Despite hops’ vital role in beer and the rich history of hop farming in the Fraser Valley, the crop hasn’t seen much production in the region until recently. With the resurgence of craft beer in British Columbia, a number of small-scale hopyards have been established across the province. One of these new yards can be found right at the UBC Farm.
The UBC Farm hopyard was established as an undergraduate Self-Directed Study by Agroecology student Scott Bell. As a homebrewer, Scott sought to better understand what it takes to operate a small-scale hopyard in a mixed farm setting and hoped to identify hop varieties that were particularly suited to Vancouver’s damp, coastal climate. Taking advice from Left Fields Hops Farm in Sorrento, BC, Scott broke ground in 2010 to make a hopyard at UBC Farm a reality.
Hops are the flower of the female hop plant, Humulus lupulus, a perennial vine that can grow up to 6 metres in a single year. Once harvested, these aromatic, cone-shaped flowers are used by brewers during the beer making process. Hops added to the brew kettle at the beginning of the boiling process give bitterness to the beer while hops added at the end of the boil contribute to the beer’s floral aroma and flavour. Hops are featured front and centre in many Pacific Northwestern pale ales and India pale ales (IPAs), providing a character that can range from piney to citrus.
While it is not yet clear which varieties thrive in Vancouver’s climate, the hopyard saw its first harvest this past season. The majority of the crop was dried, to prolong shelf life, and packaged for sale. However, hops can also be used fresh in wet-hopped beers to create a distinctive flavour, although this is only possible during the early autumn when hops are harvested. With the growth in small hopyards across the continent, these harvest ales have found growing popularity amongst brewers and beer enthusiasts. Following a new USDA rule change for companies that label their beer as organic, there is also an increasing demand for organic hops production.
Due to the short shelf life of fresh hops, the cones must be used within hours of picking to ensure quality. Though challenging to coordinate, this offered the UBC Brewing Club a unique opportunity to make a wet-hopped beer with hops grown a few minutes away from their brewing space in the Student Union Building. The remainder of the dried hops were sold at the UBC Farm Market to Vancouver homebrewers and herbalists, who used the flowers to make everything from chocolate stout beers to sleepy pillows.
The UBC Farm’s hopyard is still young but should achieve full production in the 2012 season as the plants reach maturity. The 70 plants at the farm include varieties such as Centennial, Cascade, Hallertauer, Magnum, Mt. Hood, Nugget, Fuggle, Golding, Zeus, and Chinook. These varieties provide a range of flavours, aromas, and bitterness that brewers can mix and match to create the types of beers they favour, while adding to the diverse range of perennial crops grown at the UBC Farm.