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Getting Hopped Up—Again

The craft beer boom brings a quiet but triumphant return to hop growing in Sonoma County

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HARVEST BEER TOURING

A who's-who and where-from guide to local wet-hop beers

GLOBETROTTER Christer Blom, from Sweden, visits Carneros Brewing Co. - ANNELIESE SCHMIDT
  • Anneliese Schmidt
  • GLOBETROTTER Christer Blom, from Sweden, visits Carneros Brewing Co.

In line with the annual harvest, many local breweries create special beers made from freshly picked hops. These undried "wet" hops retain volatile flavor and aromatic compounds that would otherwise be lost during the kilning process, taking beers in surprising new directions.

Sonoma County

At the brewpub, Russian River Brewing Co. will soon pour its annual HopTime Harvest ale, brewed with 100 percent wet hops from Hops-Meister farm in Lake County. These hops go from the vine and into the kettle in a few hours. "Yields on this beer are very poor," relates Russian River's brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo, "but the aromas and flavors that come from this beer are like no other. There are so many unique characteristics that come from wet hops."

On land near the outskirts of Sebastopol, Moonlight Brewing's Brian Hunt grows assertive varieties like Cascade, nugget, Chinook and cluster—the lattermost being descended from one of the oldest hop varieties grown in the United States. (Early cluster varieties figured heavily in California's historical production as well, long before the advent of the citrus-heavy American varieties common today.) While details weren't available before press, I hope to see Moonlight's Homegrown again this year.

Petaluma's small-scale HenHouse Brewing currently partners with Allstar Organics down in Nicasio to grow organic Cascade hops. While they won't officially release a wet-hop beer this year (an estate wet-hop ESB and wet-hop pale are slated to go into production in 2014), HenHouse will be doing a very small—like, one-keg small—batch of an experimental wet-hop Berliner Weisse, to be released at an undisclosed bar in Petaluma. (I have a guess.)

Omnipresent Lagunitas will be overnighting wet hops from Washington's Yakima region to go into a TBD wet-hop ale. The batch will be divvied up between its own TapRoom and various wet-hop-focused festivals around the country. Owner Tony Magee also keeps a small garden of hops in the community of Marshall, in Marin, slated to go into a separate release.

Also in Petaluma, Dempsey's uses hops grown on its biodynamic Red Rooster Ranch for creating the 707 Wet Hop pale ale, to be released around mid-September. It will be one of the few local wet-hop beers to be bottled and available throughout Sonoma County.

The newly opened Woodfour Brewing works with both a local Sebastopol farmer as well as another in Mendocino County for its wet-hop needs. Brewer Seth Wood states that Woodfour will actually be making two or three wet-hop beers for the pub, using a single hop type for each. "We plan to serve the beers as a wet-hop flight in our restaurant," reports Wood, "so people can explore the beers side by side." These beers should be released around late September.

Heading north, Ruth McGowan's Brewpub in Cloverdale has procured Sterling and Columbus hops from a local farmer. These have gone into a Belgian-style tripel, Mighty Shillelagh, available on-site now.

Healdsburg's Bear Republic has three-quarters of an acre of citrusy Cascade and Chinook hops growing in Dry Creek Valley, managed by the Enzenauer family. These will head into Grandpa's Homegrown, honoring Phil Enzenauer for his commitment to Sonoma County hop cultivation. Look for this latest Homegrown release in late September, early October.

Old Redwood Brewing in Windsor will brew a harvest ale using hops from two different locations. The first is its fully established hop field in southwest Windsor, which yields about a hundred pounds annually. The second, interestingly, is run by the Windsor Historical Society, which tends a field of hops propagated from nearly century-old vines in the Russian River Valley. The beer will be available to Old Redwood's beer club members (around mid-October) and in limited samples to the general public through the brewery's tasting room in Windsor.

Santa Rosa's Fogbelt Brewing Co., opening soon, will produce a number of beers with hops grown in Healdsburg and Sonoma (see sidebar).

Marin County

While Marin Brewing doesn't grow its own hops or produce any dedicated fresh-hop beers, brewmaster Arne Johnson does plan to harvest some Sonoma County hops and add them into Marin's cask-conditioned IPA. "For me," Johnson reflects, "this is the best way to showcase wet and wild hops."

Napa County

Downtown Joe's had its Hay Ride Harvest on tap as of late August. It's Joe's seventh year brewing a wet-hop beer, but its first using California hops. The exact source? An undisclosed farmer situated perhaps two hours east of the brewery.—Ken Weaver

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