With empty onion sacks tied to our belts, we dove into the thicket and thorns. We’d have to wrestle nature for these wild hops.
Our team was in Whitmore, a town about two hours north of our Chico home. A gentleman from Whitmore, Randy—the former postmaster— had recently taken a tour of our brewery. Before leaving, he handed over a note. The gist: There’s a hop haul to be had.
We ventured to the private property to see for ourselves. Indeed, deep into the lush woods, wild Cluster hops blanketed the landscape. A versatile hop, Cluster is one of the original varieties grown in the U.S. These particular Cluster hops in Whitmore had washed down from upstream property where the former German owners grew them commercially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The hops clocked in between 7–8 percent alpha acid, and a hand rubbing yielded a cloud of lemon. They could make a great beer, and we’d love to be the ones to craft it.
Well, come on in, the landowner told us, take all you can.
Packed into a pickup truck and mini-van, about a dozen of us made a second visit for a day of harvesting. We meandered a maze of dirt roads, crossed a creek, and scraped undercarriages (oops!) before the green expanse revealed itself.
Dense. The area was dense. Hops low and high and everywhere in between. Blackberries were intermixed, almost ensuring plentiful pokes, scrapes and the occasional expletive. (Not to mention the gasps at plenty of these.) We pulled on gloves, grabbed onion sacks, and spread out to conquer. After a steady six hours in trees and on the forest floor, plucking hops one by one, we’d gathered all we feasibly could. Our bounty secure in a small refrigerated trailer, we trekked back to Chico.
Soon after, our brewers put that roughly 70-pound yield into a small-batch India Pale Ale we aim to serve at our inaugural, appropriately named Single, Fresh, Wet & Wild Harvest Festival. We’re asking the 50+ breweries to bring at least one of these:
- Single hop beer: Showcases the nuances of only one hop variety
- Fresh hop beer: Uses dried hops that are picked, shipped, and added to the brew kettle within weeks of hop harvest
- Wet hop beer: Uses un-dried hops that are picked, shipped, and added to the brew kettle within days of hop harvest
- Wild hop beer: Ventures into the unknown with hops found untamed in nature
We can’t wait to sip the harvest-inspired beers of our peers, and we’ll proudly pour a little bit of Northern California hop history.