Fresh Hops in Eastern Oregonan Interview with Beer Valley's Pete Ricks

Beer Valley Brewing in Ontario, Oregon may be known for being the state’s easternmost brewery (it is closer to Boise, Idaho than it is to Portland), but what really defines the brewery is brewer Pete Ricks’ love for brewing boldly hopped beers. We caught up with Mr. Ricks amidst hops harvest season to get more insight on his brewery that is nearly 400 miles from Portland to learn of the recent hoppenings and goings-on at Beer Valley.

You are a busy man, Pete, especially during the hops harvest season. What does the process of selecting hop and brewing your specialty fresh hopped beers look like?

Pete Ricks: All of our fresh hop brews start with a fresh hop tea in the mash tun before mashing in.  The other pics are from the hop farms.  We are the only brewery to use fresh Treasure Valley hops in our fresh hop beers, but then again, we are the only micro in the Treasure Valley so it only seems appropriate.  Most of the varieties grown in the TV are high alpha so they fit right in with our beers.  We started the beers this year at the beginning of September with the Chinook harvest.  We brewed the Leafer (Madness) with over 200 pounds of screaming fresh Chinook hop cones.  In years past, we went to the hop farm the evening before the brew but this year we went out in the mornings and brewed the beers within hours of the hops coming off the vines.  Made for a longer day but the beers turned out really nice so I hope it was worth it.  We were on the second batch of Leafer around 2:00 AM  when the hop farmer called and said the Cascades were coming off for the HWY 19.  The Cascades are kind of limited in the TV so we went over first thing in the AM after the Leafer brew was over, got the hops, slept a little, then started right in on HWY 19 brew.  It was some heavy laboring on Labor Day weekend at Beer Valley but you have to brew the beers when the hops are available.

The HWY 19 is a new beer for you. What can you tell us about this brew?

PR: As for HWY 19, it is an experimental fresh hop beer brewed with 100% fresh hops, but no kettle hop additions.  It has a Pale Ale malt base.  I changed the recipe about three times in mid brew so it really was experimental.  It has some BU (bittering units), not much, but what I like about it is the unique, citrusy tanginess.  It was brewed with 80 pounds of fresh Cascades and 20 pounds of fresh Zeus.  All draft, no bottles.   As for the name, I didn’t know what to call the beer until I was out in hop country and saw a road sign with hop fields on each side of the road.  Highway 19 runs right through the heart of Treasure Valley hop country so it was an easy choice for a name.

You are well known for your flagship beer, Black Flag Imperial Stout. Is this a beer you will be releasing a fresh hopped version of this year?

PR: After (Fresh Hopped Leafer Madness and HWY 19) were done, we waited for some Zeus to brew the Black Flag with but the Zeus supply was tight this year and it turned out we couldn’t get any Zeus.  So we had to wait a little longer and use Bravo hops.  I was pleased with how the Black Flag turned out with the different hops.  Different flavor than in the past with the Zeus, but I think it tastes greener this year with the Bravo’s.

What does the harvesting schedule run like in Treasure Valley in Eastern Oregon?

PR: The hop harvest starts here in the TV the last week of August and goes 24 hours a day until all the hops are harvested from the fields, dried in the kilns, then baled and shipped to the warehouse. It is an unpredictable process with machine breakdowns, delays, etc. so you never know what you are going to encounter until you actually get there.

When will people get their first taste of your fresh hops beers?

PR: The beers will be available at the fresh hop festivals in Oregon, the Yakima Fresh Hop festival on October 2nd, and on tap at finer establishments in Oregon, Washington and California.  The Leafer Madness 22’s were released the third week of September.  The Black Flag 22’s are conditioning right now and will be available towards the first or second week of October.  Both will be available at the finer bottle shops in the above mentioned states.

Any other news with Beer Valley Brewing, new beers coming down the pipeline?

PR: We’re in the process of doubling capacity, and as a result, you can expect some one-offs and more new beers from Beer Valley.  The first new beer, Jackalope Imperial Pumpkin Porter, will be released within the next couple of weeks.  The new capacity will allow us to expand production of flagship beers like Black Flag and Leafer Madness, and will also allow us to brew more of the highly popular Black Madness, which might just be the next bottle release.