EDIT: The Wet Hop Ale could use a little more ageing. It’ll officially be out September 5th. If you were planning a special Labour Day Weekend visit to BCPV we can fetch you some – but try to hold off on drinking it right away!
On Saturday, August 24, we had our annual Hop Harvest! It was a great success!
When Black Creek opened for the season on May 1, the hops barely poked above the ground. But now, they’ve reached the tops of their supporting poles. Despite a cool spring and summer, they definitely achieved some impressive height—we’re very glad that Doug (one of our interpreters) was around to help us cut the vines down!
Our Head Gardener Sandra Spudic and I met our intrepid hop harvesters at the Visitors’ Centre. After introductions, we headed over to see the barley fields. There, Sandra discussed some of the challenges of historical horticulture. Three years ago, we made an Estate Ale from hops and barley grown onsite. Last year, wild geese ate most of our barley. This year, we’re sparring with sparrows. Keep your fingers crossed for us!
Next stop: the hop garden. As the late morning sun slanted through the vines, we clustered around a long table where Sandra showed us the yellowish lupulin inside the hops. Lupulin is the powder secreted by the hops’ lupulin glands (but of course) and it lends beer its distinctive bitter aromas and flavours. Various oils and resins in the hops also help preserve the beer. As I explained during the harvest, and as I noted here, the introduction of hops was essential in transforming brewing from domestic chore to large-scale industry.
To make his Wet Hop Pale Ale, Ed needed a full bushel basket of hops. Our hop-pickers did not disappoint, stripping the pale, pinecone-like flowers with gusto and efficiency. We quickly learned that if you pick enough hops, your hands start to acquire that lovely hoppy smell.
Just before noon, we carted our bounty down to the brewery. Generally, hops are dried before they’re added to the boil, but as this is a “Wet Hop” ale, Ed just put them straight in. Hops are added during the boil for flavouring purposes, and also to force those preserving oils to integrate into the wort—a process called “isomerization.”
By now, our crew had earned a break. We grabbed a few growlers and went to the taproom, where our hard-working hop-pickers sampled bread made with hop-risen yeast and cookies made with spent rye and barley mash. Both bread and cookies were prepared in the Half Way House bake oven by our baker, the lovely and talented Amy. Yours truly also led a guided tasting of our beers.
The Wet Hop Pale Ale is fermenting in the barrels as I type this. Our band of hop harvesters will get the first chance to purchase some starting officially on September 5 (it just needs a touch more ageing). Thanks to all who participated (and a huge thanks to Sandra); it was a great event!