Homegrown hops

Island growers are ready for a glass of Hopps Farm Road Pale Ale.

It’s nice to know that COVID-19 hasn’t wreaked havoc on this year’s local hop harvest, and it’s even nicer knowing that Hopps Farm Road Pale Ale will be available at Offshore Ale around Sept. 25. And, hold onto your mug, it will be available in 16-ounce cans this year.
We caught up with some growers and with Offshore Ale brewmaster Neil Atkins to get the scoop on this year’s batch.

Five locations around the Island grow hops for the local beer, and two folks very involved in the process are Alan Northcott and Gary Montrowl. They were in agreement that this year was a good one for local hops, even better than last year. Northcott and his wife grow hops on their land, which ironically is located on Hopps Farm Road in West Tisbury. Montrowl helps harvest the crop from Cynthia Riggs’ Cleaveland House garden. All the cut hops from Island farms and gardens were gathered at Northcott’s place, and then a group of around 20 or so volunteers picked the buds off the plants this year, practicing proper social distancing protocols.

Northcott explained that the whole hop-growing thing began around 20 years ago as a joke between himself and his friend Ken Rusczyk. “Now it’s grown into something everybody looks forward to doing,” Northcott said.

Montrowl said he was surprised to see how well this year’s crop turned out at Cleaveland House. “I was surprised at how many there were at Cynthia’s,” Montrowl said. “In the end they were really vigorous. Hers comprised 20 percent of the total, and were very nice-looking, fresh, perfectly formed, we were pleased.”

It takes three five-gallon buckets to fill one trash bag full of the hop buds, but years ago when they first began growing, the brewmasters at Offshore preferred to use dry hops. Northcott said it took forever to pick enough for brewing.

“Neil likes the green hop. You just have to time them right, and they still hold together when you pick them. Neil came along, and it made our lives easier,” Northcott laughed.
Even though Atkins was in the middle of the brewing process, he took a few minutes to answer some pertinent questions about Hopps Farm Road Pale Ale.

How many years have you been brewing this beer?
I think I’ve been brewing it for 12 or 13 years. They did do something with the hops a couple of years before I got here.

How does this year’s crop look?
Good. A lot better than last year!

How long before we can all order some to go with our dinner?
Probably be released on Sept. 25th.

Can we get it by the growler?
Yes, and it will be available in 16 oz. cans.

How much beer will you get out of this year’s batch?
About nine barrels, or 279 gallons.

How do the Island hops compare to other hops you use?
Can’t really compare. These are wet hops, as in not dried and thrown straight into the brew from the plant. The other hops we use are dried, and then pelletized for a more concentrated flavor/bitterness.

Hopps Farm Road Pale Ale, available in a week or so at Offshore Ale, 30 Kennebec Ave., Oak Bluffs, offshoreale.com.