Each year for the past 3-4 years (no one can seem to remember exactly, maybe due to the boozy nature of the event), Peak & Blue Heron have co-hosted a hoe-down that is pretty much the best. Their annual Hop Harvest began when Peak was looking for more local organic hop farmers to use for their 100% organic beers, and Ellery of Blue Heron had just started experimenting with growing hops for use in her own homebrews.
Before I go any further explaining the event, you should first know just how much of a crush we have on both of these companies. Ellery Kimball runs Blue Heron essentially single-handedly—the farm in Lincoln, MA is 100% organic, produces beautiful heirloom veggies, and runs on Ellery’s tireless dedication & the support of volunteers. She picks everything herself, delivers to us, and works local markets. Whenever she walks through our door at AP, we all stop what we’re doing to ooh and ahh at whatever stunning potatoes, leeks, tomatoes, greens, or other picked-that-morning goodies she has driven over.
Peak Organic (based in Portland, ME) won us over with a similar back-to-the-land ethos—the first tasting they did at AP, their Boston-area manager Toby Cohen showed us a map of where all their ingredients come from (and also showed us how Skittles can be a nice beer pairing). We swooned over how many familiar names we saw on that map—Four Star Farms, Taza Chocolate, Valley Malt, and of course Blue Heron. That was the first we’d heard of this collar and of their hop harvest party, and we’ve been working on inviting ourselves to it ever since.
Blue Heron isn’t too far from Boston—right by Walden Pond, it’s just a 30 minute drive from the city. They had the place decked out with a Peak Organic sign out front, and we could see from the road what looked like a giant Christmas tree in the middle of the farm. After winding our way through raspberry bushes, a big colorful flower garden, and rows of tall unidentifiable stalks, we came upon a group of about 15 people crowded at the base of the big green pyramid thing. Ellery was front and center, gesturing with her arms, reminding all the Peak folks the proper way to pick hops.
We were greeted first by Peak co-founder Rob Lucente. Rob formed Peak Brewing with Jon Cadoux in 2006, after years of driving to each other’s colleges to brew with any organic or local ingredients they could get their hands on. The two have known each other since they attended the same summer camp in New Hampshire as kids—they even worked there together during high school & college. He informed us that we’d be picking Cascade hops, which would make their way into Peak’s Fresh Cut Pils and their Pale Ale.
Ellery started growing Cascades a few years ago, when she wanted to make her own beer at home. She has since brewed several varieties, all using her homegrown hops, and all bearing a label and punny title she designs herself (Short & Stout was the first, followed by Ambidextrious Amber). Her first time hosting Peak, they harvested just one hop plant (a 4-8lb. yield). Ellery has added more each year, and this year we were picking off of six vines.
Hop picking is unlike any Pick-Your-Own undertaking I’ve encountered. Unlike bright berries or stone fruits, the pillowy tufts camouflage themselves well, so just when you think you’ve completed picking a small corner of branch, you turn a leaf and uncover dozens more cones. This density is a blessing to the brewer, who can get a greater yield from the Blue Heron harvest when it’s bountiful. For the hand-picker, though…let’s just say a little OCD tendency might work in your favor.
There’s no drinking allowed on Ellery’s land (it’s owned by the town of Lincoln, or somesuch MA blue law like that), so after Ellery tackled the picked-clean hop structure in her tractor and everyone placed bets on the total pound count, we headed to Flatbread in Davis Square for some highly-anticipated Peak brews.
After washing the sticky hop residue off our fingers, we were ready to crush loads of the pizza Flatbread/Saccos Bowl Haven graciously donated. All the pies were topped with Ellery’s badass veggies and served alongside Peak’s Fresh Cut Pils, Nut Brown Ale, & brand new Hop Harvest Oktoberfest—all of which we garnished with a few of our fresh-picked cones for an added aromatic kick.
This is when the crew really let loose, crafting flower crowns out of hops, showing the staff of the bowling alley how to pick hops from some of the leftover branches we brought along for display. Rob & Ellery were excited about more than doubling last year’s harvest, while the pickers were excited to be stuffed full and bowling after a hard day’s work. The best part for us, though, was living out one of our store’s core principles—traceability.
When choosing what to sell, we consider several factors. From superficial elements like gorgeous packaging (which we’re suckers for), to big elemental things like sustainability, it all gets considered. But traceability is our one non-negotiable. To be able to tell you all stories about where your food comes from, we have to be able to follow the lineage of our ingredients.
Thanks to Peak & Blue Heron, we got to follow an ingredient that shows up in dozens of our products—heck, we didn’t just trace it, we picked it straight out of the ground! So next time you’re kicking back with a Fresh Cut Pils, we hope you’ll think about how cool these guys are, how your local beer shop helped make that beer, and best of all—how short the distance is between the earth and your glass.