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Barn hopping

Clockwise, from lower left: Green Bluff's Big Barn Brewing is harvesting the first crop from its new two-acre hop field; owner Craig Deitz (right) and Dakota Bauman run cut hop bines through a harvester to separate the cones; Bauman feeds dried hops into a pelletizer. 

Big Barn, like most local breweries, is knee-deep into fresh-hop season. But unlike most of the others, it only has to go into its back yard to get them.

The Green Bluff brewery, on the Bodacious Berries and Fruit farm, has started the first commercial harvest of its new two-acre hop field.

Four of the varieties being grown – Cascade, Centennial, Chinook and Willamette (the other is Styrian Golding) – will go into a fresh-hop Cascadian dark ale dubbed Midnight Harvest.

But most of the crop is being dried, pelletized, vacuum-sealed and frozen to supply Big Barn with the bulk of its hop needs over the coming year.

“We should get close to 1,000 pounds this year,” says Craig Deitz, who owns the brewery and farm with his wife, Jane. “It’s not a ton, but it’s a good start.”

That could provide as much as 80 percent of Big Barn’s annual hop bill, with enough left over to start selling to other area breweries, he says. The Steam Plant and Bellwether already have come by to collect some for their fresh-hop beers.

Eventually, with room for expansion, “We could have 10 acres of hops here,” Deitz says.

Big Barn previously used some homegrown hops from a half-acre pilot patch (which unfortunately fell prey to dust mites this summer), but this is its first large-scale harvest.

After being cut, the hop bines (as the vines are called) are run through a harvester to separate the cones. Big Barn bought its Hopster harvester from Columbia Bines in Moses Lake, which upgraded to a larger model.

The hops are then dried – some in a hand-built dryer borrowed from Newport’s Top Frog Brewery, others on window screens – before being run through a pelletizer to condense them for storage.

The harvest is expected to last another week or two. “We can only go so fast because of our equipment,” Jane Deitz says.

And afterwards, on Sept. 30 from 2 to 6 p.m., Big Barn is hosting a fresh-hop beer festival, “High Hopes for High Hops.” Bellwether, the Steam Plant and Top Frog have signed on so far along with Badass Backyard, Black Label, English Setter and Hopped Up, plus Green Bluff neighbor Twilight Cider Works, which is bringing a hopped cider.

Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door, which includes five beer tokens and a bratwurst with sides. Proceeds support the Green Bluff Lions Club’s community projects for people in need.

Fresh-hopping around: Among other news from the fresh-hop front:

Twelve String taps its first offering of the season, a Simcoe IPA, on Friday.

Iron Goat has its annual Spohop party Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. to collect homegrown hops for a community fresh-hop beer. 

Waddell’s releases its Centennial/Amarillo version Sept. 21 at Nectar Wine and Beer.

– A Fremont fresh hop festival Oct. 13 at The Steel Barrel will feature the Seattle brewery's Field to Ferment and Cowiche Canyon lines along with other area examples.

– And Dru Bru at Snoqualmie Pass has partnered with Yakima’s Cornerstone Ranches hop farm – both owned by Gonzaga University graduates – for a Zag-Grown, Zag-Bru’d fresh hop beer (featuring Centennial) that comes out Friday. Look for that one to pour around town, including the Inland Northwest Craft Beer Festival next week.