Bines not vines
“After we bought this beautiful piece of land we looked around us and saw grapes and more grapes,” says Kari Tarasoff of Square One Hops. “Brent woke up one morning and said, ‘Hey, we should do something different and grow hops.'” Two key prerequisites helped them clinch their decision to grow bines not vines — they both love craft beer and Brent is a seasoned agrologist with years of farming under his belt.
It’s a labour of love, Kari says and “wildly unprofitable compared to grapes. We are big into it on a small acreage.” The couple, hailing from Alberta, are embracing the lifestyle in their new community and their new passion. “There is so much to learn that its like drinking from a fire hose,” she says.
Brent learned from hop growers and their association in Yakima, Washington and quickly became a confident grower because of his professional agrologist background. The bines are happy here too, producing more hops than anticipated.
“Because we were doing something so different here there was a lot of speculation from passerbys on the KVR as to what we were going to grow,” says Kari. “We overheard people saying that we were planting GMO grapes that were super tall. I wonder how they thought we would pick them?”
No Frankengrapes at Square One. Their hop varieties include Cascade, Centennial, Columbus, Chinook, Glacier, Hallertau, Magnum, Mount Hood, Nugget, Super Alpha and Willamette and some small amounts of Pacific Gem, Saaz and Galena and sell them fresh ($10/pound) or pelletized ($14 top $20/pound). The Tarasoffs sell their hops to local craft breweries such as Bad Tattoo Brewing Co., BNA Brewing Co., Barley Mill Brew Pub, Firehall Brewing, Kettle River Brewing Co., Highway 97 Brewery, Detonate Brewing and Marten Brewing Co. The breweries are thrilled to have a local supplier of fresh hops in the hood. The breweries will buy a percentage of the hops but about 75 to 80 per cent of the hops they grow this year will going to a very special place…Siding 14 Brewing Company in Ponoka, the couples next venture…more later…
Hops are the flowers (also called seed cones or strobes) of the hop plant. They are used primarily as a flavouring and stability agent in beer, to which they impart bitter, zesty, or citric flavours. The hop plant is a vigorous, (crazily so…Kari says the plants grow a foot a day in the peak growing season…”You can almost see and hear them growing…it’s crazy.”) climbing, herbaceous perennial trained to grow up strings in a field called a hopfield, hop garden, or hopyard when grown commercially. Many different varieties of hops are grown by farmers around the world, with different types being used for particular styles of beer.
Is hops growing for you? Kari says there are tons of want-to-be growers out there with romantic notions of the hip lifestyle of the hops grower. “It’s farming,” she says. “It’s really labour intensive farming. When Brent farmed in Saskatchewan he did it with big machinery. Here it’s very hands on.”
She countered her buzz killing statement a moment later however. “It’s pretty magical walking through the hopyard at the height of the growing season. It’s unbelievably peaceful and fascinating. There is not another plant that I know that grows so fast. You can almost hear them talking. The most fun part for me are the plants themselves. They all look different, both the cones and the leaves. They all smell differently, feel differently and react to rain differently.”
As in the Wizard of Oz I’m going to take you from my black and white shots of a grey spring day to the magic of technicolour thanks to these beautiful photos taken by Kari.
Next for the Tarasoffs? A brewery of their own to make some magic with their Penticton-grown hops. Partnering up with barley growers Josh and Femke Lubach of Pridelands Grain, Brent and Kari are opening Siding 14 Brewing Company in Ponoka (the town was originally named Siding 14) in late spring. Cheers to that.