Friday Jul 24 2009
Success is brewing for local hop farm
By: Michelle Miller-Carl Journal News Editor
Auburn Alehouse among breweries buying crop
Next time you’re sipping on a big, frothy-headed brew at the Auburn Alehouse, you may have Scott Jordan to thank. His Jordan Family Farm in Penryn supplies hops, the aromatic flower that give beer its bitterness, to local breweries including the Alehouse, River City Brewing Co. in Sacramento and Placerville Brewing Co. Currently in the midst of its second harvest, Jordan Family Farm is the first commercial hops grower in Placer County. “From what I’m told, we’re the third or fourth largest in California, which is funny in itself because we only have one acre,” Jordan said. Harvest began Wednesday, and yielded 75 pounds of the cascade variety. There are 13 varieties on the farm, which will be ready to harvest within the next several weeks. Jordan Family Farm in Penryn grows grapes, peaches, mandarins and more. But what really gets people buzzed is the hops. The family, which includes Jordan’s wife Terri, son Brett, 9, and daughter Hannah, 11, bought the farm in 1999. Hops are climbing plants grown on a trellis-like system. Jordan coaxes the bines (they’re like vines, but spelled with a b, like for beer) to twist up a length of twine that is suspended from wires. Mature plants can climb as high as 20 feet. To see if the hops are ready, Jordan rolls the flower, called a cone, between his hands, releasing its pungent scent. When the flower falls apart easily, it’s time to harvest. To do that, he cuts the bine and pulls it through a stripping device somewhat resembling a guillotine (Jordan’s experimenting with calling it the “Hopitine” or maybe the “Hopinator”). The device strips the leaves and cones off. “Don’t want to waste any sips,” Jordan said, tossing some runaway cones into the collection bin. The novelty of harvesting what will become a frosty cold one is not lost on patrons. Last year when a group of beer aficionados came out to harvest, Jordan said one guy was absolutely giddy and had to whip out his cell phone and call his buddy. “He said, ‘Dude, you won’t believe where I am now. I’m on a ladder picking hops,” Jordan recalled. Jordan tapped into the hops market last year after area breweries came to him looking for a local crop. Brian Ford, founding brewer at Auburn Alehouse, was one of them. He used last year’s crop to make a harvest ale (“it has a real green hop flavor,” Ford said) and the Un-Obtainium IPA that’s still on tap. He said he would purchase around 40 pounds of hops this year and loves that the hops can go straight from the farm to the kettle in 30 minutes. “Having a grower this close to us, we can really take advantage of the freshness,” Ford said. “Our beers are different and unique in that they’re fresh. You’re drinking right out of tank, there’s no born-on date necessary. You’re not going to get any fresher than coming here. Plus it doesn’t hurt that (Scott’s) a really nice guy.” On Wednesday, Jordan invited members of Auburn Alehouse’s “Mug Club” to help with the harvest and see where their favorite beer starts. “It’s a fun way to get them involved with the early stages,” Ford said. “It’s neat to get insight on what happens to produce beer and what raw materials it takes.” Jordan encourages clubs like this and home brewers to experience the brewing process from the very beginning. Although he doesn’t know much about the brewing process himself, Jordan wants people to know where their food comes from — be it a peach, an egg or the lager you throw back after work. “Beer’s a journey, not a destination,” he said. The Journal’s Michelle Miller-Carl can be reached at email@example.com. ---------- Feeling hoppy? For more information on joining a hop harvest, call (916) 663-9759 or visit jordanfamilyfarms.com.