If you have ever gone for a summer drive out toward Wilder Idaho you have seen the past, present and future of a very famous beverage. No, it’s not any of the great Idaho wines from Sunnyslope, nor is it grain destined to become Pendleton Whiskey up at Hood River Distillery. Growing upwards of 20 feet on vertical ropes suspended from a gridwork of poles are thousands upon thousands of hops, one of the most important ingredients in beer.
Beer is made from 4 basic ingredients, grain, hops, yeast, and water. Add in time and that’s the recipe! The craft comes in with the ratios of ingredients to one another as well as the specific types of grains, hops, and yeasts. Fermentation does a lot of the work too as yeast eats sugars and turns them into carbon dioxide and alcohol. While a winemaker uses different oak barrels toasted and aged as their spice rack, the brewmaster uses different cultivars of hops to create the flavor profile they want in their glass. That’s where our local hop growers come in.
Alternating with Germany for the largest volume produced every year, the United States is producing high-quality ingredients for some of the best craft beers in the entire world. The soil and weather really lends itself to hop production but there’s a lot of technology and science involved too.
As these tall vines of little gems mature the vines are just about 20 feet tall. While they used to be harvested individually by hand from ladders mounted on trailers, the new industrial processing machinery means that the farmers now can cut the entire vine off at the top and transport the hop strings to a processing plant. There the hops are hung on a conveyer belt and moved along to be mechanically separated from the stems and the ropes.
Once the hops are all separated they head up to a special drying room to be stacked 4 feet deep and get hot air circulated through a perforated floor to dry them out a bit.
Bale the dried Hops up and off they go to your favorite brewery. While the majority of the hops head out to the huge international beverage giants (maybe in St. Louis or Golden Colorado), a growing percentage are being redirected to local and regional craft brewers across the Intermountain West. Mill 95 in Wilder is a new local specialty hop provider for clients like Payette Brewing, Squatters Craft Beer and White Dog Brewing. While they market hops from around the world as well as Idaho their commitment to regional brewers really shines through in the way they market local hops and the pelletizing technology that makes local hops even more attractive to brew masters everywhere.
It’s even more incredible when you consider that after a quick drive down Idaho Highways 95 or 19 you can swing into Caldwell for a sample of the end product. A cold pint at White Dog Brewing on the banks of Indian Creek or any of the other great restaurants near Indian Creek Plaza make a perfect finale to a glorious day exploring Canyon County’s agricultural economic engine!
The Wandering Ambassador
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