Saturday, October 1, 2011

Chinooks Return To Oregon

Here’s the deal. Jim likes to catch fish and I like to eat ‘em, especially fish loaded with Omega 3s, like King Salmon, also known as Chinooks.

A few years ago we learned that the endangered Chinook, allowed to fatten up on plankton and moderately free from the threats of hooks, nets and overheated salt water, were predicted to make a record run in Oregon. And come back they did, more than doubling their population.

Jim didn’t go out to the Columbia or Deschutes to rope a “June hog,” but we both took comfort in knowing the mighty Chinook were thriving in the clean cold Columbia, as well as it’s Oregon tributaries.

It wasn't lost on us that meanwhile, in the Willamette Valley, another fatty packed with acid and oil, the Chinook hop,  was nowhere to be seen. Gone. Flushed out. Moved to Washington. We learned that Chinook hadn’t been grown in Oregon for about 20 years, for no particular reason. In our quest to diversify hop crops in Oregon, this glaring absence was simply unacceptable.

We contacted our friends at the Coleman Farms and they said” bring it on.” So in 2010, the same year the Chinook salmon made their triumphant return to Oregon in record numbers, we planted Chinook hops down on the famous "alluvial farm," within casting distance of the Willamette River.

We’re glad we did. Sure, it’s not the easiest hop to grow, as it has only moderate disease resistance to Downy mildew. But the Colemans -- burly, smart and themselves genetically designed it seems to thrive and win in any environment, enjoy a challenge. With about 80 years of hop growing experience in the family, the Colemans were not going to let the threat of mildew deter them, especially in view of the major advances made to combat DM in the past 12 years.

For a baby year harvest, we’re very, very pleased. The yield was just a tad under our projections, but when you consider we just weathered the coldest and wettest spring in Oregon’s recorded history, we’re high-fiving.  Not breaking metatarpels, but slamming the palms with sufficient force to produce an audible "smack." Looking forward, as the Chinooks continue dig in, we’re optimistic about next year’s mature harvest.
Would you look at those side arms! 
A fat, healthy row of Chinook hops, flanked by
hop blood brothers John and Tom Coleman,
down on the Alluvial Farm near
Independence, Oregon (August 2011).
More importantly, the brewers who’ve rubbed and sniffed our 2011 Chinook harvest have been delighted. The Chinook, at around 13.6% alpha acid normally, was once used primarily by industrials, such as Coors, as a bittering hop. Today, this dual purpose Golding/Brewers Gold derivative has also shown value for it’s aroma profile, which registers from herbal to smoky to grapefruity (see Stone’s flagship “Arrogant Bastard,” as an example).

That in mind, we’re not uncomfortable with the alpha acid of our 2011 baby crop, which came in just under 10%. Several brewers have noticed a slightly improved herbal and citrusy aroma than what they’re accustomed to -- they're happy, we're happy. Shortly, we’ll have the numbers on the total oil, which can range anywhere from 1.24 to 2.63 ml/100 g. A rich, resiny hop with an underrated aroma that, we believe, is well suited for both Oregon’s Willamette Valley and the craft brewer’s fermentation tanks.

As the saying goes, the only shot you never make is the one you don’t take. Indie Hops is dedicated to expanding the menu of aroma and dual purpose hops in the Valley, a mission which we hope and believe will help rebuild Oregon’s pre-eminence as a leading supplier of hops while also bolstering new beer flavors for craft brewers.

In the old days, the white water rivers of the Pacific Northwest were so thick with salmon returning home to spawn according to legend you could walk across without getting your feet wet. Next year, we're anglin' for a boomer crop of greenies so big and fat with oil they blot out that famously hot Oregon sun.

Octobert 1, 2011

Who Dat? 
Why, that’s Jim Koch, the irrepressible and boundless craft beer Ubermensch. What’s he doing? Why he’s doing what he does best: inspiring, perspiring and pontificating, while the dangling Chinooks whisper: catch me, if you can.  (Alluvial Farm, August 2011)

There He Is Again! 
Jim Koch and hop enchantress Gayle Goschie, down on the farm, while the Nuggets pour in like the nearby Silver Falls.  Silverton, Or (August 2011).
He’s Everywhere! 
Jim Koch breeding good will with hopmeister Dr. Shaun Townsend, Ph.D, at the OSU hop farms in Corvallis, Oregon. August 2011.