Ramble On

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Backyard Hops - 2016 edition @hawksbillhops

After watching neighbor Dan in his hopyard down the road from Hawksbill Cabin, I got interested in trying to grow them for myself - I also started brewing at around the same time, and eventually used the hops I was growing in the backyard in some of my beers.

It all started with this Willamette, which is in a five gallon pot along the fence in the back.  The plant is three years old now, and I am sure there are roots that spread out deep and wide from the pot.  It would take a lot of work to move it, in other words - but I may do that next year.

There are quite a few other "home growers" out in the Luray area, and this year I got to know Kevin a little better.  He's always been fond of Fuggles, which he uses for some very tasty porters and stouts.  His plants are thriving, and they are mature - seven years old, in fact.

Because he championed Fuggles so strongly, it was one of the varieties that I chose to plant in the commercial hopyard we started last year.  In fact, this year, we're going to add a second row of Fuggles, for a total of 120 crowns.  We'll need to pull out the 20 or so hills of Centennials - I hope to salvage those in some temporary pots and use them in the future when we expand.

My plan on Sunday was to get out in the yard and trim back all those shoots from the Willamette.  Some of them are already four feet long, and they are nearly ready to grab on to the fence and climb! I'll have to prevent that!

Meanwhile, Kevin told me he got out to clean up the the Fuggles row.  He sent me this photo after he thinned the rhizomes - he estimated a half bushel of them.  We're going to get together for a look at them soon.  I may be able to use a few of them for fills in my original row.

It reminds me that I need to get out for a look at Dan's hopyard soon, too.  I bet that there's some action in his backyard as well!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Shipping Off to Baltimore - #nfmt16

Looking over my past posts I thought I had written about the NFMT conference in Baltimore more frequently.  I have been presenting there every year consistently since 2007, although I was sick in 2008 and didn't go.

My scan of posts shows that although I've written about the sister shows in Las Vegas and Orlando more recently, I haven't posted about the Baltimore show since 2010!  So I'm overdue for an update.

I ended up in the facilities management field after I completed my MBA at USC in 1997.  When I got back to DC from LA, they had a management consulting practice focusing on this specialty just starting up at what was then known as Sverdrup (subsequently bought by Jacobs), and I was the third employee to join it.

Here we are, nearly 20 years later, and it turns out that my work with 80+ clients has revealed some inscrutable truths about how organizations run their real estate and facilities - and this discovery convinced me that maybe I should talk about some of the things I've learned in the field.

So, in 2007, I put together a talk about prioritizing facilities investments, and presented it at NFMT in Baltimore.  Then, in 2009, I gave a new talk about high-performing facilities organizations in Baltimore and Las Vegas - I also gave the prioritization talk in Vegas that year.

Every year since then, except for 2014, I have presented at Baltimore, and in alternating odd-numbered years, I've given my talks in Vegas or Orlando.  In 2014, while I didn't present, the company put a booth up at the Baltimore show, so I did attend - I hate the idea of missing it, truth be told!

The topics continue to evolve.  After the high-performance talk had run its course, I made up a new one called "Building a Better Business Case" - once again, featuring how to make good investment decisions about facilities, but adding the key concept of how to justify funding requests to management.  This year was another new topic, although the title is no where near as catchy:  "An Overview of Facilities Management."

A few of my team members joined me in Baltimore this time, and I was very happy to run into some current and former students from the graduate program I teach in at Catholic University.  Since this was a new topic, I didn't know how the audience would receive it, but it ended up that there were more than 180 attendees in the room!

So we'll call that a success!  I already have some updates for this talk to keep it fresh a year or two, and I'll see if I can take it to Vegas this year.

Some might say that facilities management isn't a glamorous field.  I beg to differ.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Brewery Lore and Loose Ends @hawksbillbrew

Along with everything else going on right now as we continue to develop the brewery, a few weeks ago we discovered a hitch in the zoning for the building.  I’m not altogether clear on how or why the problem was discovered – but it sheds some interesting background on the building, so I thought I might revisit the topic
What we know so far about the building is that it was built in the 19-teens to be an ice storage facility for the railroad, which passes alongside to the west to this day.  When refrigeration came along, that business faded away, and the next one to occupy the building was the “Blue Ridge Creamery” – sometimes you can find bottles and such from them on eBay – and I’ve found a few folks around town who remember the creamery.

Following that was a string of retail establishments, including an auto parts store that was there for a long time, and many people remember.  Since Mary and I have been coming to Luray, we’ve known the building as an appliance store and as the scooter store, which was the most recent iteration.

Flash forward to 2016, and as we were going through permitting and licensing activities, we discovered that the building was in the industrial zone of town – probably as a legacy to those earlier uses.  During almost 50 years of use for retail, the zoning was never changed to commercial.  It became necessary to clarify the zoning, and working with the Luray Fire Department, our landlord, we decided to seek the zoning change.

This is a regulated process, requiring meetings with the Planning Board and the Town Council, along with advanced notice in the paper and even a site visit – I have a copy of that post here as a photo.  When all was said and done, the rezoning was approved – but we had a lot of in person support at the meetings, and quite a few letters were sent in.  

That inspired the following Facebook post, which I wanted to share on the blog:
We had so much support for our meetings with the planning commission and town council today - it was both humbling and exciting. Thanks so much to everyone who came out and spoke or wrote a letter today on our behalf. There is a little bit of a road ahead - but we are looking forward to it. It's going to be a fun ride.

One of the fun comments on Facebook was an article about characteristics that identify successful towns – and the presence of craft breweries was one of the features.  Here’s the link, and the quote is below:
Having craft breweries. This might seem like the strangest attribute, but the researchers say a town that has a craft brewery has a certain kind of entrepreneur spirit and is a reliable marker of a city on the move.

We certainly hope to have that kind of a positive impact!  

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Pilot System Part 2 - @hawksbillbrew

Since receiving the pilot system two weeks ago, David and Kevin have kept busy inspecting and assembling the components.  They completed this task over the weekend and moved the system out to the barn, where the power was correct for operating the system.  

In the first photo here, the tower, the kettles, and the hot liquor tank are shown as they will be set up during brewing. Also, the controller is installed with the system plugged in.

Everything's pretty much ready to go - they need some additional hoses and connections to complete the job before the guest home brewer will brew the first batch, but that time is coming. The selected recipe is a red ale.

As I understand the schedule, there'll be a practice run with hot water, a cleaning, and after that the first brew - sometime over the next two weeks or so.  I hope to be there for it.

The storage solution for everything when it is not in use is to lock it away nearby.  It makes for a shiny display, as seen in the second photo!

Our plan for the fermentation phase is to use the walk in fridge - there's a cool bot control there so that we can monitor and manage fermentation temps - should work well.

I'll have a post for the pilot batch whenever it's completed - hopefully I'll be there to see that in person!

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Pilot System Part 1 @hawksbillbrew

There are a lot of irons in the fire these days.  In addition to finishing up the lease and some of our LLC formation documents, Hawksbill Brewing has engaged our licensing consultant, we've got a design for the brew house, and we're working on getting our construction effort underway.

Over the last month or so we decided to begin working on testing recipes, so Kevin designed a pilot brewing system that could be used informally for this purpose - it arrived last week and the team got together to assemble it over a couple of weekends.

It is a half-barrel system, so it is designed to brew 15.5 gallons per batch.  We chose an electric system, and since the power we need for it is available in David's barn, that's where it will spend most of its time.

One of our key assumptions on this system was that it should be modular, and work well within the ultimate brewery when we are in operation.

That's the reason we picked electric, but it is also the reason we selected a conical fermenter.  It even has a coil inside of it so that we can use it with the glycol system we'll be installing in the fermentation area of the brewery.

There's a tower with electric controls to go with all of this hardware - so we'll be able to precisely manage mash termperatures and boil times.  There's a pump and plate chiller to go with it all.

While I wasn't out there to help with final assembly, it didn't slow the team down.  Honestly, I know I'm not much help on this part.  But I look good in team photographs.

Next weekend we'll be putting the system to the test.  First with a water cycle to make sure everything is hooked up correctly.

If that goes well, the first batch will follow on Saturday.  I don't know what the fellows have in mind for that - but I'm looking forward to it!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Tree Trimming in the Hollow - with @svec_coop

A few weeks ago, our local power company came through to clear some trees along the right of way in the back, behind the cabin.  They've been working for a while on this project and our neighborhood's turn finally came - only the crews were interrupted by the big snow that happened last month.

They came back today to clean up all the downed branches and trees that had been removed.  So right now I'm getting serenaded with safety beepers and chippers. (Just like at work!)

Beaver Run cuts through here, so there is a steep little valley that makes it interesting with these vehicles, but as the one photo shows, that is not stopping them.

Earlier I took a walk out there to check everything out - it struck me that my little yard is only part of the whole county, and their effort has been going on for some time.  It's quite the industry.

Then one of the guys said that they actually used helicopters up in here to take down the branches that were too close to the lines.  I was sorry I missed that - had no idea.

I decided to look it up online though - and I found a good explanation video on YouTube that I have embedded below.  Pretty good show - I still wish I could have seen it in person!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Early Spring @hawksbillhops

Look closely for little pink buds on this Columbus.
On Sunday, as a spring rain was starting to move in, I took an hour to walk around the hop yard to scout.  I had a brief moment in the sun on Saturday while I was walking Tessie in the field, and I found a Columbus bine that had begun to bud, accompanied by some little leaves.

Since it is so early - two or three weeks, at least - I thought no problem, we've just got a high-achiever out here.  Then I started seeing Facebook posts by growers in Ohio and Kentucky saying their yards are starting about two weeks early, so I clearly needed to take a walk around.

What I found in the field was prolific leafing and budding - not every hill mind you, but at least 1/4 to 1/3 of the hills.  On every variety but the Goldings, so I have Cascades, Fuggles, Chinook, and Columbus already greening out.  I'm happy for the vigor, but we still have a lot of work to do in the field before we're ready for growing season!  Our supplies haven't even arrived!

I've lost track of the photos - this is probably Cascade.
It's not just the early sprouting that I found so amazing - I found that our Cascades are going gangbusters and are reaching out into the drive aisles.  I found clusters of leaves four feet out into the rows!

Our part of the Shenandoah Valley isn't past the frost stage until May 14, David tells me, so these little plants have a bit of a struggle ahead.   We still have a few weed control steps to take, although we're going to have to change our plans to reduce the stress in the yard.

Plus we have work to do on preventing mildew.  It's simply too early for this.

We are proceeding with plans for our spring planting event despite this.  We're set for April 30, and this year we'll be adding rows of Chinook and Fuggles.  The Fuggles row is going to be fun, because we have to take out 25 Centennials first.

And also because it is fun to say Fuggles.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Trust a Firefighter with your Beer

Here's the storefront to the brewery.  Yes -
founded by firefighters!

On my way down to the hops conference in Richmond last weekend I made a goal of visiting one of the brewers that bought hops from me after the 2015 harvest.  Maltese was the only one of five breweries I hadn't yet made it to, so I was very happy that I could route my trip for a stop!

The brewery (home page) is about two miles from down town Fredericksburg.  It's less than a year old - I just learned they'd only been in operation a month or two at the time of the harvest.  It was a treat a few weeks later to get the photo of their brewer putting together a pale ale with Hawksbill Hops!

The firefighting tradition is strong at Maltese Brewing.

As I walked in, the place was just opening - there was a barbecue food truck getting set up, and a few customers had already settled into bar stools.  I got a flight - a wheat ale, a pale ale actually two - their "'Merica" and "Priscilla," and the coffee brown ale.  These were all very enjoyable, and while I was sampling, the proprietor gave me a tour.

We had a look at the two barrel brew kitchen and the fermentation room.  I also looked into the cold room, and saw all the tasting room areas.

This mural greats you at the door to the brewery.
They started out in a single bay storefront, but recently acquired the lease on the adjoining space so they can double their footprint.  I had a look at the construction in progress - it's coming along.
When it is done, they'll even be able to open up the back a little bit to make a beer garden.

The success of this place is a testament to what's happening in Virginia craft beer.  It's really been a treat to get to know "my brewers" from around the state.  We talked a bit about the 2016 harvest, and it looks like we'll be working together again.

I loved this quote on their webpage:

"We have pride in our jobs and love what we do.  These values and characteristics are not just limited to firefighting but carry over to everything we do, including brewing beer!  We hope this shows when you drink our beer.  Brewing is truly a craftsmanship and we take great pride in it.  You're welcome America."

And they have a great motto, too:
Trust a fireman with your life?  Then trust us with your beer!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The 2016 South Atlantic Hops Conference - part 2

I guess that one of the things farmers do at conferences is to check out the gear.  At the hops conference in Richmond over the weekend, there were two hops harvesters available to check out.  I took some time to have a look - they were the Hopsharvester machine and the Hopstar machine.

Here's the Hopshavester machine - there is a
demo video on YouTube here.
There are at least two other machines I know about - the Wolf Harvester, which is of German manufacture, and the Bine Implement - made in Wisconsin, I understand, and just off the market.  I've sponsored a couple of Kickstarter projects for farms that were trying to get one of the Wolfs - a fellow up in New York and another one for Huguenot Hops in Richmond.  

For my part, I've been checking out the Hopsharvester and was glad to have a look at it in person.  Plus the team at the conference was great.  I understand they're headed to another conference soon, where they'll meet Andrew from Cascade Hop Farm in Oregon - they used one of these during last year's harvest, and gave it good reviews.

This is the Hopstar machine, made in Virginia.
The second harvester I checked out was the yellow Hopstar machine.  This one is manufactured in Virginia, and there's no web site for it yet.  Unlike the Hopsharvester, this one is oriented vertically, so that instead of dragging the bines over the pickers, they pass between parallel rows of them.  

Otherwise the sorting is the same, with blowers and a series of conveyor belts that allow the leaves and stems to separate from the cones.  

In my photo, one of my fellow hop farmers, Justen, is checking out the sorting mechanism.  He has Kelly Ridge Farm down in southwestern Virginia.

There were more than a dozen conference sponsors this year, and 10 or so displays with information about products and processes.  I was really impressed with how far the community has come in a year.  

That's especially true when you think of the two harvesters.  As my friend Andrew says, "Innovation is a sign of a healthy industry!"  He's on to something.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The 2016 South Atlantic Hops Conference - part 1

Note:  after I published this post, a few of the attendees and organizers of the read the post and offered some edits.  I've edited the portions where I received comments and updates.  Thanks to all for the reveiws! - JT) 

Last year during the planning stages for Hawksbill Hop Yards I attended what was then called "The North Carolina - Virginia Regional Hops Conference" - there's a link to my post on the conference here.  I'm guessing that around 150 people attended that event, which was held in Winston-Salem, NC.

I found this photo of the conference on-line.  Full house - and yeah, that's me
in the right foreground.

Flash forward just about a year later, and not only is our hop yard built and now a year old, but there is a whole lot more interest in growing hops for the regions rapidly expanding craft brewing industry.  So much so, in fact, that nearly 300 people attended the conference this year. The name was even changed to reflect growing regional interest - farmers from Maryland, West Virginia, Tennessee, and even Florida attended.

Here's a model of a hop yard.  The design is similar to ours.

Like last year, a large share of the conference was organized by NC State, but there is a growing interest at Virginia Tech, which sent along its share of specialists.  On Saturday, there were 10 sessions for growers:
  • The Status of the Industry, presented by Ann George of the Washington Hop Commission,, Hop Growers of America
  • Small-scale Hop Yard Construction, by David Goode of Piedmont Hops
  • Harvesting Hops and Quality Issues, by James Altwies of Gorst Valley Hops
  • Growing and Marketing Hops on a Diversified Farm, by Dan Gridley of Farm Boy Farms
  • Hops and Beer Chemistry in the South Atlantic, by Ken Hurley of Virginia Tech
  • All About Starter Plants, a panel
  • Managing Downy Mildes on Hops in the South, by Lina Quesada-Ocampo of NC State
  • What Brewers Want and Experiences with Local Hops, a panel
  • Processing Hops, by James Altwies
  • Here's Nat from ODHC with his "mini-oast" - he developed this
    for one row of late harvest hops in his fields.
  • New Opportunities, Best Practices in Self-Certification Program, by Ann George

It was a lot to choose from and sometimes it was difficult to decide which one to go to - I made my way through the processing and quality series, since we're already underway.  I learned quite a bit, and managed to get some networking in with my colleagues from the Old Dominion Hops Cooperative.

I wasn't able to get down there for the first day of the conference, which was Friday.  There were sessions that day as well, and there was a tour of three of the Richmond-area hop yards.  I'm told that there were more than 110 people on the tours, enough to need to separate them into two buses of 50+ each.  After the farm tours, they made brewery stops at Hardywood Park, Ardent Craft, and Strangeways, all of whom have been known to brew with local hops.  

All in all, a successful trip.  Now we're looking forward to the 2016 growing season!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Spring Weeding @hawksbillhops

Last weekend I took a walk through the hop yard to have a look at what we were going to need to do to get underway for the year.  Afterwards I walked down the hill into David's wood lot and we made some plans while he took a break from busting up a red oak that had fallen during the winter.

We had left up about 150 of the coir strings after the harvest - the first year yields on our Goldings and Fuggles weren't worth picking, so we left the bines up for a few more weeks of sunshine.  The fall weather changed so quickly on us that we never took them down, but we knew that needed to be a high priority.

David was making plans to bring our friends from ShenPaco out to do some work around other parts of the farm, so we decided we would work with those guys again for a couple of days of weeding.

He sent along some photo highlights.  That first one is of Kenny, up in the basket doing some work on the high cable at the top of the trellis.  That cable is stretched across the matrix of the trellis at 16 feet, so he is really up there!

In the second photo, the rest of the team is working on weeding the rows.  From the location, I'm guessing this is one of the Columbus/CTZ rows at the far eastern edge of the yard.  There was a lot of skunk cabbage in the area there - probably some hard work to pull all of it out!

Now, the final photo of the day is one David took after they completed their work, just before that little snow squall moved through on Thursday afternoon.  Looking good!

David had bush hogged out many of the larger the winter weeds before the team got started on the rows.  We have fescue in as a cover crop, and that is doing the job for us in the drive rows.

Now that this key piece is taking care of, we have a couple of activities ahead before the growing season begins.  We'll get some litter spread across the yard for nutrients, and then David is going to make a pass with pre-emergents to help us keep down some of the weeds.

We'll have another spring planting event this year in April or May - we haven't set the schedule yet.  We are adding a row of Chinook in the blank row we had left between the Chinook and CTZ, and we are going to take out the half row of Centennial we put in as an experiment so that we can replace it with another row of Fuggles.

I hope to save the Centennials in some planters until we can expand. I've had a couple of requests for this variety, like I did for the Chinook.  The Hawksbill Brewing Company team plans to use the Fuggles we grow in stouts and porters, so that new row is a must to serve our customers!