Ramble On

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Hawksbill Hop Yards - Location Hint

While we have been making solid progress on the hop  yards these last few months, we haven't exactly let on yet where it is located.  On Saturday afternoon I took a drive over to get a photo of the yards from a distance - to give a bit more of a locational perspective.

In the photo here, the yards is the cleared area in the middle ground.  That's Kennedy Peak on the Massanutten ridge in the background.  Of course, we are just north of Luray and probably about a mile from the Caverns.

That's about all we're prepared to reveal for now, but there will be more news soon enough.

On another note, David told me that our irrigation is in last week - we posted some photos of that as well.  Last weekend the temps dipped to 19 degrees - quite a surprise for March, by the way - so he turned the water on at a trickle overnight to protect the set-up.

The pretty little icy scene at right was the result, but everything was fine overnight.

I hope our friends at Wisteria fared as well in the frost - I'll get by to check in with them next weekend.

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Visit to Atlas Brew Works

After taking care of a little business at Hawksbill Hop Yards this weekend - more on that tomorrow - I came back to Alexandria early to join Mary at a birthday happy hour for our friend Kathy over at Atlas Brew Works, in SE DC.  This was to be my first visit at this brewery, web site here, and I was looking forward to it.    

Thanks to Siri's directions, we arrived with almost no hitches, although the convenient location of this brewery makes it easy enough to find.  They'd set up a little party area for us off to the side of the bar in the tasting area - some snacks, and quick and easy access to the taps.

For myself, I had the Rowdy, described as a hop forward Rye at 6.2%.  Checking the ingredients - I see Bravo, Zythos, and Centennial hops...Bravo is a high alpha bittering hops and is probably the biggest contributor to the hoppiness of this beer, while Zythos and Centennial are more medium alpha varieties, complementing the Bravo for flavor and less bitterness.  Of course, the rye malt offsets some of the alpha strength of the combo.

I have to admit, now that the hop yards is in progress, I am paying more attention to the ingredients and brewing craft in these breweries.  In fact, I did a quick scan of the list of hops on the menu and didn't see any of Hawksbill Hop Yards varieties - and thought to myself that maybe from now on every brewery visit will become market research.  Such is life.

The brewery is housed in an old industrial building, where they have made good use of the loading dock and open warehouse space for the 40BBL brewery and supporting functions.  This was probably the 10th brewery I've visited since last May (the Northern California Beer Pilgrimage/Marathon, as Mary likes to call it) - so I'm getting to know my way around.  We had a great time checking things out.

And the beer was really good, so it will be one I keep an eye out for when we're out and about, especially since they've recently gotten distribution into Virginia.  It was a nice affair for Kathy's birthday - a great idea for a place to celebrate, and a great way to conclude the weekend.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Spring and Hops

Last weekend we made it back our to Hawksbill Cabin for the first time in a few weeks.  Along with errands, high on our list of things to do was a stop at the Hop Yards.

Our field has come a long way since we first began this project in January - Mary and David are in the cleared field in the first photo, but back in January, it was a lot different when Dan and David walked along the road in front of it (link here).

The other big development for the weekend was the arrival of irrigation to the field - David put in a few hours Saturday to connect it up.  Hops need water, and now we have the source and distribution.

I guess all we need now is a trellis.  And some hops.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Black Helicopters at SBUX

Yesterday morning as I was walking over to my neighborhood Starbucks in Bethesda, I heard the sound of approaching helicopters.  Because of our perch on the palisades over the Potomac, it's not unusual to have a executive sortie flyby, or even larger, squadron-sized groups pass overhead using the river as a navigation guide.

What struck me about these three are the large auxiliary fuel tanks they were carrying - obviously they were setting out on a long range voyage.

I decided to make the rest of the day tactical as a result.  I think I was a success.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

First Spring Visit to Wisteria

The vines are gathering their strength for the year.  The
mountain behind is in Shenandoah National Park.
There was still a crisp edge to the spring mornings this weekend, but both days were sunny and pleasant.  On Sunday after a few errands we decided to make a stop by our neighbors Sue and Moussa at Wisteria Vineyards - we had a wine club selection to pick up, and we decided we might make a picnic lunch to enjoy there for a break.

We learned that a photographer had been around researching a shoot later that day, and Sue invited us back in the afternoon so that there would be a few people around in case he needed subjects in the photos.  So we took care of a few more errands and returned, just as the sunlight was turning golden, low in the sky.  I took advantage of it myself for the Instagram photos accompanying this post.

The sheep were a little perturbed by all the people in the pasture,
but they got over it once they made their way to the rations.

There was a good crowd of old friends and acquaintances when we arrived at around 5:30, and the photographer was out in the fields setting up his location.  Just then the sun hit a perfect angle, bathing the entire scene in a golden light, and ten or so of us headed out for the shoot.

Wisteria features a charming little road that runs through the vineyard to Little Hawksbill Creek.  It dips and rises over uneven ground and is marked off from the vines with a plank fence made from cedars that were cleared from the property.  This formed the setting for the photography.

After a few minutes of waiting, the sun was exactly right, and the photographer called us to walk down the road in pairs and threes.

We had a preview of some of the shots - there's no doubt he has a publishable one in the mix.  The results of his work are due to appear in Wine Speculator in June, and some of the other Valley venues will be there, too.  He said he'd likely take in DuCard over in Sperryville and the Copper Fox Distillery in order to complement the work he'd done at Wisteria.

Just another Valley weekend though, when you get down to it - there's always a pleasant adventure out there if you keep your eyes open for it!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Hawksbill Hop Yards - Progress Report

There is a lot going on at the hop yards these days - David sent along a report on Thursday evening showing the clear ground.  That's just about the end of our current stage of activities, just a couple of steps to go - rolling a disc through the soil to break it up, and then soil amendments.

To get that part right, we'll be looking at pH, which should be between 6.0 and 6.5 - and if needed we'll boost with lime.  For potassium and phosphorous, he plans to spread chicken litter.  Of course, N is important as well, especially for hops, and that is the final one of the "big three" we'll be getting a look at.

To be sure we get it right, there have been a few conversations with the extension agent.  There's good interest from the state in this crop and we know they will be there to support.

In the first photo above, the view is looking at the yards from the northwest - in the background, you can see the Blue Ridge in Shenandoah National Park.  The second peak from the right is Hawksbill Mountain, the highest point in the park, and the namesake of the hop yards - also the namesake of a bunch of other stuff in Page County and Luray!

The second photo was taken a few days ago, just after the clocks were adjusted forward.  With the extra daylight, David took a photo in the fields at dusk.  In addition to the hop yards, this new ground is going to be planted with more of those wonderful Public House Produce vegetables - and that's something we can all look forward to!

Summer's not far away at all, people!

Monday, March 16, 2015

The NC-VA Regional Hops Conference

Photo of the sold-out crowd on Saturday, yours truly visible in
the light blue shirt to the far right.
This weekend I was at the first ever hops growers' conference, put on by NC State University down in Winston-Salem.  The conference was the finale of a four year hops research and extension project - much of the knowledge gained is on the web at this link.

There was a Friday session for beginning growers - that one certainly attracted my attention; and a Saturday session that went into more detail.  I ended up attending both sessions, which provided an opportunity to meet with a couple of the folks from the Old Dominion Hops Co-operative, but also Facebook friend Marty, who was stationed in Berlin when I was there and went on to complete a very successful USAF career before settling into the Piedmont area of NC, convenient to the location of the conference.

Among the topics covered were:

Sponsorships rounded out the experience, with several of the sponsors providing displays including the one above, of an in-line trellis system.  These folks included Fertrell, The Lupulin Exchange, Sierra Nevada, Cumberland Sales Company, Haas, NCSU, Blue Mountain Brewery, Fullsteam Brewery, Hoot'n Holler Hops, and the Old Dominion Hops Co-op.

There was plenty to learn and I'll probably be spending the next two weeks trying to assimilate it all.  Meanwhile, next weekend will be my first trip back to Hawksbill Hop Yards since the log chopping visit of a few weeks back.  I'll check in with David to see how the clearing is going - and to plan for a few of our spring milestones, including planting!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"Relax, and Have a Home Brew" - Advice for Beginner Brewers

Three or four times now I've been asked by friends and acquaintances for advice about how to get started home brewing.  Now, I've only been doing this myself for four years, so I'm still very much a newbie - but I'm humbled by the requests, and glad to offer my insights to help get other enthusiasts started.  So today's post is a snippet of the advice I typically give on the topic.

My journey started with sitting sidesaddle with a couple of more experienced brewers - namely neighbor Dan and my friends Brendan and Stan.  After watching them, and helping them, with a batch each, I moved on to doing a series of one-gallon small batches, with the goal of progressing through all the steps on my own so I would know if I liked it well enough to progress to larger batches.

Here's a page with one gallon kits, as an example:

One Gallon Beer Kits

I ended up doing five one gallon batches (mostly from Brooklyn Brew Shop, which is represented on the page above along with others), so I really began to understand the process.  It underscored the importance of cleaning an sanitation, which should be drilled into everyone's head as often as possible when starting out.  Also, in reality, one gallon ends up taking the same amount of time as five gallons due to the accessory chores, which is another reason it's good to start small.

From there, I moved up to a five gallon set up.  I bought mine at a local home brew shop in Falls Church, Virginia, but there are tons of other resources for this, including two vendors I often use for ingredients:

http://www.northernbrewer.com (I tend to go to this one first)

Both of these have starter sets of all the equipment you need for a 5 gallon brew.

As a home brewer builds experience, there are two additional things he or she can look into: joining a local home brew club, and investing in some recipe books.  On the local home brew club, I'm a member of Blue Ridge Brewers Association, which meets in Luray (there's a link to the blog in my blog list on the right).  We meet three or four times a year to exchange information of interest to the brewers, to share recipes, and to do tastings of whatever new batches that our brewers bring along.

For recipe books, there are several I can recommend - with Amazon links below:

  • Anything by Charlie Papazian is a good read.  I quoted him in the title of this post - "Relax, and have a home brew." You can find older editions with plenty of references to the 1970's, which are a hoot, but here's a more recent one: 

The Complete Joy of Homebrewing Fourth Edition: Fully Revised and Updated

  • Also, there are tons of good recipe books, such as "Designing Great Beers" by Ray Daniels, or Dave Miller's "Homebrewing Guide."

  • Finally, if the hobby leads you to totally geek out, as it has for me, now that I am starting Hawksbill Hop Yards, you can dig into specific ingredients by checking out books like "For the Love of Hops" by Stan Hieronymus.  Obviously this is the direction I'm headed now...

I hope this info is useful to those getting started.  I'm happy to answer any additional questions via the comments to this post.  Happy Home Brewing!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Meanwhile the Snow

While the weather has things in a waiting stage, I've kept working on "back office" stuff for the new Hawksbill Hop Yards venture.  David told me that most of the brush had been cleared before the snow fell, but that he still needed to run the tractor over the ground to till and level.  Still, it looks good under that layer of snow!

I sent out an announcement of the hop yards to about 100 Virginia and Mid-Atlantic brewers - there's been a satisfying and rewarding response.  We have a couple of prospects for both wet and dried hops, and I'll be working on follow-ups with them.

Meanwhile, I had some business cards made, and I am planning to attend the regional hops conference in Winston-Salem next week as a "New Hops Farmer."  That should be a good time, I know there is a lot to learn.

We've worked on the social media accounts recently to get them up to speed.  In addition to the Facebook page for Hawksbill Hop Yards, we have a Google+ account (hawksbillhops@gmail.com) and a Twitter feed (@hawksbillhops).  

But there's a never ending list of to do items.  I couldn't do it without some excellent business partners.  I'm just happy to be here.

Monday, March 2, 2015

On Frozen C&O Canal

My commute these days, and for the past couple of years, actually, takes me over Chain Bridge to Bethesda.  Generally there are two or three stops due to traffic lights while I am on the bridge, so I often have a moment to look out the window and enjoy the view of the scenic Potomac gorge just below Little Falls, or as I did last week, the historic C&O Canal (this link takes you to a Wikipedia article; the link to the National Park Service C&O article is very worthwhile and here).    

Since I was at the light, I reached for the phone to take a quick snap.  The canal has been frozen over for most of February in this area, and there are places where the snow has been scraped clear.  My guess is somebody ice skates on it down there, although I have never seen anyone actually doing it - and it may be illegal.

The scene is very different from last summer, when I had the opportunity to walk down there and have a close look at the construction of the canal and the impacts from all the development along it since it was built (see this post).  In any case the canal is a milestone on my commute - at this point I'm less than 10 minutes away from work, and I'm starting to think about what's ahead for the work day...generally good stuff, reliably rewarding.

Later this month I have some meetings in Frederick, MD.  If I'm able, I may take a few extra minutes while I am there to stop and take a few photos of the canal in that area.  The scenery is less bucolic there - but you can really get a sense of the economic and industrial impacts that the designers envisioned as you pass by it.  The story of how the technology of railroads eclipsed the technology of canals is also a very interesting part of the C&O history - even when I'm down there checking out stormwater issues, I can't help but stop and think about it.