Labor Day weekend was very special for me. While most of you guys were on beaches, our founder, Sophia, was upstate at her college friend’s Hop Farm for the Fresh Hops harvest. She wrote about her experience at Frog Hollow Farms to share all the fun with you.
A Little About Hops
Hops are flowers that grow on bines (yes it’s like a vine, but different) and are one of the four necessary components of beer. They can bitter it or add a distinct citrusy quality to your favorite IPAs when used in large quantities. Hops, like grapes for wine, come in several varieties and with varying levels of bitterness due to alpha acid levels (they get all scientific and shit, tAlpha Avid is measured in Alpha Acid Units or AAUs). The hop flowers are pictured in the title photo and they are quite cute. Lupulin powder is like the pollen of hops, it’s a powdery yellow substance that has all the properties we love hops for, all the flavor is concentrated in there, like some magical IPA dust.
About the Farmers and the Farm
t’s funny how I became obsessed with craft beer and one of my oldest friends from college, Jamie Peck along with her husband Aaron Peck, are also obsessed with beer. They’re from a pretty rural part of NY state called Natural Bridge by the Fort Drum Army Base. They dabbled in growing hops at their first home and then Aaron’s parents offered them their home with a huge amount of land, something we cannot conceive of in lower NY. So much land that you have to use a four-wheeler to get from one end to the other and that you can hike for a couple miles on it. Aaron is an avid home brewer, and Jamie is all about the DIY ever since our days together at Alfred University’s School of Art and Design. The home is beautiful and they have this effortless eclectic-chic style. Staying in their home is like staying in a fancy rural Airbnb. They don’t make very much, if any money, from farming. Instead, the motivation comes from a place of passion and a love for the craft of craft beer. Jamie is one of my oldest friends and I love when I visit, I also love to geek out with her husband, Aaron about beer. Aside from that stepping foot on this farm, because of the people that run it, you’re instantly accepted, embraced, and part of the family. I am, in general, because we go way back, but they have people that come back every year for hop harvesting. You come, work hard, drink some great beer and eat a nice large meal. If you feel like it, stay for the fire, some leftovers, and more good times.
I went last year but didn’t take the time to write about it. Needless to say, I was like a kid in a hop store. I feel so at ease in the farm, hanging out with my friends, drinking some beers and eating delicious homemade food. It’s one of the most beautiful places to stay and I would live on the hammock, if possible.
Aside from that, it was amazing to be in the company of my girls from college, I drive up every year meeting my friend, Marie, at her home outside of Ithaca. Jamie wore her Beer Fit Club Tank Top, I had mine and so I made Marie dig hers out, LOL. This was not just about hops, it was about formative friendship. It’s the excuse we use to see each other after we all met in 1999, almost 20 years ago.
The friends you make in college are friends for a lifetime. We see each other and we don’t really even need to catch up, we leave where we left off. Sadly we missed Megan, the last of our pack of friends, she’s in the baby bubble (she has a little one under a year old). We all used to live together Sophmore year of college; some stayed, some left, but it’s always been us that stayed together.
To come together with these ladies and to feel the support they give me in this business I’ve built, it makes my heart sing and it rejuvenates my soul! (Yeah I got mushy with you… no big whoop)
The name of their annual hop harvest paints a picture of the day: it’s not just a day of work, it’s a party. Everyone brings coolers of beer, Jamie and Aaron provide a homemade smoked pulled pork feast, and there’s a hell of a fire later in the evening to enjoy. Everyone that wants to help is welcome! Yeah, I worked, but more than that, I had a great time. It was amazing to be a part of the process in what will become craft beer! To be a part of the farm to pint movement. No farms, no beer. It’s a movement and I respect all the people behind it.
Our society has become so industrial and it’s refreshing to see where ingredients come from and that they are made with great care. Faster and cheaper is not better! More so, it can all be tied into the slow food movement: taking time and taking care with the food and drink that we put into our bodies. It’s about health and quality.
They have a small operation so almost everything is done by hand. That equals lots of love! The hops are grown on tall wooden stakes, removable from the ground. The hop bines are cut down and placed on a frame with a tarp underneath to catch all the hops being picked.
Next, they are put into large plastic containers and picked through on a small conveyor belt they made themselves. This takes out impurities like sticks, leaves, and more.
Lastly, they are put into containers again and brought into the drying greenhouse. They are picked through again and then they’re ready to be dried. Most brewers want dried whole hops, only some make wet hop beers, though they are quite popular here in the metro NY area.