Perhaps late-1800s Park City miners never exclaimed: There’s hops in them thar hills!
Or maybe they did.
Park City and surrounding areas of Summit County were home to thriving silver mines more than a century ago. And though hops weren’t worth the same as silver, they still played a part in the area’s rich history.
For more on the history of hops in Summit County, see Hops Hunters Hikes: Park City History Through Hops.
Wild Hops Harvest
Fast forward to present-day Park City and a picture-perfect late-summer morning. About 30 volunteers gather outside the backside of Wasatch Brewery, Utah’s oldest modern-day brewery.
The mission: To harvest wild hops growing near old mining claims and elsewhere in the area. The bounty goes from bine to brew kettle in a matter of hours.
That’s fresh hopped.
Just after 9 a.m., volunteers get a quick hop-harvesting primer before heading out to pick the fragrant cone-shaped flowers.
It’s all part of a program organized by Summit Land Conservancy, which oversees 5,000 acres of conserved land in Summit County.
Now in its fifth year, each summer the organization leads Hops Hunters Hikes. The 1.5-mile educational hikes traverse protected lands in search of hops, with guides sharing local and natural history along the way.
It culminates with the harvest, which is done in conjunction with Wasatch. When the brewers say it’s time, a call goes out for volunteers to pick hops and transport them back to the brewery.
An hour spent cutting bines leads to the time-consuming — yet delightfully aromatic — task of removing cones from the bines.
Between what’s harvested in the wild and what’s ordered from a grower in the Salt Lake Valley, organizers hoped for 100 pounds of hops to be dumped into about 500 gallons of wort (unfermented beer).
An Air of Mystery
The wildness of it all adds an air of mystery to the limited-edition “open space” beer, dubbed Clothing Hoptional.
“I honestly can’t say what this batch is going to taste like until it’s ready,” says Nils Imboden, head brewer at Wasatch. “I can tell by the cones, I’d say we’ve got a dozen different varietals.”
Imboden describes last year’s batch as having orange-pith fruitiness and a nice caramel/bread malt backbone.
In terms of recipe development, Imboden strives to create one that allows the hops to shine.
This year, the golden ale will feature malt from Solstice Malt, Utah’s first malting operation in a half-century.
It’s, therefore, a very Utah beer, with the majority of ingredients all gathered within 100 miles of the brew site.
“I like wet-hopped beers,” says James Weed, Solstice Malt founder and maltster. “It is all about freshness, but there’s also a mystery to it; it’s experimental.”
A Hoppy Hour Debut
Clothing Hoptional will make its official debut in late September, on draft at Hoppy Hour 2018.
Tickets are $15 in advance (preorder here) or $20 at the door. Your ticket covers appetizers, two drinks, and an entry into an opportunity drawing.
A portion of the profits from the “open space” wild hops ale will help to protect additional open spaces in Summit County.