A few years ago, Esteban and Scotty Boom Boom experienced a bit of an obstacle to their home brew hobbying: there was a hops shortage. Hops! Why wasn’t this a major headline in the news as the banks were crumbling? Think of the beer, people! The BEER!
They solved it, much in the way of our pioneer ancestors, by deciding to do it themselves. Scotty rigged a bunch of twenty-foot poles in his backyard (why yes, between the garage parties, the potato cannon and this, he’s the delight of the neighborhood) and strung his hops vines upward, taking full advantage of the southern exposure. Our backyard just wasn’t suited for such a solution (Okay, it probably would have been but I didn’t really want giant poles sunk in concrete in my backyard. I’m funny that way.) but I did agree to the idea of stringing up some grow lines along the side of the garage, the highest point on the house that gets the most sunlight. Bonus? If you squint, it’s almost like we live in a vine-covered abbey in the Scottish highlands.
You have to squint really hard.
Last week, I was in a full-on miserable funk. Things at work were stinky and head-against-desk-bangy and my grandmother got her cancer diagnosis (so beyond not good), and these things had conspired to give me a full-on flutter tummy situation where nothing was sitting right.
One night after work, Esteban asked me if I would help him pick him pick hops. The sun is going down earlier, so he only had about an hour window in which to pick before it got too dark and he had already waited too long so they had to come off stat. I grudgingly grumped outside, after finding a few paper grocery bags (a harder prospect than you would think now that we’ve adopted the practice of using reusables) and we got to work.
Hops are a flower, fragrant like a man’s cologne. They aren’t a pretty flower, probably closer to a very tight clover bud and they are harder than you’d think to pick. They grow up vines but hide like raspberries, and because they are the same color as the surrounding leaves and vines, they merge and blend into the foliage until it’s a maddening blur of green. It is one part harvesting and three parts hunting. You can scour a spot on a vine and declare it plundered and then you turn your back and twenty hops flowers come out of hiding.
We spent 90 minutes on two vines before it got too dark and the mosquitoes threatened to suck the dog dry. That night, Esteban dreamed of hops and the next night, I was the one urging us to get out there and pick the final and most abundantly flowered vine. It was oddly placating, this picking of hops. I found myself entertaining notions of tearing up the lawn and planting grains, processing malt extract and doing whatever it is you do to cultivate yeast so that Esteban could brew a batch of 50 Foot Locavore beer.
I don’t even LIKE beer, but it was somehow exactly what I needed. Apparently when your inner hippy child is at peace, the rest of you follows.