Ramble On

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Hops Results - 2016 - @hawksbillhops

As I've mentioned a couple of times on the blog, we decided to taper the focus on the hop yards off just a bit this year while we are simultaneously working to develop the brewery in Luray.  What I had hoped this would do for us was to allow us to do an experiment or two on how we processed the hops, so that we could get some feedback on our quality processes.  So with picking and drying complete, we sent a few samples down to Ken Hurley at the Virginia Tech Hops Lab to get some key measurements.

Their page, which I linked above, includes a list of the services they offer, along with a lot of helpful information about growing the crop in Virginia.  As a management consultant with a minor specialty in operations management, I know the value of statistics, so I make it a duty to provide a sample of my Cascades every year, as we did this year.  We're also working with other growers in the Luray area to get samples from them in for testing, since we also hope to source from them once the brewery is open.

Ken will probably present his findings on the year's crop at the growers' conference next spring, which will be held in Asheville this year.  That's something to look forward to - and one of the results I expect to see from the growing body of data is some ground truth on "terroir," or how Virginia hops differ from those grown elsewhere.  With a year or two of data already in the books, he's provided some good insight already!  

Hawksbill Hop Yards sent two Cascade samples down for testing this year, and we also sent a sample from Bill Fisher's ten plant yard on Main Street.  If I'm able to gather samples from two other Page County growers, I will send those down as well - not to mention if we do go back out and try to harvest our last two rows of Cascade, I'll send a sample from that lot - and I will post a follow-up to this.

In any case, the results we received are highlighted in the table below.  I've added a row to compare them to the "US Cascade" factors identified in the Hieronymous book, For the Love of Hops.

Looking at these statistics, there are a couple of observations to make:
  1. At least in the case of Hawksbill Hop Yards, we did not dry our hops long enough in the HOP-N-ATOR last year.  The consensus is they should get to 8-10% moisture for maximum storage life - and we nailed it with all three of these samples!
  2. For Alphas, the source of the bittering effect that hops provide, two of our samples fall within the range.  One of the samples is slightly higher, but close - last year the sample from this row was in the 8% range, possibly an indication of a terroir effect.
  3. For Betas, again we are in the range on two samples, and just below on a third.  Betas also contribute a bittering effect, but one that does not occur during brewing - it is a longer-term breakdown that occurs during storage.
  4. Cohumulone is one of the Alphas, and the percentage metric listed shows the percentage of total Alpha contributed by the Cohumulone.  I've heard discussions that this one is particularly bitter, and several of the proprietary varieties were developed to reduce this component; our hops fall below what's typical for the US variety.
So we're on our way to sound crop science in the Virginia hops industry.  It goes without saying that I'm excited anytime I hear that our hops have made it into a brew - whether that is a home brew or a commercial product.  I'm especially proud of the relationships we have with some Virginia brewers, and I hope we are able to build on that foundation once our yields are mature and stable, which should happen in year three - the 2017 harvest!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Farm-to-Table with Page County Grown

This year's Page County Grown farm-to-table dinner was on August 13 at the Mimslyn Inn - we've been hunkered down with the hops harvest and I didn't get to post about it yet.  In fact as I write this I'm about to head over to the farm to do some more packing, but first I'll get caught up on the dinner today.

Mary and I have been attending the dinner since 2011 - although that first year she stayed home because of a storm.  It's really one of the center pieces of the summer social season out here in the Valley - an opportunity to enjoy a well-prepared dinner, shared with friends, in a pretty wonderful setting.  I look forward to it every year.

When it was first organized, Page County Grown coupled the dinner event with a farm tour.  However, for the last few years, the tour has been scheduled to coincide with the Page County Century bicycle ride.  Last year Hawksbill Hop Yards partnered with Public House Produce at David and Heather's farm to form a stop on the tour.

So that's a brief history of the event, now back to the dinner.  This year, chef Chris put together a five course dinner, shown on the menu to the right.  After a cocktail hour the diners all made their way to circa '31, the Mimslyn's upstairs dining room.

Each of the courses includes a locally-sourced ingredient and we are fortunate to have a couple of proteins available.  Lamb was featured in the first course, prepared in a terrine.  It was an eye-opening preparation for me - I'll grill lamb when the mood strikes, and Mary has some wonderful recipes for roasts - I guess I'm always surprised by some alternative approach that comes together for this dinner.

Course two was the eggplant and green tomato stack - done up with panko and a corn relish.  It made for a nice vegetable pause in the festivities, and preceded what is one of my favorites - the pasta course.

This year's pasta course did not disappoint by a long shot.  It was a sweet corn ravioli - I've got a photo of it below.

Last year the restaurant in my office building featured a sweet corn ravioli lunch plate during the summer.  Alas, that chef left and the special did not return this summer.  I really enjoyed that one and had it a couple of times.

Everyone at my table liked chef Chris's version - I think this was the quietest moment of the evening while we all dug in.

There is traditionally a palate cleanser between these warm-up courses and the main course.  This year, that was a frozen concoction made of local berries.  Now we were set up for the braised beef - featuring a roast from Skyline Premium Meats - and our friends the Burners.

For a couple of years running there was a barbeque contest in Page County, and I was one of Jared Burner's pit crew.  So just before the main course rolled out I went over to talk with Jared about the potential of getting our team back together for some competitions in the future.  We still might - but that will take a little planning, so it was back to the dinner.

The roast was simply top notch, and plate had all the complements you might expect with a beef dish.  Another quiet moment at our table while we enjoyed the course.

And finally, desert, which again featured local berries, this time plump, juicy blackberries.

One of the things that sets this event off for me is that the meal includes wine pairings from Wisteria, our neighbors Sue and Moussa in the Valley.  We had tastings of the Chardonnay, Seyval, Viognier, Petit Verdot, and Velvet - this last a rose blend.  Everything hit the mark in this well coordinated presentation.

Personally, I asked for a refill on the Petit Verdot, due to my great thirst.

As the evening came to an end, Mary and I found ourselves a little sad that the 2016 version had come to an end.  We'd simply run out of courses this time.  Even so, we knew that we had the 2017 event to look forward to - you can bet we'll be back!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Drying and Packing @hawksbillhops

A few Cascade cones from Lot 2.
Since David and the crew had worked a couple of days last week to get our crop in, my job was left to do: remove the dried hops from our oast - the HOP-N-ATOR 4000 - and package them for storage.  (The link in this sentence leads to a 2015 harvest post where we designed and built the oast.)

The team had harvested three rows of our Cascades, about 180 plants in all.  We still have two rows to go, and we'll harvest them in a week or so.  We may be pushing it for timing on these last 120 hills, but it is what it is, our schedules are not cooperating with the later harvest his year.

Here's about half of Lot 1, just out of the HOP-N-ATOR 4000.
Based on feedback we had received from Virginia Tech last year, we made a few changes to our process.  I've already posted about the dry mass test we did to ensure we picked at optimal times.  Next, we decided we would dry the hops a bit longer this year in a quest for optimal moisture - extending their time in the oast from 24 hours to 48 hours.

All I have to go on for now is memory, but it did seem to me that the hops are dryer this year than last.  The crew got a few more leaves and stems mixed in as well, but I kept an eye out for these and cleaned as many as I could as I went.

The hops are weighed and packed into 8 oz. bags.
Once the hops come out of the HOP-N-ATOR 4000, I weigh them into 8 ounce packs using standard vacuum bags that we buy in bulk.  We considered getting better bags and even flushing them with nitrogen to remove the oxygen prior to filling them with hops, but we'll wait a bit before investing in that upgrade.

This is probably the most time consuming part of the harvest using the process we have now.  We have some ideas for upgrades, but it is likely a couple of years before we are able to do them.

Lot 2 - finished product, about 14 pounds of Cascade.
Each of the 8 oz. bags are then vacuum-sealed using one of the very basic machines you can get at Wal-Mart or elsewhere.  Because of the bulkiness of the cones once they are dried, I will assist the machine to get all the air out by pressing down on the bags.  This year they are all flat, more or less 12x16 packages, which should be easy to store.

Last year they were somewhat an odd shape due to the pleated bags we were using.  This added a little complexity to the vacuum process as well, so it took a frustratingly long time.  This year I completed both lots in about 4 hours total, while it took three times that long last year.

At the end of the day, we had a total of around 28 pounds of dried Cascade.  Most of them are in 8 oz bags, but I did make a total of 10 4 oz. bags for home brewers.  I have a plan to distribute some of the crop this year to our buyers from last year, but we're saving the bulk of it to use in Hawksbill Brewing Company recipes.

I think I've written about this already, but just in case, a final thought for today.  We grow Cascade, Columbus, Chinook, Goldings, and Fuggles.  This year the Goldings and Fuggles were a disappointment; we didn't even string the Goldings, so we need to think about the way ahead for these two varieties.

The Chinook and Columbus were pretty spotty for us as well - we have 180 and 120 plants of these two varieties.  Although we didn't harvest them, because we wanted to leave the leaf cover up in the sun for a few extra weeks to build plant strength, my guess is less than 20 percent of the bines made it up their strings.

All this leads to thinking about next year.  We may end up plowing under a couple of the underperformers and replacing them with Cascade.  It does really well in our yard and throughout Virginia.  Maybe we just face the music and make a hard decision.

More to follow!

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Harvest Begins @hawksbillhops

To reach the tops of the bines, which ranges from 9 to 16
feet in our yard, we use this cage mounted on the
fork lift apparatus on David's tractor.

David had planned for the harvest to begin this week.  There is a lot going on in Luray over the next few months, and some of the produce crops are ready for harvest too, so we were pulling the trigger if we were close to optimal dry mass.  It was good luck that the results of our second test showed that the hops were in the zone - 25% dry mass, so the plants were ready!

To begin the picking, David and a couple of the guys head out into the hop yard with the tractor and our lift.  The lift is made from a repurposed stock tank - we took out the plastic liner and left the metal container cage.  This is mounted to a pallet so that it can be lifted by the tractor.

A harvest crew member goes up in this bucket and cuts away the bines from the trellis.  From there, we have someone stationed on the ground to collect them on a trailer.  Then they are pulled over to the pole barn for picking by the ShenPaCo team.
Here's 78 pounds of wet hops, fresh from the 2016 harvest!

Hops picking is a focused, but fun, activity.  Last year we organized an event around it, and we will likely do that again in the future, but we couldn't make that work this year with everything that is going on in town.

At the end of the day, David told me they'd picked two rows of hops, and we had yielded 78 pounds.  The remaining three rows appear to have more hops than this on them, so we'll see how we do at the end of it all.

The first load went into the oast for drying on Tuesday, and should have been ready to pack on Thursday - I don't have a report back on that yet, but should have something to write about it in my next post, which will be next week!

Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Second Dry Mass Test @hawksbillhops

David inspected the lupulin in this Cascade cone.
After our first test two weeks ago, David suggested that we wait a week to test the dry mass of the Hawksbill Hop Yards Cascades again last weekend.  So I went out to gather another 100 gram sample that I could dry to see if we were finally ready to harvest.

Half of the sample for this dry mass test.
As I mentioned, we are only harvesting the Cascade this year - while we had a showing in the Chinook and Columbus, we had nothing to speak of from the Goldings and the Fuggles.  We'll have a closer look at what to do about the other varieties over the winter, but one thing is clear:  the Cascades are thriving!  We have five rows of them - about 300 plants.

Just like last week, I put the sample in the dehydrator and ran it for 24 hours to evaporate all the moisture away.  This week, I turned the temperature up to 135 degrees, warmer than we would process them at, but I wanted to be sure to drive out all the moisture.  At the end I weighed the hops to determine the dry mass.

The results were right on the money - 25 grams.  So our dry mass is at 25%, in the zone, and we were ready to harvest.

Final results of the second test - 25% dry mass!

And that's a good thing - most of the activities related to the harvest must be scheduled in advance, and we had estimated that it would be this week.  Our ShenPaCo crew was standing by, and David had the picking area set up under the barn - and the Hop-N-Ator 4000 was reassembled and ready for testing as well.

David has sent me some photos of harvest activities and I'll post them tomorrow.  We're really looking forward to seeing how the bines did this year, their second year!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Stonyman in Summer

Mary's cousin was down for a visit for a week or so, and after a few days in Alexandria we headed to the Valley for the weekend.  It's summer, so there's a spate of outdoors activities scheduled for any given Saturday and Sunday - of course we took those in.

At the end of her stay there was one thing left on the to-do list and we decided to go up into Shenandoah National Park to take in some views and to enjoy the cooler temps at altitude.  We chose the interpretive trail at Stonyman, a 1.5 mile loop with about 350 feet of elevation gain.

That qualifies it as an easy day hike, certainly, but this remains one of my favorites, and I have done it some dozen times, in all seasons.

Even though it was Sunday, the trail was not crowded as it can get.  We weren't the only folks at the main summit, so after a few minutes there we walked down the horse trail to the other outcropping, and we had that spot to ourselves.

I took this photo looking northwest out onto the Valley below, Luray is just visible in the mid-ground, with Massanutten Mountain behind.

With the hike behind us, we headed back to Hawksbill Cabin for some lunch and then it was back to the city - and ultimately our trip to NYC, which I posted about last week.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

@hawksbillhops Preparing for the Hops Harvest - Dry Matter Test

Here are the raw hops in the dehydrator.
We're getting close to harvest time for Hawksbill Hop Yards.  This year, while the bines are still maturing, we are looking for ways to improve our harvest and processing efforts - we potentially will use an oasting and pelletizing service this year, for example.

The folks that operate the processing center in Loudoun County, Organarchy, have requested that we measure dry matter in our hops, which involves a little test of a sample picked from the field.  There's a guide video from the University of Vermont here - and essentially that is the test I ran overnight last Friday and Saturday.

I picked just about 100 grams of wet hops for the test - enough to fill one tray of a typically vegetable dryer.  Then I ran it at high temperature overnight, actually around 15 hours.
Calculation notes - our hops are not ready to pick.

Using the calculations in the video, I had determined that the target weight of the dry matter in my sample would be around 23 grams.  This means that the difference between 100 grams of raw hops and the 23 grams of dry hops is all moisture that would evaporate out of the cones during the process.

Our test results show a higher number, which we interpreted as meaning they are not ready yet.  We'll run a test again next weekend.

There are other "rules of thumb" methods we can use for a sanity check.  For one thing, many of the hops growers south of us are already harvesting - they are in different USDA zones than us, so we can make an adjustment based on that information to estimate when the hops will be ready, in this case, about three weeks later.

After the test, I broke a cone apart for inspection.
Lupulin city!
One of my commitments to the hops farm is that we will continuously learn and improve our processes.  For example, last year we may have harvested early, because we used most of the other farms as a guide.  But they're south of us - so now we adjusted for the ag zone and added this dryness test.

Also last year, we did a lot of work to figure out how to oast the hops.  We didn't get them quite to where we want them to be, so we decided to hold this year's crop off the larger market to make sure that we get the process correct (we will sell them all to Hawksbill Brewing in Luray, which will open this fall or winter, so that they can use the local product in their beers).  Once I can be sure of a consistently high quality product, I will take them back to the market.

Next year, many of our bines will be three years old, and at full maturity.  The yields will be good, and with refined processes we should have plenty to sell to Virginia brewers.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

A Cold War Berlin Story from @dailykos

Timelapse photo of the Berlin Wall in the 1980's - on the right, a photo I took in the Neukolln District in October 1984, and on the left from an unsourced link on Facebook.  I wrote about this in a blog post here.
Frequent readers may recall that I was stationed in Berlin with the USAF from 1981-1986.  Whenever I find a post on-line about the Cold War era, and in particular experiences in that city at that time, I love to read them and compare what the author has to say with my own experience.  Today I'm taking a look at a post by Mark E. Andersen from August 1 - you can find the link to his original post here.

The post is one of a series of five posts about Andersen's Cold War Army experiences in the Army, celebrating his memories while also enjoying a trip to those familiar places.  I enjoyed reading about how he came to terms with those things, my own denouement is derived from two return trips to Berlin since I left in April 1986 (on the heels of the LaBelle Discotheque bombing), and I have several friends who return on business annually, so I still have plenty of opportunity for introspection.

As I read Andersen's Daily Kos piece, three ideas came to mind:
  • Andersen closes with his impression of Berlin as a "beautiful, vibrant city, at once old and new." Postwar Berlin is obsessed with the process of rebuilding and renewal, so it features many architectural projects showcasing design and technology trends for residential and office buildings.  Since 1989 and reunification shortly afterwards, the building process accelerated here and elsewhere, so that now the international style dominates every European skyline.  In Berlin, however, once you get to street level you see and experience that whisper of memory about the Cold War division, and if you look closely enough, you find the line of the Wall is left behind as a scar on the streets and pavements.  Even in this juxtaposition of old and new, I'm left with an optimism about where we'll go next as a society.  And I guess I'm overdue for another visit (my last was in May 2001).
Photos from an event we went to at Newseum in 2012 (post here).  Left to right:  Old East German guard tower, Mary and me near one of the old border signs, and a few segments of the Wall.
  • Andersen describes the anxiety he feels while climbing one of the old guard towers (there's an excellent accompanying photo!) - I've shared that emotion.  I've had the chance to find the memorial to those who died trying to escape from the East, located along the Wall's old past at the Spree River near the Reichstag.  There are Wall sections and a reassembled tower at the Newseum in DC and the book Stasiland are both sure to provoke those feelings, and to remind us of why we're having them.
  • Recounting trips to the East, Andersen mentions the bleak, black and white impression of his experience there.  I swear that one time I left the West, on a sunny spring morning, only to arrive in an overcast East, to find a brutal chill and snow flurries.  Our minds were shaped by the propaganda on our side, all those shiny new buildings and the sparkling western economic showpiece of the Ku'Damm.      

I look forward to finding articles on this topic, and I certainly enjoyed Mark E. Andersen's post.  As they always do, this article led me to a moment of introspection to see if I had learned anything since the last time I thought about the Cold War and my time in Berlin.  Certainly there must be conclusions that can inform how we respond to the events of today: an emerging Russia asserting a leadership role in the world; continued suffering under authoritarian regimes in North Korea and elsewhere; and the optimism of a warming relationship with Cuba.

I'm left with a memory of my own, from the last of four visits I made to East Berlin during my years there.  I went to a sporting goods store with the idea of buying some equipment and had settled on a funny dumb bell, shaped like a western hand grenade.  As a reminder, the regulations for travel required that we go in groups of six or more, in uniform - some of my colleagues were in the store elsewhere, spread throughout, looking for souvenirs.  

Soon I realized I was standing there next to a Soviet Army officer considering his own purchase.  He was buying one of those pocket fisherman, similar to this one by Ronco.  I considered the irony of the experience:  here we'd been trained to be adversaries, but just at this moment we were focused on the same thing, finding a source of recreation during our down time.  I put down my hand grenade and decided to look for an alternative memento.

Something changed for me at that moment.  At the end of the day everyone "over there" in the East, in the Warsaw Pact, were all still people, just as we were in the West.  The condition of their lives was different, sometimes vastly different, but we had a lot in common in the stories of our loved ones, our pastimes, and in the basic motivations that drive us as people.

While this awareness never compromised my work, it remained in the back of my mind all those years as I thought about those citizens as individuals, not as a force, and not as subjects of those adversarial regimes.  I guess it's a philosophy that remains with me to this day.

I am sorry that even in our modern era there is no alternative to war to solve some conflicts.  There is a huge price to pay for that, an impact to those who remain behind afterwards, both civilians and veterans.  This year, during the election, I am looking for opportunities to embrace and acknowledge this simple concept; I guess that if there is indeed any resolution from the experiences of my enlistment, this would be it, maybe an opportunity to contribute to some small change in the world.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Summer Morning at Rock Center

The view from our seat in the shade.
We found time on our hands before we needed to go catch our train home to DC, so we decided to take a walk around midtown last Wednesday morning.  From the front of the hotel on 6th Avenue (also known as Avenue of the Americas, which is how the Hotel showed it in their address) we could see Rockefeller Center just a few blocks south - so we decided to have a walk down there.

Of course, we needed breakfast first.  Here I'll make a blatant pitch for my friend Brian's blog before I mention that we found a Greek diner, Astro, only a block away.  Now, I won't review the breakfast, Brian-style, but I will say that I had a fine plate of eggs benedict with a side of bacon, and I even enjoyed a cup of house coffee - although I was looking forward to seeing if I could get a cup at Dean & Deluca down at Rock Center.
Looking down 6th Ave. from the hotel - Rockefeller Center
beckons, and the World Trade Center also calls out.

After breakfast we started our walk down to what I suppose is one of NYC's busiest tourist destinations.  We circuitously walked over to get a glimpse of St. Patrick's and entered through the plaza, passing under Atlas, and finding a seat in the shade for a moment to get our bearings.  Mary went to find the Dean & Deluca's, but couldn't, and made the decision on the fly to go to an alternative place where a bunch of construction workers were getting coffee on their break,

While the Today Show has taken off for Rio during the Olympics the crowd is less than typical for the morning.  So it was just a bit more enjoyable for me, especially now that my caffeine tank was full.

A dairy stall, all the way from Lancaster County.
We browsed a couple of the stores, including the Met Store and Godiva's.  Afterwards we walked back out to where they set up the ice skating rink in the winter, and found a farmer's market.  It was pretty swanky given the location - but since I have a continuing interest in them I stopped to have a look around.

There was a good range of products, with the stalls all arranged under a two-wide row of market awnings.  I found a dairy from Lancaster County - that's a testament to the quality of these offerings, but everything had come such a long way to be here, so you have to imagine there is extra cost.

The green grocer with the leafy greens - $2/bunch.

I also spied a couple of green grocers, one with a pretty exceptional display of leafy greens.  There was a honey vendor, and a baker, although I didn't get close enough to figure out where those folks were from.

Finally, the time for our train home was approaching and we made our way back to the hotel to finish packing and check out.

There's a Grace Jones song from the 1980's called The Apple Stretching  (YouTube link here) - I'd recalled it a couple of times during the trip.  But as we limped back to our hotel after all of that sightseeing, "beaten tourists" - it all rang very true.

It's time to get back to work on the hop yards and the brewery.  That's where I'll be the rest of the week.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A Couple of Days in NYC

The Apple Stretching.
Mary and I are just wrapping up a few days in Manhattan - it feels like it was a very short visit, but we still packed a lot in.  Last year, when I booked a hotel with Hilton down in Orlando, they offered a deal with a lot of benefits if I might go to NYC to listen to their grand vacations pitch.  As a result, we've spent two nights in midtown, just a block from MOMA.

The timeshare they offer makes sense for some, and it might even make sense for us someday.  But we're not pulling the trigger on it this time.

When we got into town on Monday, we headed up to the Neue Galerie to check out the Klimt paintings.  The have the famous golden lady painting there, among others.  I've seen the painting reproduce many times, but I have to admit seeing it in person was an amazing experience, and I came away feeling like I knew Adele personally.

The Dakota with scaffolding.
Afterwards, we had coffee and pastry in the cafe there, which reminded me of a place in Vienna.  Then we headed over to Central Park - as long as we were up in the 80's and had to walk back down to midtown, I figured we should walk by Strawberry Fields, and maybe check out the Dakota building - famous, not only as John and Yoko's residence, but also for appearing on the cover of a Led Zepelin and other albums.

The building was going through some renovations when we walked by.  Still, that's quite a nice neck of the woods up there!

The real estate boom around Central Park.
Later the first night we were able to hook up with my niece and her boyfriend in the West Village.  They know New York so well and we were able to navigate to a couple of stops with them.  A great visit!

Tuesday was another busy day - we started with the timeshare pitch - actually a difficult thing to organize, which is something we would have to come to terms with if we were considering it at this time.

From there, we went to the new section of the High Line - an amazing redevelopment success story on the West Side.  Then back to the hotel neighborhood and a stop at MOMA - great exhibitions there, but my favorite was an interactive display of eight oral histories of refugees in the Mediterranean region, where the artist traced their routes while they told their stories.  There is a lot of turmoil and conflict in our modern world.

For our last activities of the day, Mary had to get away to a Wellesley event up near Central Park.  It sounds like she had a wonderful time.  Meanwhile, my friend Tony came in from Long Island and we had an impromptu reunion - the first time I had seen him since he left Berlin in 1984!

I've written about our reunions and that community before, and it's always great to have a chance to reconnect with my old friends.  Tony and I were in language school in Monterey together, and then overlapped in Berlin a couple of years.  Facebook has facilitated so many reconnections, and this is another of those.

This morning we're headed back down to DC, after breakfast.  So with that I'll close.  Nice little road trip, but I'm looking forward to getting back to the hop yard and brewery!