Celebrating the season with hard work, a little German engineering, and beer\r\n\r\nCraft beer lovers wait all year for the little window of time that\u2019s upon us right now.\r\n\r\nYou know the signs:\r\n\r\nThe giddy feeling of anticipation. Smiles and laughter and the celebration of tradition and a special time of year. Toasts to good fortune and good friends. Sharing the reward of giving and receiving. The unmistakable fragrances of the season filling the air.\r\n\r\nYep, hop harvest is here! And that means fresh hop beer isn\u2019t far behind.\r\n\r\nHop Valley has been doing this fresh hop thing for a while now. It\u2019s a nod to our Pacific Northwest hops-growing heritage. It\u2019s the continuation of a harvest ritual synonymous with centuries of beer-making. It\u2019s a celebration of Hop Valley\u2019s fans and their passion. It\u2019s also a big high-five to our friends at Umpqua Hops.\r\n\r\nTheir small-but-mighty three-acre hop yard sits on some choice ground in the Coles Valley area outside of Sutherlin, Oregon. Tucked between a massive vineyard and the Umpqua River, the roughly two-dozen rows of hops have been climbing, growing and fattening up in the bright southern Oregon sunshine since spring.\r\n\r\nFor Cody Parker, owner of Umpqua Hops and the surrounding Melrose Vineyards, these hops have a single, glorious purpose.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe\u2019re a boutique farm providing product for one-hundred-percent seasonal fresh hop beer,\u201d he explains.\r\n\r\nSo these hops\u2014mostly Centennial but a few rows of Cascade variety\u2014will never be dried and processed into hop pellets like the vast majority of their cousins in the Pacific Northwest and around the world. Instead, the full, fresh hop cones will be hand-harvested and incorporated into Hop Valley\u2019s brewing process within a matter of hours. The key to getting the most from these fresh hops lies in handling them carefully.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe treat the hops right,\u201d says Eric Dietz, a vineyard manager for Melrose and foreman on the hop-harvesting work.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe don\u2019t harvest any further than we need to at a time,\u201d he explains. \u201cIt\u2019s not like logs where they can sit for a month. The idea is to keep the hops on the bine as long as possible.\u201d\r\n\r\nThat\u2019s because fresh hops are sometimes termed \u201cwet\u201d for a reason: they\u2019re loaded with moisture and their water content can account for up to 80 percent of their total weight. Pack a couple hundred pounds of fresh hops in a bin, add a little late summer heat and you can guess it doesn\u2019t take long for rot and mildew to start taking hold. Exposure also attacks aroma intensity and rapidly breaks down the alpha and beta acids largely responsible for a hop\u2019s bittering qualities.\r\n\r\nThat\u2019s never a concern for Hop Valley, though, where these fresh hops will go from the bine to the boil before afternoon turns to evening.\r\n\r\nAssuming, of course, they can get them down to the ground first.\r\n\r\nSince the hop bines (yep, it\u2019s bines; related to vines but slightly different) have climbed about 20 feet high on cordage carefully placed just for the purpose and have been growing strong and full through the season, they don\u2019t give up their elevated position easily. Pickers use a little technique and a lot of brute force to get the hops down to the ground. Falling on your rear-end isn\u2019t uncommon, especially when first learning, but it\u2019s just part of the charm of harvesting hops the old-fashioned way.\r\n\r\nOnce hand-harvested, the hop bines are brought to a machine that isn\u2019t far off from one of the fantastical contraptions in a Dr. Seuss tale, right down to its name. The \u201cWolf\u201d hopfenpfluckmaschine, more than 50 years old and imported from Germany, \u201csorts and strips\u201d by using a whirling and spinning combination of literally dozens of chains, belts, gears and pulleys attached to a mixture of conveyer belts and screens to send the individual hop cones toward a waiting bin while stems and leaves and debris spit out the other side to be used later for fertilizer.\r\n\r\nNear the bin steadily filling with fresh, fragile cones, a flurry of hop vegetation and delicate petals fill the air like some dreamscape summer-time blizzard that smells of delicious, refreshing beer.\r\n\r\nOn this hazy, warm morning in late August, Trevor Howard\u2014head brewer and co-owner of Hop Valley\u2014arrives to get a first-hand look at the harvest and to personally transport the delicate cargo back to the brewery where it will almost immediately be put in the boil and on its way to craft beer deliciousness. This year, Hop Valley is planning for two batches of Hop Fresh Pale Ale and will need about 800 pounds of fresh, juicy Centennial hops.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe\u2019ll need two bins of hops for each batch,\u201d says Howard. \u201cAnd each batch will produce about 60 barrels of beer.\u201d\r\n\r\nFor those keeping score at home, that\u2019s about 6,500 six-packs of Hop Fresh Pale Ale brewed with all-local hops that went from bine to boil in a matter of hours. And since fresh hops naturally vary a bit from year to year like any crop, the resulting beer is always a one-of-a-kind creation.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s a once-a-year beer,\u201d says Howard. \u201cPeople love the anticipation of being able to drink something that\u2019s different every year.\u201d\r\n\r\nCraft beer fans can hardly wait. They know hop-harvest season is the most wonderful time of the beer.\r\n\r\nCheers!