Fresh Hop IPA a fire-related loss
By Rebecca Spiess
On Labor Day, Old Schoolhouse Brewery (OSB) faced a crisis. That Monday, brewmaster Kyle Koger and OSB staff were beginning a new batch of Fresh Hop IPA.
Once harvested, hops immediately begin to lose flavor and aroma. Beer is generally brewed with hops that have been processed or pelletized into something more shelf-stable. But once a year, when the hops are newly harvested, they can be used fresh for brewing — which was OSB’s intent on Labor Day.
“Ideally, [fresh hop beer is] made with the hops the day they’re picked or very soon after,” OSB co-owner Jake Young said. “From the moment the hop is picked, it’s starting to deteriorate.”
The resulting product, OSB’s Fresh Hop IPA, is widely recognized and won Best in Show at the 2015 Fresh Hop Festival. The OSB website touts it as a “must for true hop heads.”
That morning, OSB had gathered around 300 pounds of freshly picked hops from Yakima. Back at the brewery (a new building erected in 2018 at the TwispWorks campus), the complicated, time-sensitive and arduous task of brewing began. Boiled grain, or wort, was applied to around 250 pounds of the fresh hops.
“It’s a very critical point in the brew,” Young said. It’s the moment when the beer gains the “grassy, herbaceous flavor you only get once a year.”
And then the power went out.
Like the rest of Okanogan county, OSB lost electricity as a result of the Cold Springs and Pearl Hill fires near Omak and Bridgeport.
Without electricity to circulate the water and its enzymatic processes, or even to just pump it back out, the hops were being fried. “It just sat on the hops for a few hours and cooked them,” said brewmaster Koger. “We needed pumps to move it from one spot to another.”
“Honestly, if the power had cut out five minutes before, it would have been fine,” Young said. “We were scrambling.”
OSB had one hour to save the brew. Even worse, another batch of Fresh Hop IPA fermenting in another tank was in jeopardy. The beer takes three weeks to go through its fermentation process, and its temperature is monitored closely the entire time.
“During those two-plus hours that [the electricity] was out, the temperature of the beer in that fermentation vessel was rising,” Young said.
Young posted on local message boards in search of a generator. Because of the holiday, OSB’s usual supplier was out of the office. Many kind community members did offer their generators, although most were not powerful enough. However, as a result, OSB gained a few new options to deal with future power outages.
The fresh hops in storage were able to be saved. Unfortunately, it was too late for the newest batch. Of the hops gathered that morning, only 30-50 pounds were salvageable. In less than an hour, OSB had lost the fruits of a full day of labor, around $2,000 in fresh hops, and $8,000-$12,000 in retail product value.
All of it was flushed down the drain or deposited as fertilizer in Young’s backyard (cows, the usual recipients of OSB’s discarded grain, don’t appreciate the bitter flavor hops leave). And, as one of Twisp’s only industrial water users, OSB had to pay for every drop flushed down the drains.
“It was just a sad day, for sure,” Young said.
On top of this setback, the global pandemic has been cutting into restaurant revenue. The Old Schoolhouse Brewery in Winthrop has not seated guests inside since reopening, effectively cutting capacity by two-thirds to ensure public safety.
But not all is lost. The brewery will have a total of four fresh hop beers available, one of them in collaboration with Skookum Brewery in Arlington.
With a new canning line, OSB also plans on focusing more on a direct method of distribution. “It’s sort of our way forward with COVID,” Young said. “Cans are really popular.”