Last week we touched upon the flurried season that is wine harvest, but another harvest takes place at a similar time in Australia. Let's raise our glasses to hop harvest.
Hops are the flowers (or cones) of the plant Humulus Lupulus which, fun fact, is part of the Cannabaceae family – the same family that cannabis belongs to. Humulus Lupulus grows as a bine (hop bine) and farmers string trellises to encourage the plant to grow vertically. It feels quite magical to stroll between the bines, quite nymph-like as if you are surrounded by drapery made of hops and foliage.
The hop flowers contain all the essential oils, alpha, and beta acids that benefit the brewing world. A single plant will produce roughly 350g – 900g of dried hops. For the large hop harvest operations we will be discussing in this article it would be extremely time-consuming to harvest all the fresh flowers by hand so machine harvesters are employed. The bottoms and tops of the bines are clipped and the full vine is transported to the on-site facility as speedily as possible to retain the freshness of the hops.
Once at the facility the vines are strung up and swept through the air to the picking machine. It's another beautiful sight to see, with vines dancing through the air. The aptly named 'picking machine' separates the cones. Along with the cones comes a bunch of stems and leaves which cannot remain in the final product, so the hops need to go through a 3-step ‘cleaning’ process:
- Grizzly mesh separates larger green waste.
- A fan separates as many of the remaining leaves.
- The hops and any remaining small leaves run along a dribble belt. The leaves cling to the belt while the hops head off to the kiln. Any of the green waste is then composted for continuous use on the farm.
The kiln is not a machine in a corner of the room but is essentially the room itself. Heated vents span the majority of the kiln room’s floor space in these larger facilities, with a metal wall lining a walkway around the perimeter. The hops are laid across the floor and dried at around 60°C for 8-12 hours until moisture levels are reduced to the desired level. Imagine sauna that smells incredible. The moisture and heat then need to distribute evenly through the hops in a process called conditioning.
At this point, a portion of the dried hops are ready to be sold as whole leaf so are packaged for retail, while the rest are pressed into tightly packed bails and transferred to be milled and pressed into pellet form. Once all the hops are packaged safely from oxygen, they are then stored under 5°C and cold shipped to retailers around the globe.
At Carwyn, we've been lucky enough to visit the Bright Hop Products Australia (HPA) farm and facility a few times, and this year HPA has taken their harvest virtually. If you’d like to know more about hop harvest, and production you can check out all the materials from their Virtual Harvest 2021 here.
Happy Hopping! ♦