A couple of years ago Miller Lite aired a commercial featuring a naked model seductively lazing in a bathtub of hops. When I saw it I was like, “Hubba-hubba. Check out those hops!”
Though Miller Lite has as much right touting their love of hops as I do touting my love of Justin Bieber, they played right to my obsession with hops. I may have come to appreciate all styles of beer, but hoppy beers still have a tight grip on my heart.
Since most of the hops that end up in the Maine beer we love are grown in the Pacific Northwest, it’s easy to forget that, without farmers working the land, there would be no hops to add aroma, flavor and bittering to beer.
For the past three years, a local farm has been trying to make Maine a premier hop producer. The Hop Yard, with farms in Fort Fairfield and Gorham, helped Maine see its largest hop harvest in 2014 in over a century.
This abundant harvest resulted in some great Maine beer last fall.
On a humid Saturday morning in late August I drive to Gorham to meet up with Geoff Keating to walk among the hop vines and talk hops.
Keating, one of the four business partners and farmers who own The Hop Yard, is a bearded twenty-something wearing Carhartts and a ‘Farm ME’ hat. During our conversation he smiles a lot. It’s clear he loves hop farming and being part of the Maine brewing community.
He tells me that hop plants, like grape crops, take three years to fully express themselves in both output and the hop’s flavor characteristics. For this reason, the farm is just now reaping the benefits of many of the vines that were planted years ago. Recently planted vines will ensure that their yield will continue to increase in the coming years.
As we slowly walk into the heart of the elaborate trellis system Keating and his business partners constructed, hop plants climb their way up twine all around us.
Hop cones weigh heavily on the green vines. Keating explains that on their farms they grow Cascade, Centennial, Willamette, Sterling and Nugget hop varieties.
As Keating muses on the challenges of hop farming, he plucks a fat hop cone from the vine and peels back the leaves, exposing the lupulin glands. These yellow, sticky glands contain the resin and oils responsible for a hop’s signature aromatic, flavor and bittering qualities.
In a few weeks, all the hops surrounding us will be harvested and used by Maine and New Hampshire breweries. Allagash, Sebago, Rising Tide, Austin Street and Tributary brewing companies all plan on brewing beers with hops grown by the Hop Yard.
Though the hop industry in Maine is far from being able to supply Maine brewers with all their hops, Keating is optimistic that The Hop Yard will continue to grow in scale and other farmers will follow their model, helping Maine become a thriving producer of hops.
To celebrate the harvest season and the ensuing ales, join The Hop Yard team and Rising Tide Brewing Company on September 20 for a harvest celebration at Rising Tide’s tasting room. And be on the lookout for hop harvest ales this fall.
WHO: The Hop Yard and Rising Tide Brewing Company
WHERE: 103 Fox St., Portland
WHEN: 12 to 5 p.m. Sept. 20
WHAT: Help harvest fresh hops, learn about The Hop Yard and hop production and drink hoppy beers
Foundation Brewing Company Releases Cans of Epiphany Double IPA
3 to 6 p.m. Thursday, 1 Industrial Way #5, Portland | foundationbrew.com
Last fall I wrote a column extolling the citrus hop joy found in Foundation Brewing Company’s Epiphany Double IPA. The beer is a lush boat ride through pineapple, grapefruit, and mango flavors. It’s full-bodied. It finishes brilliantly. Frankly, it is a near perfect double IPA. One of Maine’s best without a doubt. It took a few months, but it seems that the public has finally caught on to the joys of this beer, because Epiphany sells out in a matter of hours after being released. Don’t miss out on this batch. Cans are available at the brewery. Also, check their Facebook and Twitter pages to find out where you can drink Epiphany on tap.