It's early morning in the Barrington Tops. Sunlight is dulled by heavy cloud cover as dense mist gently drifts across lush, green, rolling hills. The ground is wet from last night's downpour; soaked, in fact. The babbling sound of the Barrington River adds to the pleasant atmosphere, and the rather understated excitement of this morning's Barrington Hop harvest.
"We're picking to order, this morning," says Barrington Hops hop grower, Sandy Laurie, as he peels away the beat-up gate that provides access to this field of dreams. We're gonna take about four kilos of fresh hops down to Dave at Coastal Brewing. He wants the hops for a beer he's brewing today."
Grass to glass, Laurie calls it. Fresh hops grown in the foothills of the Barrington Tops, picked straight off the bine (yes, bine - the stem) and driven down the road to Forster, where brewer David Black will add them to a brew he's got going today; aptly named, Barrington Blonde.
Who knew they grew hops in Barrington Tops?
"We started toying around with the idea of growing hops here in 2018," Laurie says. "This is a spare patch of land on my family's farm where we're trialling a few different varieties, to see how they go. So far, so good. They've actually taken to this place pretty well."
Barrington Hops consists of mates, Sandy Laurie and Angus Groves, along with Sandy's brother, Rob. Rob Laurie lives and works in Yakima, Washington, for Yakima Chief Hops.
"Rob's over in the US, learning all that he can about the business of hop growing from one of the largest growers of hops in North America," Groves says. "And we're learning all we can about how to grow high quality hops, here. We're treating these first few years as a bit of a trial - experimenting - to see what grows best in this environment."
Adds Laurie: "So far, we've had good results from Cascade and Chinook varieties. We've also planted out some Fuggle, Hallertau, Saaz, Centennial, Willamette and Cluster."
Once regarded as a wicked and pernicious weed, hops are used as a bittering, flavouring and stability agent in beer. Humulus lupulus throws strange, iridescent green cone-shaped flowers containing lupulin oils and oleoresin, imparting the distinct, pleasant aromas and flavours we love to taste in beer. The hop flowers grow up along what's known as a hop bine, which is strung up from the ground to an overhead trellis.
"They're fairly hardy plants, by nature, living underground during winter before shooting up new bines in the spring time," Laurie says. "The hops grow up along the coir rope we have set up, which is made of coconut fibre. It's biodegradable, so once we cut the bine to harvest the hops, we just leave the rope behind to rot into the ground."
Taking a long set of secateurs, Laurie reaches to the top of the trellis and snips off the hop bine, which collapses down to the ground for Groves to catch with open arms. They do this a couple more times before bringing the bunches over to the hay shed, where helping hands are busy plucking the flowers from the bine before packing them up, ready to take to Forster where David Black's Barrington Blonde brew is waiting.
"It doesn't get much fresher than this," Black says, gladly receiving the box of freshly picked Barrington Hops from Laurie and Groves. Crushing a fresh Cascade hop cone between your fingers reveals a sticky resin-like substance that smells just like fresh lemons and pine needles. The three of them gather around the box and begin stuffing these hops into so-called hop-socks; used much like a tea bag is for brewing tea. They're to be added at the late-hopping stage of the brew cycle to enhance the overall aroma and flavour profile of the finished beer.
Daniel Honan's review
Barrington Blonde (Ale); Coastal Brewing Co; Forster, NSW; 4.6%, $6.50
Locals unite. Barrington Blonde is back. This sensational seasonal brew is made by David Black of Coastal Brewing Co, Forster, from fresh Cascade hops grown by best mates Sandy and Angus of Barrington Hops. They grow various varieties of Humulus lupulus on a small patch of farmland down by the Barrington River, in the foothills of the Barrington Tops. The fresh hops are added late to the boil to maximise the fragrance and flavour of this outstanding Barrington Blonde. Golden amber hues capped by a crisp, clean white head. Floral orange blossom bursts between layers of melon and lemon citrus, with hints of spiced raw honey. It's got that fresh foamy feeling of freedom, finishing refreshingly bitter and dry. Fresh AF.