Last weekend the small craft brewery on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula held their seasonal hop harvest, with the gates to their estate hop farm open for anyone to come along and help pick hops.
There are no special requirements to participate in this experience. No PR passes, competition winners, special access or knowing the right person, even no need for brewing skills or beer knowledge. All that you require to participate is a pair of hands and transport down to Red Hill.
The owners of Red Hill Brewery, Dave and Karen Golding, utilise the handy people’s army to quickly pick their hops. A day of Red Hill hop picking simply means sitting amongst the bines, gathered around buckets, chatting and sharing beers with the brewers, whilst casually collecting hop flowers.
For the first time the Red Hill hop picking coincided with a long weekend and an open invitation to join in. Previously, hop pickings were held mid-week and required interested pickers to pre-book so that the right size group could be catered for, which limited the numbers to first-in-best-dressed. This allowed the Red Hill team to work around the logistics of running their restaurant café on weekends. This year, with the café no longer operating full time, the invitation and expectations were open.
A small group trickled in from late morning on Saturday, as a recent late-summer heat wave continued to scorch Victoria. With only the most basic of instruction required, we started removing hop flowers from the bines, which were cut down from their trestles by Dave and their young neighbour, James, as we progressed.
Hop picking was a therapeutic action in this setting. It was not at all labour intensive, especially for anyone who finds pleasure in the aroma of fresh hops. As we picked, the group shared tales of beer journeys and experiences as well as philosophising over the hops’ journey from the picker’s hand to the beer that we will soon be consuming.
On this occasion the collection of pickers was a mix of both first timers and returning pickers from previous years. The group included professional brewers, home brewers, craft beer lovers, locals and fans and friends of Red Hill Brewery. Also joining the pickers for the first time was Dan Rickard, of Calibre Craft Beer Trading, who distributes Red Hill beers in Queensland. It was Dan’s first visit to his client’s brewery and an experience he will now often recall as he sells the in-demand Red Hill beers across his home state. Karen and Dave also joined in on the picking, sharing insights of their brewing business and beer loves.
The brewery’s café, open especially for the long weekend, was bustling with visitors. It quickly filled to capacity as tourists and locals sought beery refreshment from the day’s heat. The curiosity of many visitors drew them to the pickers on their way from the carpark.
“What’s that?” they often asked, showing no knowledge of the role hops play in making beer.
They then received a short lesson in the purpose and process of hops in beer from the plucky pickers.
Pickers were treated to several rounds of beers handed out by Dave Golding, including their seasonal Belgian Blonde that is just about to be released to the market. This year the Belgian Blonde has been brewed with a different strain of yeast, providing a more lush fruity flavour than previous years, much to Dave’s liking.
In contrast to the recent positive crop reports from Hop Products Australia, it has been a slow year for Red Hill’s hops. The crop yield was relatively low in contrast to previous years, possibly due to the long dry and warm summer that is still continuing across Victoria.
The Red Hill hop varieties grown this year were Tettnang, Willamette and Goldings. The Tettnang hops provided the highest yield and most well formed hop cones, whilst the Willamette were generally small and loose.
The picked hops will be taken off site to be racked and dried and then used for late hopping across a number of Red Hill Brewery’s beers.
Many of the hops that we collected will go into Red Hill’s next seasonal release, the Hop Harvest Ale, an ESB that will be released a month or two later than usual this year. The brewer’s schedule has been pushed back a little this year by recent demand for their core range beers and other influences of operating a small regional brewery, where producing consistent high quality beers is their primary objective.
Dave explained that because the specific alpha acids of their estate hops are unknown, their estate hops are only really useful for various late hopping uses, adding to the beer’s aroma. Dave also provided the pickers with a tour of his brewhouse, walking us through a standard week for the Red Hill brewing team.
At the end of the day the pickers thanked Karen and Dave for the enjoyable day and many of the home brewers left with full cups of hops for a little extra-late hopping of their homebrew.
Overall, it was a delightful experience picking hops for Red Hill, from which even the heat could not detract. I highly recommend attending in future years to discover another one of the simple joys that is brought to us by beer.