Hop Harvest 2012 at Sodbuster Farms with Full Sail – A Slice of Hop Heaven

By Aaron Miles

One of the best ways to gain an appreciation for good craft beer is to experience where its ingredients come from. Hood River, Oregon’s Full Sail Brewing has always used locally sourced ingredients, and on Monday they bussed a few dozen lucky folks out to Sodbuster Farms near Salem, Oregon to see — and smell — the annual hop harvest for ourselves. A visit to a hops farm is like walking into hop heaven. From the minute we got off the bus, we were surrounded by hops in their various stages of processing – from bines in the field to the flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel of the freshly poured finished product in Full Sail’s Hopfenfrisch (Fresh Hop) Pilsner. Hop bines ready to processUpon arrival we first saw truckloads of freshly harvested bines being trucked into a warehouse where the nuggets were removed from the bine with the help of a large processing machine. We followed the conveyer belt of these strobiles to the drying platforms, down to storage where the mostly dried hops were moved to a bagging room, then bagged and put into cold storage.

The magical forest of hops at Sodbuster Farms

We then drove to the fields where we were dwarfed beneath 30 foot tall hop bines towering above us while ripe, juicy humulus lupulus cones hung all around, ripe for the picking. It is harvest time though, so what momentary hopland serenity was to be had was necessarily disrupted by the sounds of the harvest. We stood close at hand while a huge harvesting machine cut the bines from thier supports and workers helped guide them into a truck to begin their journey from bine to brew. These massive seas of pretty green are beautiful, but what really sticks with you, quite literally, is that powerful floral hop aroma many of us hoppy beer lovers have come to crave. It’s hard to describe the power of this smell unless you’ve actually been near this quantity of aromatic varietals. Deliciously citrusy dank and green, all-consuming, breathtaking and mouthwatering.

All the hop action made us thirsty, so fortunately Full Sail provided their excellent new LTD 06 dark lager and samples of  fresh hop Pilsner, Hopfenfrisch, pulled fresh from the zwickel. This beer will be at the upcoming fresh hop tastivals and we got to try it in its early unfinished, non-carbonated form. It’s crisp, clean bitterness and fresh hop bite to our pallates that complemtned our resin crusted hands and fresh hop aroma all around us.

L-R: Sodbusters second generation family leader Doug Weathers, Full Sail's Executive Brewmaster Jamie Emerson, co-founder and CEO Irene Firmat and Marketing Manager Sandra Evans.

While those fragrant little nuggets were the stars of the day, it was meeting the people behind the process, behind the beer and the people who serve and distribute it that really make a lasting impression. We spoke to the farmers and Full Sail staff about both of their crafts and one thing that cemented itself in my mind is both the farmers love of what they do and Full Sail’s passion for their craft. We heard executive brewmaster Jamie Emerson talking about the fresh hop Pilsner made with hops picked three weeks earlier and I had an opportunity to have a nice talk with Full Sail CEO Irene Firmat. Her passion for what they do and for beer in general was contagious and inspiring. She talked about the familial spirit and camaraderie in the community. With leadership like hers, it’s no wonder that this company has such a great staff and puts out a consistently formidable product. Full Sail generously says thanks to their supporters and customers with a fun day on the farm. This really is a group that – as the bottle says – is “stoked to brew.” They’re stoked about the brews and what they do, and really stoked to get us stoked about them too. By the end of the day, as the tired lot of us left hop heaven and rolled back to Portland – we were all pretty stoked about their brews too.

Big shout outs to the many people I caught up with or met for the first time: the Roscoe’s guys, AJ from Uptown Market (who gives great boat rides), the New School crew, the Montage servers who “sell a shitload of Session,” and the Columbia Distribution folks – who get those loads of Full Sail to us, and the many many others. Cheers!