Gleefully, it is that time of year again! A chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city to go out to my favorite supplier, Four Star Farms of Northfield, MA. Under grey skies threatening rain, Gene, Liz, and the rest of the family gave some industry folks a tour of their facilities. This year was a treat as it was the first year of full production for any portion of their large hop field. To handle their anticipated 2500+ pound yield they had some new equipment to show off and big plans for the future.
The growing conditions this year were typical New England, quite wet with periods of highly humid heat. Hops don’t really like their top bits being wet. As a result, there was some loss due to powdery mildew. Fortunately it appeared to be isolated to a few individual plants and of those, most was on this year’s growth. They will probably lose their Mt. Hood crop due to how late those cones mature. They simply went too long between fungicide applications (due to the current harvest) and won’t be worth harvesting.
This will be the second year with their retrofitted hop-picking machine. It is a thing of beauty to hear that kitten purr. For our amusement they ran a couple of bines through and the cleanliness of the hops coming out of it is really amazing for the time per bine investment. Beautious!
Nathan completely revamped the drying machines this year, replacing the cabinet design with a mobile bin design. One of the main problems last year was that when drying you had to work the entire cabinet to the fastest-drying drawer. Then, to check for doneness, you had to stop the entire cabinet, take a sample, test it, and decide to run it a while longer. Labor-intensive, time-intensive, and not the best practice for the drying hops. This year they developed a winch-weighing apparatus so that they could test the entire bin at once. To test degree of residual moisture required merely lifting the bin a couple of inches and comparing the current weight to the starting weight. Genius!
When dried, the hops were then given a few hours to rest in another bin, which also redistributed any residual moisture so that the entire batch averaged out. Again, genius! At 80 pounds per bin it’ll chew through the hop harvest in much less time than the previous equipment.
The batch was then compressed, vacuum sealed, then stored in a Mylar bag that is both light- and oxygen-proof. They’re good for over a year in storage but if I know these resilient farmers the crop will be gone long before the next crop is ready to harvest!
We were able to procure a few 2oz Perle whole hop packages for the Cambridge shop. As the harvest is processed, we’ll once again be carrying the locally grown Cascade, Nugget, and Magnum hops. We may even see some of them pelletized! Keep your eyes out for a new Homebrew Emporium kit featuring these local hops and other local ingredients!