LAKE COUNTY, Calif .– The Scotts Valley area in Lake County was once inundated with hops, so much so that an elevation of land on 11th Street in Scotts Valley Road was known colloquially as “Brewery Hill” .
Although the days of commercial hop cultivation in Lake County have come to an end, a Lake County farmer is doing his part to bring back the aromatic glory of those days.
Alex Vollelunga of Valley Long Farms in Lakeport has been growing hops on his property for four years. Vollelunga inherited the farm with his organic nut orchard from his grandfather and has since expanded its offering to encompass a long list of crops, including six varieties of hops.
Hops are an integral part of brewing beer and are one of the four main ingredients used to produce beer. The other three are malt, yeast and, of course, water.
It is the cone-shaped flowers of the hop that are used in the brewing process. Inside each cone are tiny yellow pods, sticky glands called lupulin, which produce the resin that provides the characteristic bitterness that gives beer its aroma and flavor.
This bitterness helps balance the sweetness of the malt. Additionally, brewers can selectively use hops to produce a wide range of flavors in their created beers.
Much like wine grapes, each variety of hops has unique characteristics and can contribute to varied flavor profiles such as citrus, pine, mango, resin, melon and even the herbaceous notes of freshly grass. cut off.
Plant ingredients other than hops can also produce bitterness and flavor, and beer brewed using these rather than hops is known as “gruit”. A wide variety of plants can be used in gruit, including orange peel, spruce tips, juniper, yarrow, and marsh myrtle.
This year, Vollelunga’s hop stalks (as the long hop stalks are called) produced beyond his home brewing needs, so he donated some to Lakeport’s O’Meara Brothers Brewing Co. for use. in their beer production.
According to brewmaster Tim O’Meara, the three varieties of Vollelunga – Cascade, Chinook and Willamette – were “fantastic, very fresh and aromatic”.
“The beer is excellent, with aromas of grapefruit and pineapple, as well as some herbaceous herbaceous notes. We are very grateful, ”said O’Meara.
The beer that O’Meara created from these local hops has been dubbed Hydrilla Killa and is a double India Pale Ale, or DIPA.
When brewed in the fall with fresh hops, beer is considered “wet hoppy”. At other times of the year when fresh hops are not available, brewers use the “dry hop” method with processed hop balls.
According to O’Meara, the fresh, whole hops were soaked in a large bag while the pre-fermentation wort boiled to make a kind of hop tea. The wort boiling is done to ensure that all harmful bacteria are removed from the brew.
In addition to imparting flavor, hops have inherent storage qualities, extending the shelf life of beer. The acids in hop resin are naturally antimicrobial, helping to ward off spoiled bacteria during fermentation, while keeping it fresher longer once brewed.
The beer brewers of old understood this. In the late 1700s, British brewers added extra hops when beer was exported to distant places, preventing spoilage on long ocean voyages or overland expeditions.
Another benefit is that hops help retain beer foam, a key part of its aroma and flavor.
The hop plant, Humulus lupulus, is a hardy climbing perennial in the Cannabinaceae family, which also includes hemp and marijuana. Despite its close relative, smoking or soaking up hops will not produce a high effect.
As mentioned above, the long arms of the hop plant are known as bines, rather than vines. Botanically speaking, the vines climb using tendrils or suckers, while the bines grow in a helix around a support.
Vollelunga cleverly interspersed hops among his walnut trees so that the bees could use the trunks as a supporting trellis. Her hops are harvested in August and September when the cones have started turning from green to crisp brown, before the nuts are harvested in October and November.
Vollelunga plans to increase the number of hop cells each year, with the goal of being able to supply breweries in Lake County with fresh hops during the “wet hop” brewing season. They currently have over 20 tubs and will be planting more next spring.
Hops aren’t just about beer.
Hops are used in herbal medicine in the same way as valerian, as a treatment for restlessness, insomnia or anxiety. A pillow filled with hops was a popular remedy for insomnia, and animal studies have shown hops to have sedative qualities.
And while it’s not a kitchen staple, hops can be incorporated into foods to add a touch of bitterness, such as in a marinade or pesto, or as a sprinkled seasoning.
Depending on the variety, hops will add a floral, earthy, peppery or citrus flavor to dishes. Without a light hand, however, the bitterness can be overwhelming.
The flowers, or cones, of the plant are the most used in cooking, but several other parts of the plant are edible, including the young shoots, which can be processed like asparagus.
Hop flavored salt can be made with processed granules or fresh hop cones. The granules can be crushed and combined with salt using a ratio of a teaspoon of ground hops to a tablespoon of salt, or a few cones of fresh hops can be covered with salt in a closed container to impart flavor. of hops.
Hops are used in some products because of their inherent aromatherapy properties, such as lip balm and soap, or in herbal teas.
Today’s recipe for beer bread is reprinted from my March 2020 column on local craft breweries and includes several variations. To develop the theme, try using an exceptionally hopped beer in the bread.
I leave you with a “hoppy” (and perhaps happy) poem from Thomas Tusser’s work of 1557, “Five hundred points of good breeding”.
“The hops for his benefit I exalt him thus,
It strengthens the drink and it perfumes the malt;
And being well brewed for a long time, it will last,
And the drawing remains, if you don’t draw too fast. “
Rosemary and olive beer bread
3 cups unbleached white flour
3 tablespoons of sugar
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of fresh rosemary, minced
½ cup coarsely chopped pitted kalamata olives
12 ounces (1 ½ cups) of good quality beer
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 13 x 9 x 2 baking dish with a tablespoon of olive oil.
Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl. Stir in the rosemary, then the chopped olives until the two are evenly distributed.
Pour in the beer and stir until just incorporated into the mixture. The dough will be sticky and a bit heavy.
Pour the dough into the mold and spread it evenly. Pour the remaining olive oil on top.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until top is golden brown. Transfer the bread to a trivet or cooling rack.
Cut into rectangles and serve hot.
Eliminate the olives and add ½ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese.
Diced apple (from a medium peeled apple) can be added with the cheese.
Go crazy with the olives and add several different types, up to 1 ½ cups total.
Replace the sugar with honey.
Replace half of the white flour with whole wheat.
Use melted butter in place of olive oil.
Increase or decrease sugar or honey. (Anywhere from one to four tablespoons will work.)
Increase or decrease the rosemary to taste.
Add an equal amount of fresh thyme with the rosemary.
Add a few tablespoons of chopped green onions or chives to one of the variations or on their own.
Add ¼ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes with olives and rosemary.
Esther Oertel is a passionate writer and cook from a family of chefs. She grew up in a restaurant, where she started creating recipes from a young age. She has taught cooking classes at various locations in Lake County and previously wrote “The Veggie Girl” column for Lake County News. Most recently, she taught cooking classes at Sur La Table in Santa Rosa. She lives in Middletown, California.