Feeling Fresh: Delivering hops by bike

By Adam Newman

I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for a bike ride with a theme, especially when it involves a liberal dose of libations. Last fall I joined a dozen or so like-minded cyclists for a relaxed ramble through the countryside south of Portland. Our mission was to pick up as much hops as we could carry and return them to Base Camp Brewing Company for a special fresh hop brew.

The concept for the Fresh Hop Century was sparked by a conversation between Base Camp’s Ross Putnam and Phillip Ross, who builds Metrofiets cargo bikes in Portland. When the two realized they were close enough to the hop farms to pick up hops by bike, an idea began to ferment.

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One of the four key ingredients in beer—along with the wort, the water and the yeast—hops are used as a balancing and flavoring tool. They were first introduced into the beer brewing process in Germany in the Ninth Century. Soon their use spread through Northern Europe, to Britain and on to the New World. In 1972 the U.S. had its first home-grown hop variety: the Cascade, developed by the USDA in Oregon, and the rise of selective hop cultivating parallelled the burgeoning craft beer scene in the 1980s and ‘90s.

While most hops are dried and used year-round, in the 1990s brewers began experimenting with hops that go straight from the bine (that’s not a typo, these aren’t grapes) to the wort, the liquid that makes up beer before fermentation. For a beer to qualify as a true fresh hop, or “wet hop,” the beer must be brewed with hops that have been picked within the previous 24 hours. This means the brewery needs to be pretty close to the farms where hops are grown but some breweries have gone as far as employing chartered airplanes to deliver the goods. “Time is of the essence,” Putnam said.

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As customers grew to love the hoppy flavor it fueled the rapid proliferation of India Pale Ales in the American craft beer market. Now fresh hop ales have a following of their own, with dozens of varieties available every fall in North America. If you need your fix in the spring, there are beers made with hops harvested in the Southern Hemisphere. Compared to a traditional IPA, fresh hop beers are characterized by their sweet, vibrant flavor with hints of citrus and freshly-cut lawns.

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About 15 riders, including nine or 10 aboard Metrofiets cargo bikes, departed Portland under looming rain clouds. By the time we broke free from the urban gridlock to traverse the rolling hills of the Willamette Valley, the skies had cleared like the head on a pilsner. Our destination was GeerCrest Farm, a working farm and agricultural heritage center that hosts school groups, summer camps and workshops on topics such as soil dynamics, wool working and goat butchering. Our hosts Cayla, Patty and Adam shared with us the history of the property, the second land claim in Oregon (when it was still a territory) in 1848. They followed it with an amazing meal prepared almost entirely with food grown on the land they cultivated. We camped beneath the stars with tired legs and full bellies.

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The morning brought more delicious food and hot coffee from Trailhead Coffee Roasters’ amazing coffee-brewing cargo bike. We loaded up and headed off to our next destination, Goschie Farms. A fixture in the Oregon farming community for more than 130 years, Goschie Farms grows wine grapes, sweet corn, wheat and other crops, but it’s the hops that get the most attention. With more than 500 acres on the bine, representing as many as 10 varieties at a time, Goschie is one of the state’s leading producers, innovators and researchers of hops.

Gayle Goschie took us through the processing barn, where huge hooks carry the bines up from the trucks that deliver them, hang them from a ceiling 50 feet in the air, and strip the hop cones themselves. From there we visited the storage barn, where small forklifts sorted and arranged piles of radiant, glowing green hop cones piled high above our heads. The aroma was intoxicating, especially when they were being bundled into huge bales with tiny flecks floating down like rain from the beer gods.

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Unlike our fresh hops, most of the crop is dried using a special drying rack that’s as big as a tennis court. Warm, dry air is floated through the cones and their moisture content is carefully monitored. What used to be done just by the feel of the hand is now measured with carefully calibrated machines. From here things got a bit silly as we carried a few of the cargo bikes up to the drying area to fill them directly off the conveyor belt and hammed it up for the photos. We couldn’t actually transport them this way, so we filled 30 pound sacks with Cascade hops and loaded up the bikes for our trip home. Back at the brewery they were added to the brewing process just at the right time to create the Bretta Livin’ sour beer.

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The beer we contributed to wouldn’t be available for a few weeks, but out on the Base Camp Brewing patio we raised our glasses to an excellent adventure and new friends. If only every ride could end this way.

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In Print: Cycling Wisconsin’s North Coast: Fat Bikes, Beer and Badgers

Editor’s note: This feature originally appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #32, which is on sale now. Grab a copy at your local newsstand, order one here, or best of all, order a subscription and never miss an issue.

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Words and Photos: Dave Schlabowske

I may never go to Colorado again. After a whirlwind weekend tour of Wisconsin’s North Coast along Lake Superior, I found some of the best mountain biking I have experienced since I last rode in Durango. While the trails don’t have quite the same mountainous vistas, the views of Lake Superior from the top of Mt. Ashwabay are just as spectacular, and oxygen is a lot easier to find at 1,280 feet than it is at 12,800 feet riding over Engineer Pass.

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I first visited Bayfield last February, when my friends Julian, Nick and I made the trip north to ride the ice road to Madeline Island and explore the frozen sea caves on our fat bikes. That trip was so much fun, my family and I took a three day weekend in Bayfield in July to paddle the same places I rode on my Schlick Northpaw (see Issue 29). It was an amazing experience to see the very same caves in polar opposite seasons!

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During the family trip, I was invited by the folks from the North Coast Cycling Association (NCCA) and Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association (CAMBA) to ride the local trails at Mt. Ashwabay with State Representative Janet Bewely from Ashland. I was so blown away by the quality of the flowy, fun mountain bike trails, that I made a promise to myself to come back and ride them again when I had time to take photos for this story.

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Julian couldn’t make out most recent trip back over Labor Day weekend, Nick and I spent some serious time ripping Torogdor, Upper Diesel and the other trails at Mt. Ashwabay with John Murphy from the NCCA. There are currently a little more than five miles of really challenging, fun trails to ride, but the plan is for 25 to 30 miles of trail. Construction moves relatively quickly because the northern CAMBA crew roughs them in with the mini-excavator they purchased and then finishes them by hand. 

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Beer

Every time I head to Lake Superior I make a mandatory stop to fill a growler or two and eat some amazing deep dish pizza at The Thirsty Pagan in Superior. The micro brews there are some of my favorite because they always have an interesting sour on tap. This last trip it was a tasty Berliner Weiss.

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You can’t find a better pairing for microbrews than bicycling, so as you would expect, Thirsty Pagan owner Steve Knaus is bike guy and a big supporter of Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores (COGGS). COGGS was started in 1994 when the Superior Bikers and the North Star Bike Club combined. Since then the nonprofit organization has built 35 miles of killer mountain bike trails in the granite hills that tower over the Twin Ports of  Duluth and Superior. The trails are part of the Duluth Traverse system, which includes a plan to build 100 miles of mountain bike trails right in town! There are even a lift-served trails at Spirit Mountain. 

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Fat Bikes: Badger Build

During my repeated visits to Superior this year, I’ve been curious about the opportunities for beach riding but didn’t have the time to investigate the shoreline until this recent trip with Nick. Since we knew before we left that we would be looking for sand, we brought two of Fyxation’s prototype carbon fat bikes as test vehicles. My rocket on two wheels tipped the scales at 26.5 lbs built up with as many quality components from Wisconsin companies as possible.

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I started with Answer carbon bars and seatpost, Hayes Prime brakes, Sun-Ringle Mulefut 80SL rims laced to Fyxation hubs with Wheelsmith spokes. For sneakers, I got a pair of the new Bontrager Hodag tubeless tires. Add Fyxation grips, bar-end plugs, pedals and a red Selle-Anatomica saddle made in Elkhorn, and you have the Badger Build. I did have to look south of the Cheddar Curtain for the SRAM X9 drivetrain, but otherwise the entire build is from Badger State bicycle industry.

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Nick and I looked at Google Maps and it looked like sand as far as the eye could see on the Wisconsin side of the Superior Entry on Wisconsin Point by Allouez Bay. To get there you take HWY 53 east to Moccasin Mike Road (seriously) and out to Wisconsin Point where there are a bunch of places to park by trails that lead you to the beach, which is part of the largest freshwater sand bar in the world.

With very few cars, lots of smooth, flat asphalt and bike lanes, Madeline Island offers a wonderful opportunity for an easy ride through gorgeous scenery.

After filling our growlers and eating pizza with Steve at the Thirsty Pagan, Nick and I only had time to ride about five miles of beach when we had to turn around so we could get back to Bayfield. With so much more sand to explore, we plan to bring our Fyxation fatties back to ride more sand. The beach had so much driftwood, that it offers some really fun technical opportunities, which is unusual for beach riding.

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Back in Bayfield, Nick and I hopped on the ferry with our touring bikes to ride around Madeline Island. With very few cars, lots of smooth, flat asphalt and bike lanes, Madeline Island offers a wonderful opportunity for an easy ride through gorgeous scenery. Nick brought his four-piece fly rod and we took a break along the beautiful shoreline to toss some flies in Big Bay State Park. He didn’t have any luck pulling in a shore lunch, but we snacked on blueberries, which were plentiful pretty much anywhere you looked down.

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In town we found our whitefish at the Bayfield Inn Lakeside Restaurant, which is right across the street from the Isaac Wing House where we were staying. I can’t say enough good things about the Isaac Wing House. Our two room suite had a huge bathroom with whirlpool and two porches, one overlooking the bay and the other more private and surrounded by wild flowers. It will definitely be the first place I try to reserve the next time I head back to Bayfield.

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Perfect cheesie vacation

While I might still visit my friends in Durango, I honestly have to admit that I can’t wait to get back to Bayfield. The tiny town of 457 sits on the edge of one of the most beautiful natural areas in the world, the Apostle Island National Park, so it is the perfect home base for a silent sports adventure.

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With quick access to great MTB trails, unparalleled sea kayaking, and scenic paved roads. Throw in great food (you have to try the whitefish livers), a good coffee shop, a bike shop, and you have the making of a perfect Wisconsin vacation.

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Cycle Brewing combines the best of bikes and beer

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If you find yourself thirsty for a beer while in the St. Petersburg, Florida, area, check out Cycle Brewing at 534 Central Avenue, located in the heart of the business district. This small bicycle themed brewery opened six months ago and serves just beer, no food. It’s a fairly open space, dimly lit with a few tables tucked into semi-private areas. A large garage door on the front of the building opens on to the sidewalk, and in January it let in a comforting, cool breeze.

Cycle Brewing’s four fermenting tanks equal a seven-barrel system and when I strolled into the brewery during my vacation there were twelve beers on tap. According to bartender Jose Perez, most pints are $5 each but on Tuesdays they’re all $4. Growlers of select beer are $8 and happy hour specials are daily from 3-6 p.m.

I tried a pint of Unicycle Mosaic which features Mosaic hops. Beyond the distinctively hoppy flavor are citrus notes balanced in a light body of gold color. Up next was the medium bodied Ryerish Red. It has deep flavors of rye and went well with the chilly night. Wheelie is a malty offering and combined with the other nine beers ready for consumption, there’s something pleasing for everyone’s taste buds.

Be sure to check out the custom taps fabricated from old bike parts by Ted “Moto Ace” Lee of St. Pete Bicycle and Fitness. The locally made artwork adorning the walls is also for sale, and a hodge-podge of cranks and sprockets melded together by Brad Augsburger creates an interesting looking table. With plans for a bike rack and a little more remodeling of the interior, Cycle Brewing should become a staple for the area and on your short list for places to quench your thirst after a day on the beach or an evening exploring the gulf coast by bike. Be sure to have cash in hand because credit cards are not accepted. Enjoy!

See more photos here.

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