Once again it’s that time of year…Hops are in full bloom! I took a day trip out to Annen Brothers farms in Mt. Angel, Oregon to check out the harvesting and processing of fresh hops. In the heart of God’s country where hop growing conditions are ideal, I got to witness first hand how the yielding of ten aroma varietals made their way from the fields to your yummy beer. Proprietor John Annen is a fourth generation farmer with a rich family history of hop growing dating back to 1896 when his great grandfather, a German settler came to the area. “They all came with a few hops in their back pocket” says Annen. “They came when the (Benedictan) monks started the abbey.” The monastry that he speaks of is visible from the road outside Annen Bros. farm. “The story I heard” continues Annen, “is they came from Germany and stopped in Wisconsin for some reason, but the Catholic settlers moved on to this area (Mt. Angel) to start their own little community. In those days everybody has hops…or at least a few.” Back then, all hops were picked by hand, a grueling and time consuming labor. After the World War II, one of the first stationary picking machine was invented by a man named Don Auer, to reduce time and energy required to harvest the crops. “We got our first in 1952” says Annen. “During the 50’s, (Annen Brothers) did a lot of custom picking because everybody had a few acres (of hops). They would pick around the clock. Back then, the farm was run by my grandfather, my father and his brothers, hence the name. We used a wood-fired hop drier. There was a few down markets in the 50’s before my time.” John Annen was born in 1957 and remembers the decline in hop growing during this time. “It got to be that the guys who had hop pickers stayed on, while the rest kind of gave it up.” explains Annen. The land where Annen Brothers farm sits today is the original 80 acres of land from when the farm started. Today, according to Annen, there is 270 trellised acres of hop farm land, and he projects that to increase by fifteen acres in 2009. In 1964, the current hop house was built. Before that, Annen Brothers operated out of a leased house just down the road. In 1963, that house’s wood-fired drier caught fire and the house was lost. “There’s been updates and modification as we go along” says Annen. “But here we are today. The original picker we bought in 1952 ran until 1991.” That is when the current line was installed and according to Annen “uses about half as man people and picks about twice as fast.”
Jeff DeSantis, an independent brewer who recently started his own brewery just down the road in Silverton, was in the same boat as many smaller brewers–he was having difficulty sourcing hops for his Seven Brides Brewery. “From Jeff’s house you can see my house” says Annen. “It seemed insane that a brewer who lived so close to the hop farm couldn’t get hops.” In fact, DeSantis, like other brewers, for a while was forced to go out of state to get his supply. The two formally met when DeSantis put an ad in the local paper to sell a cooler. Annen needed such a cooler for hop samples. “Jeff told me about the difficulty for small Oregon breweries to source hops” Annen explains. “I said, ‘Well, let’s see what we can do.” That is when Hops 2 You was born. Currently Hops 2 You supplies more than 16 Oregon brewer’s including Caldera, Laurelwood, Calapooia, Amnesia, and start-ups like Upright Brewing. DeSantis, who plans on a long term relationship with brewers claims “Hop availability is more of a concern than prices. If we don’t have hops, we can’t make beer, if we can’t make beer, we can’t pay our employees, if we can’t pay our employees, they don’t have jobs. It’s pretty basic economics.” Hops 2 You makes use of surplus contracted hops that would normally go to larger breweries and help the Oregon brewers get what they need. Annen Brothers and Hops 2 U grow ten different aromatic varietals including Pearl, Hallertau, Fuggle, Mt. Rainer, Liberty, Newport, Tetnanger, Santiam, and Magnum.
Angelo grew up in Maine and is proud to call New England his original home. Cascadia is now his home. He fell in love with great beer in Oregon, Washington, and Northern California.
He has been a correspondent for the Portland Tribune's Guest on Tap column, LivePDX.com, and has been featured in publications such as Beer Northwest and PDX Magazine. Angelo also has a great interest in independent music, and has been a booker and organizer for shows around the Portland under the name Pop Tomorrow! Angelo garnered much knowledge regarding beer from his experiences homebrewing, working at Belmont Station, Pyramid Brewing, Upright Brewing, By the Bottle, Beer Revolution, Olde Depot Public House, Falling Sky Brewing, Cascade Brewing, and from many many knowledgeable, passionate, and loving people along the way. It is Angelo's mission to bring "infotainment" and "edumation" to the readers of this website. If you have any questions or comments, or would like to contribute, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org