The Tomato

The Beer Guy: Hop to it

Some dads dream of their sons playing in the NHL, but for a beer geek, what could be better than a son working in the surging BC craft beer biz? This past summer my son, Will, did historical research for the BC Hop Company in Abbotsford, BC.

by Peter Bailey

BC Hop Co is part of an ongoing Canadian-grown hops renaissance. In the early 20th century, hops were a significant crop in Canada, particularly in British Columbia. Hop cultivation began in Saanich on Vancouver Island in 1862 but really flourished in the Fraser Valley, where growing conditions for humulus lupulus were perfect. At the industry’s peak in the 1940s, over 2,000 acres of hops were under cultivation around Chilliwack, with more than 4,000 workers employed during harvest. But after World War II, BC hop production went into decline due to increased competition from hop growers across the border in Washington and Oregon. The last BC hop farm closed in 1997.

That is, the last BC hop farm until the craft beer revolution and its hop- forward brews created a new market for locally grown hops. Rebecca Kneen in Sorrento, BC, showed the way, planting hops in 2001 on her organic farm to supply her husband Brian MacIsaac’s organic craft brewery, Crannóg Ales. In 2008, Christian Sartori saw the growing demand for local hops and planted 13 acres of hops on his Sartori Cedar Ranch near Chilliwack.

The BC Hop Company is an ambitious start-up founded by Dwayne Stewart. It is a reboot of the company that operated over 300 acres of hop yards in the Fraser Valley from 1902 to 1954. My son was researching the predecessor company, looking for a link between the hops of the Fraser Valley and the ales produced in England in the early 20th century. Stewart understands that craft brewers will pay a premium to use local hops in their beers, but only if the quality and consistency are there, so Stewart has invested in high-quality, hop-processing equipment.

The hop renaissance isn’t limited to BC. New hop yards have opened in Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario. In 2012, there were only five hop yards in Ontario; in 2016, there are 80. In Alberta, barley remains king, with 4.3 million tonnes produced in Alberta in 2015, over half the total Canadian production. But some brave souls are determined to grow hops commercially in Alberta. Sisters Catherine Smith and Karin Smith Fargey established Northern Girls Hops in Darwell, about an hour west of Edmonton, planting their first hops in 2013. Today, they have 800 plants growing on a 0.7 acre plot. As with BC growers, they planted Cascade and Centennial, two of the popular, American-developed “C” variety hops, plus Golding and Sterling. They found the Centennial variety has done especially well in the Alberta climate. At 53 degrees latitude, Northern Girls is the most northerly commercial hop yard in North America, past the 50 degrees line for optimal growing conditions. But Smith Fargey told me, “we located our hop yard to make the most of micro-climate: our hop yard is sheltered and slopes towards the south while sitting on a rise of land.” Even an early Alberta snowfall in September 2014 didn’t faze them, coming through with a successful harvest.

As with all Canadian hop producers, the demand for Northern Girls hops far outstrips the supply. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture estimates there are 339 acres of hops being farmed in Canada in 2016. A ridiculously small amount, but it is growing quickly. And as Smith Fargey says, “the market for hops is wide open in Alberta. We are now seeing more producers entering into this market. The exciting thing is that we have an opportunity to grow hops in a distinctive environment, and we’re excited to see that reflected in flavour. We are really looking forward to seeing what the Alberta hop picture looks like three to four years from now.”

Hop To It six-pack

Only a small (but growing) part of Canadian craft beer production uses Canadian hops. Look for special releases this fall that use wet hops, fresh from the vine, liken Driftwood’s Sartori Harvest IPA.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Chico, CA
The craft beer icon that invented the American pale ale style, finally available in Alberta. In 1980 homebrewers Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi took the aromatic, American-made Cascade hop and used it brew the first batch of American pale ale. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale would go on to kick-start the craft beer revolution. Forget Budweiser, this is the great American beer, full-stop.

Russell Peaks and Valleys Extra Pale Ale

Russell Peaks and Valleys Extra Pale Ale

Russell Peaks and Valleys Extra Pale Ale, Surrey, BC
Chilliwack Hop Farms is one of the new breed of Fraser Valley hop growers looking to fill the demand for local hops by the burgeoning BC craft beer industry. Here Russell Brewing uses Chilliwack Hop’s super Cascade Centennial hops plus malt from Gambrinus Malting in Armstrong, BC, to make a hoppy all-BC pale ale.

Alley Kat High Level IPA

Alley Kat High Level IPA

Alley Kat High Level IPA, Edmonton
Northern Girls co-owner Karin Smith Fargey told me it was a highlight last fall for Northern Girls hops to be used in Alley Kat’s all-Alberta beer (Alberta Dragon IPA). This spring Alley Kat used spruce tips gathered at Northern Girls to brew their first Back Alley Brew (Spruce Almighty). New this fall is a hop-bursted IPA full of El Dorado, Mandarina Bavaria, and Jarrylo hops.

Blindman Long Shadows IPA

Blindman Long Shadows IPA

Blindman Long Shadows IPA, Lacombe
A big, delightfully juicy, hop-forward take on the American IPA style, with what Blindman Brewing calls “all the flavours and aromas of the Pacific Northwest—floral, pine, citrus, pine and funk.” Dry-hopped with Citra and Simcoe hops to bump up the hop aroma and flavour.

Parallel 49 Craft Lager

Parallel 49 Craft Lager

Parallel 49 Craft Lager, Vancouver
A crisp and refreshing pale lager with a touch of tart and a touch of sweet. Brewed with Sterling hops from Sartori Cedar Ranch in Chilliwack. Sterling hops are similar to Saaz hops, which give Czech pilsners their snap and pop. This was a gold medal winner for lagers at the 2016 Canadian Brewing Awards.

Big Rock Mosaic Lager

Big Rock Mosaic Lager

Big Rock Mosaic Lager, Calgary/Vancouver
Opening Big Rock Urban Brewery in the heart of Vancouver’s craft beer scene seemed like carrying coals to Newcastle. But it is proving to be a source of good ideas, including this tasty India pale lager designed by Vancouver brewmaster Jody Hammell. The marvelous new Mosaic hop from Yakima is the source of the beer’s rich fruit, pine and herbal flavour and aroma.

Peter Bailey presents a tasting tour of Alberta beers at St. Albert’s Dig In! Festival on October 15. He’s on Twitter and Instagram as @Librarian.

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