Kelly sent me an email with a link saying "Check this out for next weekend!"
So the plan formed was to do the 5 hour drive up on Friday night, stop at a brewery or two on the way, and either camp on the way or at the farm.
Unfortunately due to my work, we got away a bit late, so the plan was not too push to hard, stop in Dolores at the brewery and camp in National Forest somewhere around Telluride.
The drive up is through the high desert of New Mexico. The scenery suddenly changes to green rocky mountains not far inside Colorado.
So after a quick beer at Dolores Brewery, this is where we camped, a little south of Telluride.
It was pretty cold overnight, we were above 10,000 ft, and our camping bed setup isn't that great (since been remedied), so I didn't get much sleep. Sleep came in the morning after the sun warmed up the tent.
The view in the morning was just as great as the sunset one.
After the sleep in, we went into Telluride where we rode the Gondolla and watched some mountain bike events and had a quick beer.
We picked up some beers for later:
Stone Emperial IPA
Coney Island Lager (we are not normally lager drinkers, but we had a really great hoppy lager from them in the past)
MateVeza Organic Black Lager brewed with organic yerba mate
We hit the hop farm late in the afternoon. Apparently we missed the Friday night festivities and the boys from Ska Brewing in Durango picking 140 lbs of hops that morning. The rumour was that they would be brewing a "Local Series" beer on the Monday.
The proprietor, Randy, was pretty tired from partying and picking, but gave us a great tour.
He has been having some irrigation problems in the top field and so informed us that we could pick and keep whatever we wanted from there for free. Yay!
You could indeed see some of the hops were stressed and brown, but there were plenty of good ones.
I was bit disappointed to find that we were the only home brewers who has been in touch with him, but the upside was that we got exclusive access to the hop fields!
Randy and his partner were into sustainability and low impact farming. No chemicals were used on the fields.
We knew we were in the right place.
I was hoping Randy would have a home brewing background and that was how he started farming hops, but was not the case. He and his business partner had access to the farm and saw an opportunity during the hop shortage a few years ago. He wasn't even much of a beer drinker. We took a couple of our homebrews along to share and he seemed to like them however. Since we didn't end up paying for anything, we the growler of homebrew for him.
The hop farm itself was a bit different to others I had seen. This was a low trellis hop farm, with a mesh for the hops. This helps them self-train, but means that the hop bines cannot be cut off and brought back to the shed at harvest time. They need to be picked off the bine. The lower trellis height means that some hops outgrow, overreach and eventually fall back to going sideways along the top of the trellis. Seems to do them no harm.
We had a beer and waited for the cooler evening air before picking a few pounds of Nugget, Cascade, and New Port.
The sunset and moonrise were spectacular. The San Jauns on one side, and Black Canyon and the bad-lands in between on the other. The smell of fresh hops all around.
We put some of our hops straight into the dryers to dry over night.
The dryers were interesting. To reduce energy usage they pull warm dry air from the ceiling of the shed they are in.
Saturday night we headed in to town, to Montrose, for dinner. Unfortunately we left our run a little late due to the hop picking and couldn't find anywhere who had decent food on after 9pm. So we had to head back to the farm and improvise with our camping supplies and existing beers.
Sunday morning we went down to the main hop fields for a look.
We ended up hanging around the hop shed while cooking up brunch.
Randy was busy working on a project to build a hop picking machine. It will straddle the trellis and run rakes over the hops to pull them off. He was prototyping with plastic rakes by hand. Another low trellis hop farm has a custom built, but semi-operational machine he has seen in action. Good on him, an ambitious project, and it's always great to meet a fellow DIY/Maker type. After that chat I was already scheming a hop picking robot to go along with my brewbot.
We then went and picked a few pounds of fresh Chinook before saying goodbye and heading home.
We didn't think before we left home about how to bring fresh hops home. Plastic bags aren't great, they will sweat. So we ended up using our pillow cases to carry some of the hops.
Like any of our Colorado trips, before leaving, we had to first stock up on beer. Our beer selection in Gallup, while usually much better than Australia, is still limited. We both love Dale's Pale Ale so we keep and eye out for it. This time we ended up at a super-store that had pretty much everything but Dale's.
We came home with 11 different six packs of micro brews, most we had never tried before. It may sound excessive, but it will probably be a while before we get to see that sort of variety again.
On the way home we stopped at Colorado Boy brewery in Ridgway for a bite to eat. This is a great little town. Ringed by 14,000 ft peaks, a river right through it, dirt streets and old buildings straight out of a western, but not in that tacky touristy way. It all seems pretty authentic and not too many tourists around. Anyway, the beers there are pretty good. I really liked their ESB last time, and we got a growler full, but it wasn't on tap this time. I ended up having the Rye-PA instead.
Next stop was Dolores Brewery for dinner. Kelly was feeling like soup, but again, late on a Sunday night in a small town, our options were limited. The brewery didn't have any soups, but we knew their other food was good. They have old Trivial Pursuit card decks on the tables, and despite it being late and us still having 3 hours of driving ahead of us, we goofed off and had a great time reading questions to each other. Mostly music trivia. I had their dry stout. Surprisingly it was their smallest beer at 5.1%. Not bad, a nice white head, thin body, and that kind of aniseed/licorice flavour you get from Carafa and dry stouts.
When we got home we had to lay out our hops to prevent them going mouldy. Luckily we had some unused fly screen to help, so we laid it out in the kitchen. The whole house smelled fantastic.
We have since vacuum sealed all of the hops. No brewday yet, waiting for the weekend.
A great trip, some good beers, and we learned a lot about hops.
My love affair with Colorado continues. Career #2: Hop farmer?