are leftovers!

In any case, everyone seemed to enjoy it, and I did as well – so all’s good.   Here’s that link that includes the recipe:

Monday, November 30, 2015

Winter is Coming

Last week we had a warm spell that was atypical of Thanksgiving week.  Even so, the stores are getting ready for holiday shoppers, and Mary and I happened to spy this display at an outdoors store out in the ‘burbs.  One of them in particular got me to thinking about winter fun – and I was even wishing for a decent snow this year!

If you’re wondering what these toys are, they are called minibobs – I’ve called them minibogs in the past, but I’m going with the easier term from here on out.  I bought a couple of these a few years ago, based on some fond memories of using them on ski slopes in the Harz Mountains, way back when I was stationed in Germany with the Air Force. 

Here’s a link to an earlier post about the minibobs! 

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Replacement

Somewhere around 1988, I became a convert to GM cars.  We've had four of them since then - all of them providing transportation well into the 100K miles range.  I even drove the first one, a 1988 Oldsmobile, to LA, passing 111,111 miles on the way out of DC - and 122,222 on the way back - before finally trading it in with 145K miles!

The most recent iteration was a 2005 Chevy Equinox, which I happened to purchase from Carmax in 2010 with 40K miles on it.  The price was great, and my first experience with Carmax was excellent.  We subsequently sold our 1999 Malibu to them (120K miles), leaving us with the Equinox and a 2003 Impala (135K miles).

Flash forward to the little vacation we took out in the Valley early this month.  We were on our way to check out the new brewery in Woodstock when we hit a buck.  Mary and I were both okay, but neither the buck nor the Equinox (116K miles) made it.

I took a few photos of the car that night in the darkness.  You can make out that it was a serious accident and that we were fortunate to not be hurt.  But you still don't get the impression the car is totaled - and it took State Farm about a week to figure that out for us as well.

Meanwhile I rented a car from Enterprise for a week and checked in with State Farm.  When they finally told us it was going to be totaled, I started shopping for a replacement - a late model Chevy Equinox.

The one I eventually settled on is a 2012, at the same Carmax where I got the old one.  This time the car only has 24K miles on it.  We've had it for a week now, and everything seems just great with it.

We'll be taking it out to the Valley next weekend...maybe we'll make it up to that brewery in Woodstock at last.  But we probably won't take it out much at night just now, not while the rut is on!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Momcat the Barncat

Sitting out on the brick terrace with a cup of coffee is one of my favorite weekend activities at Hawksbill Cabin.  As the winter comes on, the angle of the sun combines with the house’s orientation to make it fairly warm, and I’ll light up the fire pit for good measure to add some comfort.  Also, Momcat likes to hang out there.

This little cat has been hanging around the place for four years or so – she’s the definition of an outside pet.  I think she had two litters of kittens before we had her spayed (we worked with Cats Cradle in Harrisonburg – her clipped ear is the sign for this) and we ended up adopting her daughter as an indoor cat (and Buster!).  We invited Momcat to join us first, but she lives on her own terms.

Instead, we’ve provided a couple of little shelters out by the garage for her and some of the other barncats to hang out in when it is cold.  We recruited a neighbor to help out with feeding them – we provide a couple of bags of food per month for the four or five barncats around here (all fixed by Cats Cradle).

Momcat did give us a scare last year – she disappeared for a while.  I took a photo of her in May 2014 before we went on our vacation to Mendocino and the Bay Area, and then we didn’t see her again until last winter.  Our theory was that she had been chased off by an unaltered male stray that hung around here for a while, who’s moved on now.

In any case – this little mouser is a good friend of ours.  We’re always happy to find her hanging around.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Brewing with @hawksbillhops

Since the hops harvest last August, I have worked on various experiments combining some of the hops varieties in a black IPA recipe I put together.  As an ode to “The Big Lebowski” I’ve tried naming the output on variations of “a black steer’s tuckus on a moonless night” – because the beer is quite dark. 

Some in the craft beer writing crowd actually call these beers over-hopped porters, which may be fair.  The current recipe I’m working with offers hints of toasted malt while leaving a reminder that it was brewed by a hops farmer – I’ve used 6 to 8 ounces of hops in each five-gallon batch so far.  The hops bill features either CTZ or Chinook bittering hops and Cascade for aroma; in addition, I dry-hopped the first two batches with either Cascades or some commercial Chinook pellets.

The batch in the photo here is still in primary as I’m posting this, but will be moved into secondary over the next few days.  It was done with the CTZ hops as bittering.  I don’t plan to dry hop this one.
On the ABV front, the two finished batches have gone at 7.2% (CTZ) and 6.8% (Chinook), I expect this batch to come in somewhere near those numbers as well.  The IBU calculations were around 60 for the CTZ batch and 45 for the Chinook, this most recent one will be closer to the original CTZ batch.

This kind of experimentation is a new stage of my homebrew experience.  I’ve had solid results with Porters, and the honey lavender kolsch was well received.  I could probably stand to try some lagering experiments and it goes without saying I should be looking into all-grain brewing, but I am not ready to make the time commitment for mastering those processes, especially while I am doing all of this in Mary’s kitchen!

To sum up the batches I’ve brewed to date with the Hawksbill Hops harvest, there are:
  • Batch 1: CTZ and Cascade, with a Cascade dry hop, delivering 7.2% and 60 IBU;
  • Batch 2: Chinook and Cascade, with a commercial Chinook pellet dry hop, delivering 6.8% and 45 IBU; and
  • Batch 3: Same recipe as batch 1 but no dry hop, and I substituted Maris Otter extract for part of the standard I'd used before; ABV/IBUs TBD .

There will be a batch four, it will be all Chinook, but I won’t brew that one until January.  I have in mind to make another go of a whisky barrel porter in the meantime; it will be bottled by the holidays but not ready for drinking until February 1.  My goal on that one would be to offer a near-stout experience that can be enjoyed in front of the fireplace. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Hawksbill Summit - November 2015 edition

Besides hitting a deer midway through my vacation in the Valley, I had the opportunity to get out for a little day hike, choosing Hawksbill Mountain in Shenandoah National Park as my destination (link here).  

As I drove to the park and then along Skyline Drive, I calculated in my mind that this was the first time this year I had been in the park – so I resolved to savor the trip and see if I could get a few good photographs.

Included in the post are some panoramic views of the Valley, taken from the drive as I passed milestones on the way to the trailhead – including Stonyman (wikipedia link), and the approach to Hawksbill (wikipedia link).  I’m including the shot I always love to get of Old Rag (wikipedia link)from the summit, as well as one of the evergreens that can be seen along the trail.  

We’ve had a stretch of unseasonably warm days, Indian summer style.  The change left the air clear of haze, and gave unusually clear views of the valley below.

The Hawksbill Summit trail I most often take starts at the upper parking area and is a 2.1 mile out-and-back route with 520 feet of elevation change (there are a couple of up-and-downs, so the net gain is less, around 400 feet).  I consider it an easy day hike – it’s a leg stretcher I enjoy whenever I have the time for a short hike in the park, with some incredible views from the summit.

I was really glad to check the box on a trip to the park this fall.  I hope that I’ll have another chance later this month or early December, weather permitting!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Seasons of the Road Kill: The 9-pointer

In my last post I mentioned the pace at work, which had been deadline intensive since the summer.  We’re in the process of delivering our new 200K+ SF building, with construction finished in August and interior fit out in progress through December - then the 300+ tenants will move in.  I needed a break, so I scheduled a week of vacation at Hawksbill Cabin last week to get in some hiking and enjoy the change in the weather by sitting outside on the brick terrace.

Mary joined me after a few days, and we planned a scouting trip up to the new Woodstock Brew House, one of the Valley’s newest craft brewers.  To get there, we climb over the New Market gap on US 211 and then take the Valley Pike, US 11, north for 20 miles or so.  Maybe it is a long way to go for dinner, but here in the Valley, the drive is worth it for the unique experiences offered.

As we exited the town of Edinburg headed north – and less than five miles to go to our destination – a very large buck appeared ahead.  We caught sight of him just as he crossed the center line into our lane, I saw how big he was and barely made out the right side of his rack – seeing more than four points. 

What a beautiful buck, I thought to myself, while stepping on the brakes.  It is hunting season and rut is on, so they are on the move.  This guy ended up being a 9-pointer, really in his prime, and confidently strolling across the highway.  We ended up catching him square between the front and rear quarters.

We limped the Equinox off to the side of the road and began taking care of the logistics of the accident – neither one of us were hurt and the air bags didn’t deploy – so we called 911 for assistance and to report everything.  An EMT from the fire department was dispatched, followed by a state trooper.

Meanwhile, the folks in the car behind us had seen the whole thing.  They are hunters, and called a friend to be at the ready to take the deer if he’d survived, which I doubted at the time.  They got permission from the trooper and went to put the buck out of his misery, telling us their plan was to take the meat and donate it to a food pantry.

Eventually the car was towed – a punctured radiator and no headlights had rendered it inoperable.  We’re still in the process of working through the insurance issues, but we did go back and clean out our personal items, and took the tags, as instructed.  

We’ll see where it goes.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Good to be Back

I’ve slowed the pace of blog posts lately.  That means I have a few things to catch up on here – so I have a few posts coming up over the next few weeks. 

First, though, a thought or two about the state of the blog.  Back in 2008 and 2009, when I started the blog, I used to try and post 12 to 16 times a month – 3 or 4 times a week, but as my activities at Hawksbill Cabin have settled into routines, I adjusted that down to where my goal is now 8 posts a month, or 2 per week. 

I attribute this to a combination of an intensive round of day job work deadlines, coupled with all the effort it took to bring off Hawksbill Hop Yards this year.  That’s enough for excuses:  I just read the latest issue of Outside magazine, a favorite, and I found myself inspired.  So with this post I will start getting caught back up.

Now, a few weeks back I took a business trip to speak at a conference in Orlando.  This is the same conference that has taken me to Las Vegas in the past – their new strategy will be to alternate between the east coast and Vegas every other years, so I will try to keep up.  There is always something interesting happening in my field as new technologies are incorporated into the built environment.

I grew up in Orlando, so a part of me was looking forward to the trip.  The photos accompanying this post were taken from the flight – first, on takeoff, as we flew over the Pentagon; and then on descent, when I was surprised to look out the window and see Cape Canaveral stretching off to the south down below.  Just to the west of the southern end of the Cape - the view is to the south - is Melbourne, the town I lived in for two years until I decided to move up to the DC area in 1990.

Another highlight of the trip was the hotel I stayed in, the Doubletree at Universal.  It used to be known as the Sheraton Twin Towers - long before Universal was built - and it was the location for our high school prom!

The Orlando trip was a success, and I followed it up with a week of vacation at Hawksbill Cabin.  The next few posts will be about that experience.

It’s good to be back!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Beaver Run in the Fall

The beaver pond across the road is going on two years old this time.  It's the second time these industrious critters have built over there - the previous time was in 2008 or so, and that one lasted about a year.

I thought the heavy rains might take it down over the last few weeks, but it survived.  Dan told me there was a breach, and I could tell from the water levels that it is much lower than it has been for most of the year, although the foliage has kept it hidden until now.

They seem to have settled on having the dam height a little lower in the past, so it doesn't quite cover the whole lot over there.

Still, it's pleasant enough to look at - the water sparkles through the trees year round, and sometimes I can see the wake of one of the beavers swimming around on patrol.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Fall on the Terrace

After the Page County Century ride wrapped up, I had agreed to get back over to Hawksbill Cabin to meet up with neighbors Sally and Dan, who had taken a ride over to check out the Woodstock Brew House over on the North Branch side of the Valley.  They brought a nice growler of a session pale ale to share as we sat out on the brick terrace enjoying the great day and the start of fall colors.  
We had a good time catching up, and later they invited me up for some ribs on Sunday.  Dan has a vintage Weber kettle that he uses for grilling, and they have several hickory trees on the property, so it is a simple matter of gathering up a few downed branches to get an ample supply of smoke for the barbecue.
Those ribs were great.  Since we'd already enjoyed the growler, he broke into his stash of Beaver Run Brewery offerings, including an IPA made with Hawksbill Hops!  The nice evening outside was a reminder that fall has arrived and it won't belong before we're putting on sweaters and raking leaves.  

Summer came and went too fast this year.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Page County Grown Century

For a few years now, Page County Grown has worked with Page Valley Cycling and Hawksbill Bicycles to put on a Century bicycle ride.  The most recent edition was last weekend, and there was a record turnout of more than 70 riders going the distance - 25, 55, and 100 mile routes are offered.

My job this time was to staff the lunch stop at Public House Produce.  Of course, that meant we shared the promotion opportunity, since Hawksbill Hop Yards is co-located there, and is also a member of Page County Grown.

Quite a few of the riders came by for bagels, fruit, nutella and peanut butter, and various other offerings, taking a break from what turned out to be beautiful weather, with the fall colors just beginning in the Valley.

There was a lot of activity around the farm.  The goats were interested in the riders, but in the end, Delilah here was just not impressed.

It was a great event, ending up with a great meal catered by the Mimslyn down at the VA.  That's another point of interest - I'm eligible for membership, and have been meaning to check in on that.  Maybe a goal for 2016.

Along with volunteering for more active tourism events, of course!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The C-130 and the Blue Ridge

As I'm wont to do, I was sitting out in the sunshine on the brick terrace a few weekends back.  I heard a gentle rumble of an unfamiliar airplane overhead and started looking around for it.

To my surprise, there was a C-130 in an unusual paint scheme crossing the sky - flying quite low actually, since it was headed for the Blue Ridge in Shenandoah National Park.  The mountains near us - including Stonyman, Hawksbill, and Big Meadow, stretch upwards to 4,000 feet, and I thought the C-130 might have to climb a bit to clear.

In the first photo, you can just see the aircraft.  The line of trees below obscures the view of the park here, but that is on a line to Big Meadow, so that probably gave a thrill to some of the park visitors.

As I was looking through my photos yesterday, I thought I might zoom in on the photo of the C-130 to see if the paint job would come in any clearer.  Here you can see the bright silver of the plane - really caught be by surprise, as we more often get Air Force Reserve or National Guard flights in the area, and the planes are usually green.  I can't identify ths one from a web search, but I suspect it may be a Navy version.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Virginia's Own Hardywood Park Craft Brewery

As long as I am on the topic of Virginia-grown hops, I thought I might post about Hardywood Park brewery down in Richmond.  I first noticed these beers at the Whole Foods here in Alexandria back in 2013 or so, but now I can also get them at Trader Joes (and if I looked hard enough, they're likely in some of the Giants or Safeways, and maybe even Harris Teeters).

The story of this brewery, which is located in the historic German brewing district in Richmond, makes for a good tale, and it can be found on their web page.  I've tried several varieties, and I keep buying it not only because I like the beer, but because really like the 25 oz. bottle size that I can recycle for my home brews.

This weekend I picked up the RVA IPA - which is an annual release of theirs.  Here's where the connection to Virginia-grown hops comes in:  they use volunteer-grown hops from the Richmond area.  Here's the description from their site:

"...we reached out to Richmond's very passionate beer community to invite home hop growers to donate some of their fresh harvest. Sure enough, they came through. With fresh hop contributions from local home growers, Hardywood RVA IPA captures the terroir of Richmond and the spirit of its hop growing beer enthusiasts. A wet-hopped, American-style India Pale Ale with loads of fresh local Columbus, Cascade, Chinook, Centennial and Glacier hops, Hardywood RVA IPA displays a toasted auburn color with a vibrant, creamy head."

So even though I didn't contribute hops to this effort - after all, Hawksbill Hop Yards is intended to be a commercial farm, I did picked up a bottle to enjoy on Saturday night.  And of course, adding to my personal enjoyment was the fact that I poured it into one of the logo glasses from the farm.

Cheers Hardywood, maybe sometime in the future we can collaborate with Hawksbill Hops.  

Monday, September 28, 2015

Brewing with Farm-Raised @hawksbillhops

On Saturday, I bottled the Harvest Black IPA - this is the second year I brewed it with hops I personally harvested, and the first time I brewed it with hops from Hawksbill Hop Yards, my farm in Luray, VA.  (I've written about it frequently, but if you want to see all the past posts, click here.)

Last year, the Harvest Black IPA was an all-Cascade affair (link), brewed with wet hops from my friend Bill.  I ended up making two batches of that one and they were well received, which is why I used the recipe again.  Bill recently told me that he has saved enough Cascade in the freezer that I can brew a couple of more batches.

In addition to Bill's Cascades, I have in mind to brew two versions of this beer from the 2015 Hawksbill Hop Yards harvest: first, a brew based on the combined flavors of CTZ and Cascade; and second, one that will feature a Chinook and Cascade combination.  To add some complexity to the first batch, I dry-hopped with two ounces of Cascade during secondary fermentation.

The recipe was derived from the Northern Brewer "Ace of Spades" extract kit, only now I order the ingredients separately and combine them in the necessary quantities for the beer.  In this case, I brewed on August 14th, and set the beer up to ferment with 1.068 O.G. - and ended up on September 25 with 1.014 F.G., for an ABV of 7.2%.

For the hops additions, here is the schedule I used on brew day:

  • 60 minutes - 1 oz. CTZ
  • 45 minutes - 1 oz. CTZ
  • 30 minutes - 1 oz. Cascade
  • 15 minutes - 1 oz. Cascade
  • 5 minutes - 2 oz. Cascade
  • Secondary dry hop - 2 oz. Cascade
You can surmise that I was after a decent IBU kick (the IBU calculator I used says 88 IBU, based on alphas of 13.23% and 6.65% on the CTZ and Cascade, respectively), but also wanted to be sure you got a punch in the face from Cascade aroma, thus the dry hop.  There is a lot of dark, sweet malt in this to balance those hops.  

I'm looking forward to seeing how this beer is after it bottle conditions for a couple of weeks...

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pressing the Vidal at Wisteria

These are Norton grapes - they are a few weeks away
from picking.
On Sunday morning I went over to Wisteria to see if I could lend a hand on wine making chores.  I knew that Moussa had received a ton of Vidal grapes on Saturday, and that they had been crushed that evening.  For white wine varieties, after they are crushed the get stored in the cellar under cool temperatures to suspend the yeast action. 

Moussa uses the Vidal as a blending wine in several of the bottles he produces, notably a summer Rose.  On Sunday our goal would be to press the two tubs of grapes into juice.

So, after Moussa had showed me around the Merlot progress, we set up the wine press and began loading in the Vidal.  By this time, the other volunteers were there to pitch in, so we made pretty quick work of getting the press filled up.  It wasn’t long before the pure sweet juice started pouring out of the press and we took turns sampling it.

One of my favorite parts of all of this is what happens after the press.  You're left with a "cake" of spent grapes that has an interesting texture and structure - it can stand on its own, as shown in that last photo.  Will's in the back, taking a photo.
Here's the "cake" of spent Vidal grapes.

We did this twice and completed our work on the ton.  I think we got about 800 liters of juice from the grapes.  They're in the cellar now, coming up to proper fermentation temperatures before Moussa will pitch the yeast.

As we were completing the second batch, tourists were starting to arrive to visit the tasting room.  The cake is such an interesting part of all of this that several of them came over to the crush pad to have a look at it – by now all the volunteers are fairly well versed in wine making and have a lot to say about the process, so there were some fun conversations taking place, standing around the spent grapes.

Next spring the Vidal we pressed will appear in bottles - as I mentioned, probably blended into a Rose. When that happens, I predict that Mary and I will enjoy some with a nice grilled pork roast!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Volunteer Time at Wisteria Vineyards - 2015 edition

Moussa typically uses the barrels through a few seasons,
progressing from whites to reds, as shown here.
For the first Sunday morning in a while I found myself with some time on my hands, so after the morning coffee dosage I headed around the corner to see if I could pitch in with some of the fall activities at Wisteria Vineyards in Stanley, VA.

As I was driving by yesterday I spied the arrival of a ton of Vidal grapes, so I figured there would be some pressing to do - I got over there at 8:30 or so, knowing that I would probably surprise Moussa in the middle of something.  Most of the volunteers that show up for these things are weekenders like Mary and me, an are inclined to arrive at 10 or so - also like Mary and me.

Pushing the Merlot grapes down into the wine to ensure
balanced and complete fermentation.

Getting there early, the first tasks to be done were to do some work on the Merlot, which had already been crushed and was going through primary fermentation on the skins.  Moussa had three tubs of it, and we went through and pushed all of the grapes on the surface down into the wine.

After we took care of that, we went into the cellar with a sample of the wine pulled from the tubs.  We did a brix test with a hydrometer - the same tool I use for this purpose when I brew, although I work from the gauge's gravity side instead of the brix side.  This wine has been in the tubs for a couple of days now, and the reading showed that fermentation is about two-thirds done - probably only a few more days and this will be ready to press.

Brix testing on Merlot samples.

The volunteers were starting to show up by now, too - the first was Will, a Brit who is traveling across the country on a motorcycle.  He'd met John and Nina on a hike, and they invited him down into the Valley to check out Luray and environs.  He'd made his way over to the winery and had already put in a couple of days on various tasks, so he was ready to pitch right in.

In my next post I'll pick up from here - I spent a good part of the day working on the pressing with the other volunteers, and went back in the evening for a little socializing.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Visiting @2witchesbrew in Danville

Back in March we were still just planning the hop yards, and I sent some marketing feelers around to a couple of the breweries across the state.  2 Witches down in Danville was one of the earliest enthusiastic responses I received - and we kept in touch throughout the growing season.
The 3.5 barrel system at 2 Witches

Finally, when the hops were ready, the folks down there told me they'd like five pounds of Cascade - which I gladly reserved for them while I figured out the logistics of delivery.  This was a complex matter for me, for a couple of reasons, which I'll describe later in the post.

Part of what makes a small hop farm worthwhile is the relationship you get to build with the brewers who will use your hops.  In the case of this brewery, I was excited because I consider Danville, way down there in Virginia along the NC border, to be home territory, since my parents were born and raised in Eden and Stoneville, less than 10 miles away.  The response from the brewery was warm and welcome, so I looked forward to completing the sale, and I will make sure that everything works out satisfactorily for them.

On tap at 2 Witches
Having been down US 29 a few times before, I was looking forward to revisiting some of the landmarks along the way - the gentle rolling hills and fields between Warrenton and Charlottesville, crossing the James River at Lynchburg, etc.  I'd forgotten the distance, but that really wasn't a problem; as it turns out I was part of a mad rush until Charlottesville because of the UVA - Notre Dame game that was happening in the afternoon.

At last I arrived at the brewery.  They've got a good space in an old industrial warehouse area, and they've been able to improve it with some outdoor areas on the old loading docks and a new garden.  In fact, the brewery is also a winery, so there were a couple of rows of vines planted on the grounds.

While ordering a flight, I talked for a bit with Alex, the brewer, while we completed our business.  The name of the brewery originates with a family photo of two very cute young girls in witches costumes.  Those women are now part of the business, working on the winery side.

I mentioned my family connection and we discussed the Miller Coors brewery in Eden.  Alex is taking brewing classes there, so he was familiar with the town.  He's heard rumors that a nano will be starting up downtown there soon - something to look forward to on future visits.
The flight I enjoyed at 2 Witches.

I mentioned the logistics challenges on this delivery - so as a wrap up I'll write about that.  When I received my lab results from Virginia Tech, they advised that I move anything that didn't sell quickly into the freezer, so I did just that after a week.  I had about 12 pounds left at the time, and that's what I froze - subsequently delivering a two pound order to Tin Cannon, and a five pound order to Hopkins Ordinary, keeping the hops frozen during transport and until delivery.

Knowing the distance to Danville, my first thought was to figure out how to ship them, but I decided the risk to quality from a thaw cycle while they were en route was not acceptable.   I decided I would drive down with them - I could ensure they were in good condition and have an enjoyable time visiting the brewery as well.

I also enjoyed a flight of the on tap offerings while I was at 2 Witches.  There was a good range and balance with a couple of wheats, a brown, and two pale ales on tap.  Alex told me that they will use the hops I delivered to dry hop an ale that's currently in primary - you know, that's something we can be proud of!

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Hiatus

After such a busy August - followed by a busy couple of weeks at my day job, I took a little time off from blogging.  We've kept up our usual activities at Hawksbill Cabin in the meantime, so there's no shortage of topics to post about!

Yesterday I took a long drive to deliver some hops - I'll get a post up about the trip and the brewery later this week.  In the meantime, I have had a little time to relax on the brick terrace this morning while I write.  An Tess and I took a ride over to the hop yard to have a look around at how fall is beginning to settle in.

David put in a pumpkin patch next to the yard, and the gourds are starting to come in.  Here's a photo of some of them to get us started again.  As I walked around over there, there were still quite a few plumping up - one especially was larger than any of these.

Tess had a great walk, we explored the hop yard and the pumpkin patch, caught wind of the herd of deer that lives around there, and then we walked over to the new fields where the honey bees are.  David has sown the cover crop in there - I'm guessing winter rye.  That reminds me we have some fall cleanup ahead at the hop yards, as well.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The 2015 Hops Harvest @hawksbillhops - Part 6 (finale)

Finally, the last day of our week-long harvest had arrived.  All the activities we had left to complete were the final lot of oasting and packaging two rows of the Cascades.  Before getting to work on that, I took a walk over to the hop yard for a look at it now that all the hops had been taken down.   
We decided to leave the Fuggles and Goldings rows up for the rest of the growing season.  We know there is demand for these varieties, but the plants definitely need another year to strengthen and adapt to our region.  Hopefully they'll benefit from additional sun and time so that we'll see enough cones on them next year to have a first harvest.

Here's a photo of the hops we harvest and packaged -
totaling around 50 pounds - now they're off to brewers!
From the Chinook, CTZ/Columbus, and the first two lots of Cascade hops, I pulled an eight ounce sample for testing at the Virginia Tech lab.  We were pleased with the results - they were in line with expectations and the commercial ranges - and since the lab included a moisture assessment, we have the info we need to refine our oasting process for next year.  It's great to have this asset in the community!

Incidentally, here are our alpha/beta results for the three varieties we harvested this year:

  • Cascade (average of two lots):  alpha 6.65%, beta 3.74%
  • Chinook:  alpha 8.84%, beta 2.39%
  • CTZ/Columbus:  alpha 13.23%, beta 3.52%
Our final  yield of hops across these three varieties was about 50 pounds.  We packed them as one-pounders for the craft brewers we are marketing, and 4-oz packs for home brewers.  More on the marketing in a moment, because I want to mention a funny story that happened during the packaging.

We'd been working in David and Heather's garage on this process for the duration of the week.  On Tuesday afternoon, Heather had put some spare concert tickets up for sale on Craigslist, and the eventual buyer came around to pick them up while David and I were in the middle of packaging the hops.

As you can see in the photo of our final product, this activity appears suspicious, since we're handling green plant material and packaging it in bulk - not to mention there is a lot of it.  

So the buyer comes into the garage and asks for Heather.  After a moment, he notices the bags of green product all around us - his eyes grew big as saucers before he turned to knock on the door and ask for her!

Over the course of the growing season we'd had some visits from brewers, and I had done a few other outreach activities to let everyone know about our first harvest.  Once I had the lab results and quantities, I did some follow-up activities.  

Soon we had orders from five craft breweries in Virginia, and we've also sold to home brewers in Florida, California, Pennsylvania, and Virginia!  Needless to say, our success at selling the hops far exceed anything I expected.  I can't wait to hear that they've got their beers ready and on tap - I hope to be able to make a visit to each one to celebrate!

So this post concludes the series on our first harvest at Hawksbill Hop Yards.  What a great and unique insight being a hops farmer gives to the craft brewing industry!  We have some expansion and improvement plans for the hop yard this fall and next spring, and then we'll get started again on the whole thing.

It's been a lot of fun, even though it was hard work the whole way.  But to be honest, I can't wait until next year!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The 2015 Hops Harvest @hawksbillhops - Part 5

Here's a tray of Cascades, ready for sampling and
packaging - bowl and scale in the foreground.
Thanks to David Sours for this photo -
working late into the evening to package
our first batch of dried hops!

By the second day of drying and packaging, the activities had settled into a routine.  Once we loaded the HOP-N-ATOR 4000 with fresh wet hop cones, and ensured they were distributed evenly, we closed up the machine and turned on the heater and fans to get things going.  (Our first batch had taken 30+ hours to dry, so we improved the machine with a little space heater - we'll probably upgrade this part of the operation next year!)

Here's a few Cascade cones that I tore apart for
inspection after they'd been dried.
The goal of drying the cones - or Oasting, as it is traditionally called - is to reduce the moisture in the raw plants so that they become more stable and easier to store and handle.  The industry standard for this is around 8% moisture, so if the assumption is the plant materials are 10% of the originally weight, you're after getting the wet cones down to 18% or so of their original weight.

This seemed to me to be an excellent application of those operations management classes I loved in business school...in fact I was a tutor for this subject!  So I devised a "statistical process control" method for taking periodic samples of the hops to determine our drying progress.  I developed a formula for setting a target weight (there was an error in the one I used, so we didn't get all the way down to 18% - plus the lab informed me that no one in Virginia was quite getting there, likely due to our humid climate).

I used the bowl shown in one of the photos as the standard volume to weigh - setting the original weight with a sample from each of the HOP-N-ATOR 4000 trays.  After averaging this, I calculated a target rate by using an interval formula (note that this is where the error in my calculations crept in).  Then I pulled a sample or two from each of the trays every few hours to measure progress, and to estimate the remaining drying time.

This wheat beer from @boulevard_beer became my
refreshment of choice during hops drying.  Our operation is
too small to supply them, though (I asked).
This worked well and added some much needed predictability to the process.  Even though we didn't quite get to the 18% weight target, we did manage to get the Cascades into the range of 26-28% which is pretty close.  It's enough to stabilize the hops, and now that the harvest is a few weeks behind us we've gone ahead and moved them into the freezer as well.

The next post will be the final in this series.  I'll post the alphas and betas we achieved on our inaugural crop, talk about yields, and also will discuss some of the improvements we have in mind for next year.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The 2015 Hops Harvest @hawksbillhops - Part 4

Thanks to our 15 or so volunteers who came out to pick for us -
and many of them in their t-short "uniform"!
Along with all the preparation we had been doing for the upcoming harvest, we were starting to see a few queries about the possibility of having a harvest event for the hops.  We'd had a wonderful time at spring planting (here) so it definitely sounded like a good idea - so we began to plan for fitting it in on the Saturday of our harvest week.

We did a few fun things to organize this, including a Facebook event page - we named it "Harvest Daze", for example - and I started looking for a nice swag opportunity for the volunteers that might show up.  Eventually, we settled on the ubiquitous pint - or shaker - glass that is often used to serve draft beers.  There's a photo below.

No good volunteer deed at Hawksbill Hop Yards
goes unswagged!
We had great weather that day, and we had 15 or so volunteers join us for the fun.  Picking is one of the harder tasks on the farm, since the hops cones are so small and there are so many of them. This is one of the reasons we see a lot of folks going after the big European harvesters...I'm not sure we're in the market for that yet, although eventually we'll probably add some kind of machine to the mix.

By now, as you can see in the photo of the volunteers, we'd figured out how to house the activities under the pole barn, so everyone worked in the shade.  David, Grayson, and I had gone out to the field earlier to cut down a full row of Cascades for everyone to work on - the one featured in this post.

Back when I was reading up on what it would take to build a hops farm, there were notes that on average it takes 45 minutes to pick a bine clean...someday I'll do the math to see what our average was, but I don't think we saw that in our first year, for sure.  Even so, the cheerful volunteers working with us made it through the 60 bines in less than three hours.  It was a good time.

We really have enjoyed the community support we received this year - including all the volunteer hands we benefited from in our two events.

In my next post, the second-to-last in this harvest series, we'll take a look at the packaging operation we put together for the crop.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The 2015 Hops Harvest @hawksbillhops - Part 3

Here's a look at some fresh hops - right from the field!
As the harvest progressed on Day 2, we were finding that we had plenty of CTZ/Columbus and Chinook cones.  I took a few highlight photos to show them off, comparing them to my car keys, for example - as with the Cascade cones in the first photo here.

This photo was taken from the trailer bed early in the morning.  Our approach was to go out and take down the bines for each day's work early, before the heat of the day got up.  The quality of hops can suffer pretty quickly if that heat isn't managed - fortunately we had some cooler days, and a light rain on one or two of them, which actually worked in our favor, even if it was somewhat uncomfortable.

A couple of team members loading the HOP-N-ATOR 4000.

Once all of the hops were picked off of the bines, we'd take the produce crates and store them in the farm's walk-in cooler until we had all of the variety for that day.  I mentioned the haul from day 2 - which was about 32 "wet" pounds from the CTZ/Columbus and the Chinook, but on each of the remaining 3 picking days we had a similar amount from the Cascade rows.

We took two of those rows on Friday, one on Saturday - the day of our harvest event, which I'll write about in the next post - and the final two on Monday.  It's not just that we had so many rows of Cascade - these bines are well suited to the US climate and have proven to do well in Virginia, so they were simply bountiful.

Dried hops, fresh from the HOP-N-ATOR 4000.
After the day's picking was done, we'd take the crates from the walk-in and load the hops into the HOP-N-ATOR 4000.  In the second photo, David and one of the SPI crew has loaded the bottom tray of the HOP-N-ATOR 4000 with about eight pounds of wet hops.  We loaded each of the trays this way, and then turned on the fans to start the drying process.

The final photo of the day has David showing off the dried hops after their stint in the HOP-N-ATOR 4000.  While our machine did not dry the hops to an optimal 8% moisture, we did manage to get them down to 28% or so.  That's enough to stabilize them so they'll retain their potency a few months, and we will handle them by freezing what we don't quickly sell, in order to ensure their quality.

The moisture percentage is a factor we'll work on next year, along with ensuring we can handle the harvest quantities we expect from the maturing bines.  As we make progress on those ideas, I'll add some posts - but it will probably be in the winter.  Meanwhile, the next post will be about our volunteer harvest event, which we called "Hawksbill Hops Harvest Daze!"

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The 2015 Hops Harvest @hawksbillhops - Part 2

Grayson was up in the bucket, with David
driving, as we took the bines down from
the trellis.
The second day of the harvest dawned bright and early enough.  Well, that is, it dawned bright and early enough for David and Grayson, who were out working the field for an hour or so before I showed up!  But at last I did - by the way, at the scheduled time, so I wasn't late.

Our plan was to work on the CTZ/Columbus rows first, since they were the first to have cones.  In fact, there were ripe cones on this row as early as July 4, so I wanted to get them down soonest.

Here are the first few CTZ/Columbus bines
as we began taking them down.
Although we modified the set up when we moved to the Cascade rows, on this day of picking, we had the bucket set up with the tractor so that Grayson could cut the bines down from the top of the trellis, and the trailer was behind the old truck where I could take the bines after they were down.

We'd gone ahead down the row to cut the plants at two to four feet high so that we could keep Grayson moving up there while I hauled the cut bines off to the trailer.  When we changed the set up, it was simply to put the trailer behind the tractor so that we didn't have to keep moving the truck to keep up with everything.

Here's the SPI crew at work picking CTZ.  Still early in
the process - we had the bines stockpiled on the trailer.

With only two rows each of CTZ/Columbus and Chinook, and with each these bines producing less than the Cascades, we quickly made our way through the two varieties.  Our thought was to get our SPI crew, shown in the photo to the left, started on the CTZ so they could get the hang of what we wanted them to do before they got to the more productive Cascade, which would be on Friday.

We set them up on one of the long produce tables and the team got to work picking, putting the cones into produce baskets.  Once they finished a bine, they put it on the floor and either I or somebody else came around to put them in a discard pile - we'll compost the waste for this year.

Here's our first bin of hops - about four pounds "wet."

To the right in the photo of the SPI crew is a crate of sweet corn and some flats of tomatoes - on Thursday, one of David's Public House Produce customers comes by for a pick up.  When those items were gone on Friday, we were able to put the trailer in that spot and do all the work in the shade of the pole barn.

The team made their way through the first variety by late morning, so we went back into the field to bring in the Chinook crop, which they set out on after lunch, and finished by the end of the day.

Our haul on these two varieties was a total of about eight bins, which weighed about four pounds each - 32 pounds "wet" total.  We'd take these over to the HOP-N-ATOR 4000 next, so that we could dry them, and that's where the next post will pick up.