Ramble On

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.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Profiles in Hops @hawksbillhops - Chinook

A Chinook bine with  formed cones (it's planted
near the buckwheat cover).
As I mentioned in my post the other day, things are starting to shape up for the coming harvest at Hawksbill Hop Yards.  In my walks I took a few photos and planned this "profile in hops" series of posts - today I'll write about the Chinook bines.

As before, I'm citing the Wikipedia about hops varieties, which you can find here.

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about Chinook:

This green bine cultivar (W-421-38) was released in May 1985 in Washington State and Idaho from a cross between a Petham Golding and a USDA-selected male (63012M). Slightly spicy and very piney. Its alpha acid content ranges from 12 to 14%. Substitutes for bittering: Eroica, Galena, Nugget. Substitutes for aroma and flavor: Southern Cross, Sticklebract.

Another Chinook, with cones.

As with the Columbus, we planted 120 bines.  They're on the east side of the yard, near the Columbus, but separated by the open row we left there to allow for ventilation of the Columbuses.  The empty row is in buckwheat cover for now, audibly buzzing with honey bees, but it will be either a row of Chinook or Columbus next year, depending on which does best in the market.

Chinook is the strongly flavored hop that Sierra Nevada uses in Torpedo, and that is one of the reasons we chose this variety.  The other is the recommendations we received from other Virginia growers, that they had done well with it.  At the NOVA Brewfest a few weekends ago, it was even the topic of conversation for one of the breweries and one of the growers that was at the show.

The Chinook is doing well, but on the whole, I'd say that our Columbus crop is a bit more robust then they are.  Still, it's another that we should have in commercial quantities when all is said and done.  

And I'm happy about that.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Profiles in Hops @hawksbillhops - Columbus

Checking out the lupulin on one of the fully
formed Columbus cones.
Out at the hop yard this weekend, we could see that we were bearing down on the harvest.  I took a few photos, and thought I might do a series on the three "c" varieties that we appear to be doing well in - well enough to anticipate we will have commercial quantities available in for this, our first year.  Starting with Columbus today, Later in the week, I'll post about Cascade and Chinook as well.

Each of the posts will cite the Wikipedia article about hops varieties, which you can find here.

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about Columbus:

A high yielding, high alpha acid American bittering hop. Also known by the trade name Tomahawk. One of the "Three Cs" along with Cascade and Centennial. Like the others it is citrusy and slightly woody. Columbus has a very high amount of total oils, and can impart a 'resiny' quality to a beer. Substitutes for bittering: Nugget, Chinook. Substitutes for aroma and flavor: Cascade, Centennial.

We planted the Columbus on the east side of
the yard for ventilation.  Here we have also
planted buckwheat as a cover, for the bees.

We put in two rows of these, so we have about 120 plants.  They arrived marked "CTZ" - as Wikipedia notes, the trade name is Tomahawk, and the industry considers the variety known as Zeus to be the same, thus the reference.  I ordered Columbus, so I'm going back to calling them that.

Because I had been advised they might not do as well in Virginia, advice that more likely is because there aren't many planted here rather than a specific susceptibility to some feature of Virginia's climate, I planted them on the east side of the hop yard with an empty row next to them, where they would have plenty of ventilation.  We did this out of a worry that the risk was mildew, but we're not seeing a lot of that on these plants.  

I saw plenty of formed cones, and I tested one of them to see how laden they might be with lupulin.  There are plenty of plants that are still midway between burrs and cones, as well.  I think we got production from about 50% of the first year plants, which is better than I thought we would do.

There are still a few weeks left before we harvest, but these may be the first to come down.  There are some calculations we need to do to be sure, but for now, things are looking good.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

In the Thick of It

Summer has finally arrived, and although the hop yard is keeping me busy full-time, I can't forget how lucky we are to have our getaway at Hawksbill Cabin, and how beautifully it reminds us every year of the changing seasons.

Today, to welcome July, I've got a couple of random photos I managed to take while I was tooling around doing errands at the house last weekend.  In the first one, one of our barncats - the one we call "Momcat" because she is the mother of one of the kittens we adopted - is hanging around the brick terrace supervising me.  At the moment I was down by the pool setting up the robot and cleaning out filters.  

I guess our relationship with her has evolved so that she is one of those "outdoor pets" that you hear about.  We feed her when we're there, and there is another neighbor that feeds her and the other barncats when we're not there.  She shows up right on queue when we drive up, popping up on the brick terrace by the time we're packing in the second armload of stuff from the car.

The second photo shows some of the bee balm blossoms we got this year, which seems to be a good year for them.  There's a patch of them that comes back every year out in the back by the little shed - sometimes it's more robust, and sometimes less.  But with all the rain, at last we have more than 20 flowers on this.

It was in bloom the first time we came by to look at the house, back in 2007.  It was an exceptional show that year, too - and I had never seen the plant before then, so I spent a few minutes checking it out.

By the time we closed on the place, the blooming season was over, but I did a little research to learn more and found out that it would likely come back year after year.

And sure enough it does, so it is one of the things I look forward to now every summer.  Things go 'round, you know.