Every fall, a team from Tröegs Independent Brewing heads to the Pacific Northwest for one of the most critical steps in brewing: hop selection. Nailing next year’s batches of Nugget Nectar, Perpetual IPA, Nimble Giant and more all starts in the hop fields.
“We go to the Yakima Valley every year to make sure we get the best hops we possibly can,” says brewmaster John Trogner. “We walk the fields, we talk to the farmers. To me, it’s the most important ingredient selection we do.”
Follow this year’s selection through the eyes – and nose – of our brewmaster.
Hop Selection Day 1
Simcoe, one of my favorite hops, was up first. We found aromas of mango, orange creamsicle and a little fermented grapefruit … just what we were looking for. (Sigh of relief.) Perfect for next year’s Nugget Nectar and Nimble Giant. Great start to the trip.
We spent the rest of the day visiting a couple of farms and walking a few experimental fields. Some interesting aromas got the creative juices flowing. Gummy bear, balsamic vinegar, coconut cream (with a hint of orange) and pear. It may be a while until these tiny hills are to the point we can use them, but just walking and talking to the breeder and hearing why they like certain hops was exhilarating.
Hop Selection Day 2
Today was all about Cascade, the foundation of a lot of our beers and the first hop I fell in love with 23 years ago.
It’s great to visit so many farms and appreciate their unique ways of doing things. Segal Ranch, a second-generation, 410-acre farm, is one of my favorites. John Segal greeted us with a story of how his dad planted experimental hop number 56013 back in 1968. Eventually, that hop earned the name “Cascade.”
As we climb around the picker, the racket and rhythmic mechanical movement make you feel part of the action. The drying beds are crossed with ropes, so as the hop bed dries – at just the right time – workers pull up the ropes, causing a slight fluffing and keeping the hops on the bottom from reaching the desired dryness before the ones on top.
We ended with a picnic with our friends from Odell Brewing Co. Great hops. Great people. Awesome day. (Oh, and if you ever make it to Segal Ranch, beware. The peppers sting!)
Hop Selection Day 3
Next-day air is a beautiful thing. We sent 200 pounds of freshly harvested citra back to the brewery. They’re headed into the brew kettle as we speak, and fresh-hop Scratch beers are on the horizon.
Hop Selection Day 4
It’s always interesting to go out to Yakima with three or four other brewers. Each one of us has a different sense of smell. Each of us sees things from a different perspective, and each of us has a different way of communicating our experiences. When it all comes together, when we agree on the best lots – and that was 99 percent of this trip – that’s when I sleep best.
As Tröegs has slowly but steadily grown, one of the ways we’ve stayed true to ourselves is by paying attention to details and working together to do what’s best for our beers … whether it was two of us in 1997 or 200 of us today. At the end of the day, that’s what moves us forward.
To watch a video series on last year’s hop-selection adventure, visit troegs.com/yakima.