WHITEFISH – It came in by the bucket, box and bag and the ritual was always the same earlier this week at the Great Northern Brewing Company’s Hop Swap: Marcus Duffy, Joe Barberis and Andy McQuary would lean in, grab a handful of hops and immerse their faces in them.
The ritual was part of what Duffy, the brewery’s general manager, hopes will become an annual tradition. Locals trade fresh-picked hops, which the Whitefish-based brewer uses to make its seasonal Frog Hop Pale Ale, for beer. The small batch brew is unique in that instead of using dried hops, which are easier to obtain and store, it uses freshly picked local hops.
“It produces a freshness that coincides with the harvest that you can’t get the rest of the year,” Duffy said.
Barberis, Great Northern’s head brewer, first came up with the idea to make a fresh hop beer a few years ago and since then employees have picked hops from a local farm. Hops are a ground ivy, which are used in the beer-making process to give it flavor. To extract the flavor, the small plant is boiled in wort, which is the resulting liquid from the mashing process.
This year the brewery asked the public to bring in hops they’ve grown to use in the annual fresh hopped ale. Every year one batch is made, which usually results in 80 kegs and should be available Oct 6.
“The more fresh hops we can get into the beer, the more we can showcase these fresh local hops,” McQuary, who is the assistant brewer, said.
The 54 pounds of hops the brewery received last week will be combined with the 72 pounds the brewery already picked. More hops, and different types, mean more flavor and Marcus said since the harvest is different every year it truly is a unique seasonal brew.
“It will be combined based on portions, but you’ll get some earthy flavors out of the nugget (hops) and the cascade (hops) will have a more citrus flavor,” McQuary explained.
The traditional nugget is what Elizabeth Quinn brought in on Tuesday night and before it was picked to be brewed, the hop’s vines were providing shade at her home in Kalispell.
“I didn’t even know what a hop looked like,” Quinn said laughing.
It wasn’t until a friend brought her a newspaper clipping about the hop swap that she decided to head to the brewery. Earlier in the day Quinn picked the vine clean and brought the hops in. Once at Great Northern’s taproom, the brewers weighed the harvest and made an offer.
“We’re going to treat it like a real barter,” Duffy said. “We’ll negotiate with them.”
For Quinn’s two pounds worth of hops, Duffy offered a voucher for a couple of bottles of beer.
“I want my own beer,” she told Duffy, referring to Frog Hop.
For that she’ll have to wait a few weeks until the brewery’s batch of Frog Hop Pale Ale is finished.
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