Blue Mountain Brewery invites the community to help harvest its crop of hops
Beer - in its simplest form - includes only four ingredients: water, malted grain, yeast and hops.
Most Virginia breweries buy them from around the world, but at least one grows some of their own hops, and Wednesday was the Annual Community Hop Harvest at Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton.
Blue Mountain is harvesting home-grown hops for its fresh ale. But it has less than a day to get the hops plucked and brewing.
"The secret is to have a good time I think. It smells great, it's fun. It's real easy; just pluck ‘em right off," said Taylor Smack, co-owner of Blue Mountain Brewery.
Smack invited the public to join Blue Mountain's eighth annual Community Hop Harvest. This year's crop of hops spans three acres and is the best the brewery's ever had.
Hops are critical.
"It's technically not legally allowed to be called beer without hops in it. They contain qualities that can help bitter a beer and even if you don't like bitter beer you need hops in it to contrast with some of the sweetness of the malt," Smack said.
Most hops come from outside Virginia and are dried, but this home-grown crop takes a professional grower to oversee and a new machine to help.
"It's a mechanical picker - we still have to cut the vines down and stick them in to strip them off but it's been a great help today," said Stan Driver, who grows hops at Blue Mountain.
After the crops are picked, all 350 pounds will go into tanks where hot, malty liquid will be poured on top. That must happen by 5 a.m. the next day or the ale will go bad, but for now, hop pickers like Don Fowler from North Carolina enjoy a leisurely day.
"We'll pick for two or three hours drink a couple of beers have a nice lunch and then head out," Fowler said.
The fresh ale takes only four weeks until it is ready to drink at Blue Mountain.
The brewery will hold another hop harvest next Sunday, August 18 at Blue Mountain Barrel House. For more information, click here.
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