Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Picking Fresh Hops in Sonoma County

By Jay Brooks
Monday, September 6th, 2010 at 2:00 pm in On Beer.

My next newspaper column — look for it Wednesday — will be about hops in California and the fresh hop beers that will start being available in the coming weeks, as the hop harvest is under way all over the country.

Yesterday, we took our annual family-outing to pick hops at Moonlight Brewery in Sonoma County, California. Founder and brewmaster Brian Hunt has a quarter-acre he planted several years ago after Vinnie Cilurzo, from Russian River Brewing, had to pull out the hops he had at Korbel when he moved the brewery to Santa Rosa. Russian River’s now growing their own and Moonlight has continued to keep his hopfield going, using the hops primarily to brew his fresh hop beer Homegrown.

I’ve been volunteering to help pick hops for a number of years now, and began taking the family a few years ago, recreating how it would have been done in he later Nineteenth century before hops were harvested using machinery. In those days, the entire community would turn out to pick the hops, with the men working the fields, women putting on lavish picnic spreads (and helping with the picking) and the kids pitching in andalso playing among the hopvines. It’s great fun and really does feel like the community coming together to help out. Everyone does their part, and we all talk and laugh while sitting in the circle and picking the hops.

The Abbey de St. Humulus hop field, a.k.a. Moonlight Brewery
The Abbey de St. Humulus hop field, a.k.a. Moonlight Brewery

Through the hop field
The beautiful green of hops in the field, ripe for the picking.

Alice outstanding in her field ... hop field, that is.
My daughter Alice outstanding in her field … hop field, that is.

Hops as far as the eye can see
Hops on the vine, as far as the eye can see.

Hops flowers on the vine
A close-up of the hop cones, the flowers that will be picked and added to the beer.

The the clipping are bundled up, as demonstrated here by Brian Hunt
Moonlight brewmaster Brian Hunt holding a bundle of hops, freshly cut down for picking.

Picking the hops
The hopvines are placed in the center of a circle, where people work on each vine, pulling the hops off by hand and putting them into a plastic bucket.

My wife Sarah and her hop vine
My wife Sarah showing off her hop-picking skills.

Below is a slideshow of our family outing to pick hops. This Flickr gallery is best viewed in full screen. To view it that way, after clicking on the arrow in the center to start the slideshow, click on the button on the bottom right with the four arrows pointing outward on it, to see the photos in glorious full screen. Once in full screen slideshow mode, click on “Show Info” to identify each photo.

And below is a short video of cutting down the hops and taking them to be picked.

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  • John McNulty

    I brew beer and would love to meet you and possibly purchase. I’m putting together my version of a Pliney Younger, My plan is to just brew 2, 5 gallon batches, but using hops from two seperate regions in the county.
    I’m only needing 4 ounces each and I would trade you for some of the finished brew.
    I have other beers as well I would love to share.
    My cell is 707-695-4348, I live in Windsor.
    Best Regards, John McNulty