Hop, Hop Hooray! Harvest at Alpha Beta
Late summer is peak harvest season—one of our favorite times of the year! As a brewery, we’re especially excited that the hops harvest is underway at Alpha Beta Hops right here in Ashland, OR. Earlier this year, we paid a virtual visit to Alpha Beta to give you a taste of what hops farming entails. We thought we’d go back to give you a peek into the process of how hops get from plant to pint, too.
Alpha Beta Hops is a family operation, run by Steve and Rebecca Pierce, and their sons, Spencer and Morgan. They currently grow about 1.5 acres of organic Cascade hops, prized by craft brewers like us. The Pierces undertake each step with great care and attention to quality, and incorporate sustainable practices throughout, brewing great things for beer lovers, people and planet.
The harvest involves about a week of long days. When hops are at their peak, good producers know they need to pick, process and pack their crop quickly to maintain optimal flavor and aroma. Following farm tradition, four generations of the family pitched in, with volunteers including friends and folks from World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).
The process begins by cutting hop bines, which grow on tall trellises. Alpha Beta uses heavyweight paper string for trellises, a renewable material they compost to feed next year’s crop. Always innovating, the Pierces built an harvesting attachment for their tractor, consisting of a platform they stand on to cut and a chute they load with hops.
The Pierces take each load of bines to a worktable where everyone carefully plucks off hops and places them in buckets. The pile shrinks quickly as workers enjoy chatting and enjoying the Rogue Valley’s beautiful views and clean air. The farm also has free-range chickens that like to check out the action, though they haven’t yet been trained to help.
Full buckets are dumped into drying bins heated with a passive solar system. The building with the drying bins has a greenhouse on one side of its wall and the drying bin area on the other. Hot air from the greenhouse blows toward the drying bins. Workers gently rake the hops to ensure even drying.
After the hops are dry, they’re packed into bags for customers, ranging from individual homebrewers to brewing supply stores and brewpubs like Standing Stone Brewing Co. Hops are also great in herbal teas and tinctures, since they contain compounds that aid relaxation.
Despite the long days, Rebecca finds the time and energy to whip up a delicious lunch each day. When the day’s work is done, of course folks enjoy a well-deserved IPA to celebrate their progress.
Thanks to the Pierces for doing what you do with such care for the hops, the planet and everyone involved. Making the best craft beer requires the best ingredients, and we’re grateful for farms like Alpha Beta that deliver that, always with a smile. Cheers!