Fresh Hop Harvest in Wisconsin
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
    When European settlers (predominately Germans) arrived in Wisconsin in the mid-1800's, they found all the required elements to make beer - particularly lager beer.  The abundant fresh clean water supply was the anchor for what became one of America's dominant brewing states.

    The climate and soil were similar to those of their homeland, so barley and hops were soon growing in the countryside feeding the breweries that were built along Wisconsin rivers and lakes.  Cold Wisconsin winters froze the rivers and lakes providing a source of ice that was harvested and stored in caves and cellars year-round to provide the cool temperatures needed to produce lager beer.  However, following years of poor farming practices, diseases and insects affected the hop and barley crops. When prohibition hit and the local breweries closed or stopped making beer, hop farming in Wisconsin disappeared.

    The recent popularity of craft beer has caused a resurgence of hop growing in Wisconsin.  In the mid 2000's several different groups of farmers across the state began a renaissance of hop growing.  Shown here are pictures of a hop yard near Rosholt, WI, as well as the 2013 harvest in early September.

    Hops are grown on twine attached to wires strung between telephone poles.  Vines can grow up to 30 feet long!  When the cones are ready for harvest, the vines are cut and transported to a harvesting machine.  Time is of the essence, as hops deteriorate quickly after the vines are cut.  After harvesting, where cones are separated from the vines and the leaf material by a special machine, the green cones are transferred to an oast where they dry for several days.  After drying, hops can be baled for use as whole cones or shredded, pelletized and vacuum-packed for long-term storage.

    Because of the proximity to local hops, several Wisconsin breweries have started making wet or green hop beers. This requires that the hops be taken directly from the harvester to the brewery for immediate processing.  Green hops impart unique flavors to beer not possible with dry hops.  These beers are only available at harvest time of the year and are in limited supply.

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