The idea of healthy rows of hops growing in amongst the granite outcrops of Northern Ontario is a vision Lake of the Woods Brewing Company is excited to get behind. Thanks to the University of Guelph Agriculture program, and the interest of the Rainy River Future Development Corporation, research is being conducted on the growing conditions and possibilities for hops and other crops in this region.
On September 18th, a few LOWBrewCo brewers and myself visited a farm in Emo, Ontario. The goal was to learn more about the hop project first hand, and help with the community harvest of the cones. We also intended to collect as many hops as we were welcome to, and bring them back to our brewhouse for our first ever Wet Hopped Brew!
To make things even more fun, we invited our friends the Dryden Beer Enthusiasts to participate in the harvesting and the brewing. While some of us were at the farm in Emo, the Dryden Homebrewers went to Oxford and harvested hops courtesy of Janice Irvine. Having the privilege to source from both a friends backyard, and a government-supported agriculture program was awesome, as fresh hops are much less potent than pellets, so brewing with them requires a lot more volume. Coming back to the brew house and pouring locally sourced cones into the tanks the same day strengthened our resolve that NWO is a great place to grow hops.
The Cascade and Centennial hops are now into their 2nd year of perennial growth on the hop yard in Emo Ontario. “The crops have proven to grow well, as they are situated in good soil, and clay (or) loam, and thrive in our hot summers,” states Research Technician for University of Guelph, Kim Jo Bliss, “however,” she admits, “the hops have come up against the usual farming challenges of unpredictable weather, and funding, especially if developing and systemizing the production is to be considered.”
Kim Jo actually suggested that Lake of the Woods Brewing Company was one of the main motivations behind putting in a hop yard at all! The Rainy River Economic Development Office approached her about the project in response to the growth of LOWBrewCo, and the understanding that our beer company values all things local!
Hops grow very tall, climbing strings, fences, whatever is available. It was pleasing to watch the small scale collection of hop vines. Kim Jo, and her assistant Jenna Jarvis used a long extension cutter while standing on the truck bed to cut the entire vines of hops down. The vines were then brought inside a shop space, where about 12 of us worked together to pluck the healthy cones from the vine.
“This station focuses on adapted crop species including spring wheat, barley, oats, canola, soybeans, flax and perennial forages such as alfalfa, clovers and grasses. Research areas include cultivar evaluation, crop nutrition and new species evaluation. Research has also been conducted on renewable fuel and fibre crops, such as hybrid poplar, hemp, switch grass and miscanthus.”—Kim Jo Bliss
It was special to get out to Emo and spend some time with the farmers there who are equally curious about what hop production in the area could mean. As Kim stated it; “People in Agriculture are tough, smart, determined and a great bunch of people to work with.”
We at LowBrewCo look forward to future opportunities to reduce our supply chain by collecting hops directly from the farm. Sourcing hops locally would also be a small step toward climate action; reducing our shipping needs and therefore our carbon footprint. It is exciting to dream about local hops becoming a consistent part of our story, and at the very least, to plan out another Wet Hopped Brew for harvest time next year!
Our Wet Hop Beer is now available in small batch supply, and it is titled 49° ESB Wet Hopped Extra Special Bitter Ale. Come get your hands on a pint, and see what aromas you pick up on! Be it the distinctively plant-like flavours commonly experienced with Wet Hopped beers, or all new aromas that will signify the unique experience of beer made with hops grown right here in Northern Ontario.
Feeling hazy about the slight difference between terms like dry hopping, dried hops, fresh hops and wet hops? Let’s take a second to clear that up;
Dry hopping is when brewers add hops after the boil, which gives the brew more hop aroma and flavour without added bitterness.
Dried hops, are hops that have been kiln-dried in some way or another, and pelletized. Properly stored, dried, pelleted hops can last a number of years.
Fresh hops are recently harvested, dried, whole cones that are put to use right away, hence fresh.
Wet Hops are simply hops that have not gone through the drying process. They are not exactly ‘wet’ for say, but they certainly need to be used shortly after harvest.