This article is written by Tim Sciascia, a brewer at Marin Brewing Company, which will release its latest cask of beer on Wednesday. This is not intended to be a restaurant review.
Denise Jones, head brewer of Moylan’s Brewery and Restaurant, arranged a trip to the Hops-Meister hop farm, an organic hop grower near Clearlake on August 25. Myself and two colleagues from Marin Brewing, along with Denise and her other brewers and cellarmen took the two-hour journey north to get a close-up look (and smell!) of the hop growing process and to purchase hops for some of our upcoming beers.
We arrived to many of the rows of hops already harvested; lucky for us there were a few rows of vines yet to be pulled off their twine. Towering some 15 odd feet into the air, the interloping trio of vines that snake around one piece of string are loaded with bunches of pine-esque green-yellow cones: the hop flowers. These fascinating, yet not quite eye-catching flowers contain the bittering properties, and most of the aromas and flavors experienced in the West Coast pales ales, and India pale ales (e.g. Mt. Tam Pale Ale and Moylan’s IPA) that beer lovers die for.
Farmers Claudia and Martin “Marty” Kuchinski took us through the various varieties of hops they organically grow while telling us their story. They started off as an extremely small operation (minuscule as compared to the large hop farms up in Oregon and Washington) four years ago. With a bit of success and good luck they have expanded to a what is still a very small farm with plans to increase acreage even more. Some of the cultivars we saw were Columbus, Chinook, Horizon, and the ubiquitous Cascade. Organic hop farming is very difficult due to the abstinance from chemical pesticides and fungicides. Parasites and mildew can easily destroy a crop, so Claudia and Marty employ a cutthroat seek and clip method to any suspicious looking abnormalities. Their hard work pays off with a high quality and benevolent product.
After a long day in the sun, a sampling of a few Moylan’s ales and a wonderful meal prepared with fresh vegetables from the farm’s garden, it was time to head back to Marin. Leaving empty-handed, however, would be a terrible, terrible mistake. Denise talked to Claudia, with whom she has been working for a couple of years, and then my coworkers and I did the same — we could buy some hops which the farm hands would pick for us right then! These hops, called “wet” or “fresh” hops are completely unprocessed. Standard processing of hops begins with kilning immediately after harvest in order to dry the hops and then packaging in nitrogen-filled bags either whole or after they have been pelletized. Wet hops contain about 80 percent more moisture and many more “fresh” or “green” flavors and aromas than dried hops. Adding these hops into our beer will give it a unique touch that one does not experience on a regular basis.
We made a mad dash for the brewery to get these hops right into a few casks of our beer. Okay, there might have been a quick pit stop at another brewery between Clearlake and Larkspur, to size up the competition, of course. We stuffed more than a pound each of Cascade, Ivanhoe, and a blend of Cascade and Ivanhoe into three 7.5 gallon casks (two casks of Three Flowers IPA, and one Marin IPA respectively). Compare that to the four ounces we usually put in one cask!
The first of the three casks will be served at Marin on Wednesday, Sept. 7. The other two will be served the following two Wednesdays. The beer will go quick, so be sure to get to the bar at 11:30 a.m. when we open.
If you miss our casks, however, have no fear, Moylan’s bought a substantial amount more than us and will be doing an entire series or two of their hoppy beers with the wet hops (i.e. IPA, Moylander Double IPA, etc.) with staggered release dates, culminating in the brewing of their Estate Harvest IPA which uses hops grown right on the Moylan’s property! (Can you tell I love hops?)
Remember, hoppy beers are meant to be drunk fresh — hop character diminishes quickly over time. As a result wet hop beers are best and should only be imbibed at harvest time. That means these harvest ales are available only once a year (twice if you count the southern hemisphere’s harvest).
So stop in to Marin and Moylan’s and enjoy a pint or two of freshly hopped Heaven before it’s all gone. A year is a long time to wait.