Chris Sartori looks over his field of hops in the Columbia Valley above Cultus Lake.
It’s been a good year for hops, and they are glowing yellowy-green in the September sunshine. It’s harvest time at the Sartori Hop Ranch, and the small crew is about halfway through the two-week harvest cycle.
“I think we have a real good product and that’s the main thing,” Sartori said.
The local farmer has been growing hops for the last 15 years. The hops field covers maybe 12 acres on his 160-acre farm located at Lindell Beach, a historic farming community within the Columbia Valley.
Sartori produced two main varieties of hops this year: magnum and nugget.
In early September is when they harvest the hop flowers off “bines,” which are the long, flexible stems that hops grow on – not vines. They harvest them by hand. Then they’re fed into a machine that Sartori brought over from Germany. The hops are then set out to dry in a special attic drying area, before baling and pelletizing.
Sartori gets help from his brother at harvest time, as well as his daughter and son during the year, but he said they pretty much get all the work is done every season with the help of only a few workers.
It’s always been a tad challenging growing in the rolling hills of Columbia Valley, Sartori said, as opposed to down on the lush valley floor of the Fraser Valley, but he has farmed there for 40 years.
First it was livestock – beef, and pork – for a quarter-century, then hops.
“There was an opportunity to get into hops and I took it,” Sartori said.
He’s chuffed about the reliable quality of his product.
Hops is the main ingredient in beer that gives it that signature bitter flavour, especially with craft beer like IPA where it’s certainly a case of the hoppier the better.
Hops was once the dominant crop in Chilliwack and it brought seasonal work for thousands who would travel to the area at harvest time. By the 1990s that was just a memory, but starting in the mid-2000s hops were growing in Chilliwack again.
The Sartori hops are used by several B.C. breweries, including Molson Coors, as well as craft beer producers.
But Sartori says there are other uses for the sticky, aromatic cones other than beer.
“You can make a kind of chocolate with it,” he said. “Or tea. It’s good for the stomach or sleeping.”
But a hops farm and a brewery are a match made in heaven
“It’s kind of neat to be such a small operation in the bush and to get acknowledged by Molson,” Sartori said, remembering the early days of his business relationship with Molson Coors.
“It was excellent. They gave us help when we started. They would buy everything we produced.”
In fact, Molson Coors hops buyers were purchasing high-quality Sartori hops before they even built the big new brewery in Chilliwack, and were still based in Vancouver. And they still are today.
“Local hops cultivated in the province have been an essential ingredient in the brewing of Canadian beers for more than 125 years,” according to a statement from Molson Coors about Sartori hops.
“B.C. has excellent growing conditions, which makes our current partnership with Sartori Hop Ranch very important to preserve the taste of our iconic beers.
“We are proud to use them to make our beers here – and all across Canada.”
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BeerBusiness and IndustrialFraser Valley Regional Districthops