Wearing a crown of green, coiled hops vines, Cody Brownell stood in a farmyard with two friends, sipping a cloudy and frothy beer from a small glass.
The beer he was drinking was a specially made India Pale Ale brewed by Driftwood Brewery, a small craft brewery from Victoria, British Columbia (BC).
Brownell and his friends were among about 1,500 fresh beer lovers gathering at the third annual BC Hop Fest on Saturday in Abbotsford, located just east of Vancouver in the Fraser Valley.
The one-day event celebrated the end of the hops harvest, which ran for about three weeks starting at the end of August. Hops are small cone-shaped buds that are used to season a beer, providing bitterness, aroma and flavor.
The festival, held at the farmyard of BC Hop Company, brought together about 40 BC craft breweries. They have their casks set up under tents and pouring small samples of their fresh beer.
“This is actually the beer that kicks off the wet-hopped season for me,” Brownell said, taking another sip. “It’s also one of the ones that run off the shelves really quickly. These are some of my favorite beers. That’s why I love coming to this festival.”
The owners of this hops farm launched the festival three years ago as Canada’s only fresh beer festival, said Donna Dixson, the festival’s manager.
For a beer to be considered “fresh,” the hops used to brew it must be picked and sent to the brewing kettle within 24 hours, she said. “Fresh beer is only available at this time each year.”
The event started with 17 breweries serving up their fresh beers at the farm, and now the number has risen to 40.
“Every brewery that comes here is required to bring a fresh-hopped beer,” Dixson said. “It’s a really unique opportunity to be able to sample that.”
The Canadian province has been going through a mini hops-farming renaissance over the past five years. In 2012, farmers here produced hops only on about 50 acres of land. Now the area has expanded to 400 acres, with small-batch “craft” breweries mushrooming in cities like Vancouver and Victoria.
After pulling a lever, Mauricio Lozano, owner of Vancouver’s Faculty Brewing, poured beer into a small glass for a customer.
Pointing to a field of recently-harvested hops vines about 20 feet to his left, he said the hops in this beer came from there.
“It’s like having asparagus in the spring,” he said.
Lozano said early fall is his favorite time of year because he has to come directly to the farm to get his order of hops personally from the farmer.
Time is of the essence. “You have to get the hops done on the day of the harvest,” he said.
He noted that beer drinkers at his Vancouver brewery have taken a major interest in who is making their beer, and how they are doing it and that the interest is nowspreading to how the hops are curated.
“They love to hear that story,” he said.