Towards the heights
Have you ever seen a hop field in winter? With bare posts and strings, they have a structural, geometric look to them. However, deep underground, the hop is just waking up from its slumber. Indeed, in March, the hop shoots just start peeking out of the ground. They look a little bit like small asparagus. Hop shoots are considered a luxury delicacy on the other side of the border, while beer lovers of course will soon appreciate their emergence.
In April, it’s time to install the vertical strings for the climbing stems to cling to as they unfurl. When the hop gets to a certain height of 30–40 cm, it will climb and twist itself around the string, always in the same direction, tracking the sun.
Then, the hop will start to grow rapidly until it reaches up to 7 metres high. These are the great green vines that you can see when hiking in the area around Mont des Cats, Steenvoorde, or Staple. From July, the first flowers start to appear. Yes, the cones are flowers and they only grow on female hop plants. But you need to be patient and allow the lupulin to develop before they’ll be ready to harvest in September.
At the end of summer, a gentle stirring can be felt down the rows of the hop fields. There are many signs for hop-growers that the harvest is imminent. You can see a yellow powder (lupulin) inside the flowers, the leaves have a dry, almost paper-like texture and you can smell the herbaceous scent so particular to hops. Once the harvest is given the go-ahead, the hops are cut at their base, and at the top to remove the threads.
At the farm, each hop, one by one, goes through a machine to separate the flowers from the vines. A device separates the cones from the leaves, so as to only keep the cones containing the precious lupulin! They are then dried to preserve their flavour and bagged. Transformed into pellets, they are what go on to flavour our local beers.