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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hops Direct Visits the Granite

The smell of hops were in the air on Wednesday night over at the Granite Brewery, and not because Ron Keefe was brewing up anything special. No, it had to do with Bob Latimer, an Ontario hop buyer/importer who hosted a hop information session with his Mabton, WA supplier Hops Direct before a packed house of brewers from all over Ontario.

I've heard from a couple of sources that this was the first time that many seasoned brewers could remember a hop grower traveling to Ontario to speak to industry representatives directly and many brewers were thrilled to be in attendance. Ron Moir headed down from his Heritage Brewery in Ottawa just for the occasion and was one of the first brewers to get his hands into the various samples Hops Direct brought from their farm.

The information session commenced shortly after the 6pm projected start time with approximately 45 individuals representing many of the small breweries in the province. Amsterdam, Great Lakes, Cameron's, Black Oak, Pepperwood Bistro & Brew pub, Olde Stone Brew pub, Cool, Trafalgar, Heritage, Lakes of Muskoka, Granite, Durham, F&M, Nickel Brook, Denison's, Saint Andre, Grand River, Hockley Valley, and King all sent representatives to the event and all were in a good festive mood, catching up with one another and discussing their trade. Latimer introduced the wife of Stacy Puterbaugh, operator and third generation owner of Hops Direct (I cannot remember her name - sorry) and spoke a little about their farm, how they operate and provided a current update on the global hop situation. Latimer also spoke about his relationship with Hops Direct and mentioned that his first ever order was around $6000 and his latest was $76,000. Wow.

Many brewers asked questions about the pricing structure that has been in the news of late, along with questions about spoilage, the leaf hop vs. pellet and about new varieties on the market. It surprised me to hear that most of the Ontario brewers only use pellets and the only time they use the hop leaf is for special brews or one-offs. Bruce Halstead from Durham County made the comment, "I never use rabbit food in my beer, I only stick to the flower."

After running through a slideshow presentation, us invitees were ushered to the corner of the room to rub each of the 10 varieties of hops (leaves) laid out on a table. There was Mt. Hood, Chinook, Cascade, Magnum, Cluster, Galena, Tettnanger, Golding (US), Willamette, and Sorachi Ace. Greenish-yellow-sticky hands followed and a trip to the washroom was in order. I don't know why Major League Baseball doesn't adopt hop for grip. I mean, rub some together in your hands and grip it and rip it.

The information was interesting from my perspective as I've never been that up close and personal with the cute female flower. It taught me about the cannibalization of hop growers in the United States, larger farms swallowing up smaller growers much like the brewing industry saw in the period between 1960 and 2000.

Hops Direct also produces Hop Tea, Hand-Made Hop Soap, Hop Asparagus and Pickled Hop Shoots for customers to purchase and I was lucky enough to pick up a couple of bars of Hop Garden Bar and Hops-n-Roses soap. The Hop Asparagus was a tasty treat that I would purchase for beer tastings if it were sold around here regularly. I also snagged a beautiful hops themed t-shirt.

It should be noted that the Granite supplied a table of mixed appetizers to get our bellies full while Hops Direct picked up the bar tab. And the Hopping Mad was flowing, so I'd hate to see the bill at the end of the night.

Photo#1 - Table of Hops
Photo#2 - Hops direct speaker with brewers
Photo#3 - Having fun with the hops

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