Hop harvest is usually a time when many of the world’s brewers converge in the major hop-growing areas to hold, rub, sniff, and select their favorite crops and varieties. However, as the pandemic continues to spread in the United States, stress the hospitality industry, and limit unnecessary travel—all in a year without trade shows—farmers and producers have been presenting what they can to brewers online.
Obviously, watching farmers smash hops and smell them on screen isn’t anything like doing it in person. On the other hand, the wide variety of virtual activities has provided a rare opportunity for brewers on a tighter budget—or anyone else who’s never been to harvest—to learn more about the farms and see what goes on behind the scenes.
For example, Yakima Chief Hops—the grower-owned network that is the country’s largest hop company—has been hosting its Virtual Harvest throughout September via its Hop & Brew School website. Events have included everything from a tour of its sensory suite, the YCH “Aroma Dome”—including aroma samples in bullet cases and speakeasy-like hatches for blind sniffing—to a brief spotlight on Yakima-area taco trucks. The videos are also available on the company’s YouTube channel.
Even some brewery hop selections have gone online. Enthusiasts of Russian River Brewing were able to join a September 18 Facebook Live broadcast as Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo—in California, where they had received fresh cuts from the harvest—distantly joined Jason Perrault of Perrault Farms in Washington to evaluate them.
There is also something happening this month for beer’s other major crop. The Craft Maltsters Guild is hosting its inaugural Craft Malt Week from September 27 to October 3. The goal of the event is to tell craft malt’s “grain to glass” story, and the “role it plays in connecting craft beverages to local agriculture,” according to the guild. Events include virtual malthouse tours and an online screening of a documentary, 100 Year Lease, co-produced by Root Shoot Malting in Loveland, Colorado, highlighting the importance of family farms.
Craft Malt Week also marks the one-year anniversary of the guild’s Craft Malt Certified Seal program. Breweries or distilleries that get at least 10 percent of their annual malt from craft maltsters are eligible for the company certifications. They also have the option of certifying individual products that get at least 10 percent of their malt from a craft maltster and then using the seal to communicate that connection to drinkers. “During our first year, we have achieved ‘coast to coast’ utilization and are fast approaching our goal of 100 brewery and distillery members in our first year,” the guild says about the seal program.