Heaven in the hop yard?
Rick Squires now tends a quarter acre of heaven on earth, it seems.
This year, his relatively-new business, “The Twisted Bine” might produce as much as 300 pounds of organic hops on that quarter acre, right here in Monument.
And that is where the heaven part comes in — almost all of it, will be used to make local beer.
“With the trend to go local, and the difficulty of getting certified organic hops, that is precisely why I got interested,” said Squires last week in the hop yard.
Squires interest, translated into other’s interest.
“I already have 180 pounds of it sold,” he said of this year’s crop, of which, local breweries have spoken for most of that.
Pikes Peak Brewing Company has in the largest order, perhaps simply because its experience last year, and a local concoction produced with wonderful results.
“Yea, it really turned out well,” said Chris Wright, founder of Pikes Peak Brewing, of the ‘America the Pale’ pale ale made with a portion of Squires’ crop last year.
Hops are called ‘wet’ hops if it finds its way into beer within 24 hours, and ‘fresh’ hops if it makes that same leap within seven days.
And that is when the hops are most potent, aromatic and flavorful. Many breweries end up using dried hops or frozen hops in their processes, but with the move to everything local, local, local, a market exits for all the certified organic ‘wet” Cascade Hops rick Squires can grow.
As an engineer, (he was a former project manager for G.E. Johnson when it built the World Arena) it was also the organic certification that appealed to his sense of record keeping.
Extensive records of organic fertilizer, growing plans, and of all the ground in use, as well as any methods of ridding the plants of pests, water used to irrigate, were just some data required to get the California Certified Organic Farmers (C.C.O.F) designation to apply to his hops efforts. Because he has owned the location where the hop yard was created for more than 28 years, and generally keeps pretty good records, he was able to do so.
“I even had to identify what the alpaca’s were eating before creating the alpaca fertilizer I was using,” according to Squires.
The whole yard, of course, is designed with sustainability in mind. The eighteen-foot poles that support the paper ropes that the hops climb (during peak growing periods, they can grow as much as a foot per day) is made from recycled fire sprinkler systems (from mostly local buildings) and he even uses a solar pump to bring water from his pond to the bines.
Much of the country’s hop crop comes from the Pacific Northwest and particularly Washington and Oregon. The Cascade variety that Squires grows is suited for the 7,000-feet elevation here in Monument. Educating himself for the past few years in the science and art of hop growing, (he also has a honey-producing bee operation on the same property) he said he liked the idea of having a big party to bring in the hop harvest.
When he first planted the rhizomes to the start the hops, he began thinking of a community potluck. Last year, with his first real crop, a blue grass band, good food and friends, it became a reality and great success. So much so, that he needed to print tickets this year, to keep a handle on it.
The second annual Hop Picking Festival is scheduled for Sunday, August 25, and includes hop picking and music at the hop yard from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Squires emphasized that this a private affair requiring a ticket (which is free) but other events, such as a beer brewing demo and music, food and beverages at HiCountry Home Brew and Gifts from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and picking and brewing at the Pikes Peak Brewing Company’s brewery from noon to 3 p.m. are open to the public.
“We will bring some of the bines down and strip them here at a table, and have a brewing demonstration, with music from a band,” says Woody Woodworth, owner of HiCountry Home Brew and Gifts.
And of heaven and the hop yard, maybe it is as the famous old quote, often misattributed to Ben Franklin says, “Beer is proof that God loves us, and wants us to be happy.”