This post is part of the ongoing coverage of the 2011 Beer Blogger’s Conference. For more information on the conference itself, visit The Beer Blogger’s Conference Webpage.

You can make beer with a few hops, or a lot of them, but it’s hard not to make beers with tons of them if you’re as surrounded by them as you are in the Pacific northwest.

According to the Oregon Hop Commission:
The Oregon Hop Commission consists of 35 hop growing business entities from 24 families. The majority of hop growing entities include third and fourth generation Oregon growers. Oregon produces approximately 17% of the U.S. market share, which is about 5% of the hops grown in the world.

I was surprised that the tons of hops produced in Oregon is only 17% of global market, with most of them being grown in Germany, followed by the state of Washington. Having never seen hop production or farming at all, it was one of the things on the conference schedule that I knew would be a really interesting experience.

We boarded a bus precisely at the peak of rush hour, and prepared for a forty-five minute drive to Goschie Farms in Silverton. It ended up being a two and a half hour drive. This would have been horrible except that, unlike any other commute I’ve ever been on, this one had beer for the journey.

Widmer Brothers, Full Sail and Ninkasi Brewing had hopped on board (hehe, hoppy puns) with great beer. A little odd to be drinking while a passenger, we all got over that and stated discussing the beer. I learned the history of brewing in the northwest from Widmer Bros., and got to taste their historic Altbier. Ninkasi brewer Jamie Floyd shared several brews, including a cream ale named Nuptials that was first brewed as a wedding gift for an employee. All and all, great foresight of the organizers for providing us with “on board” information and a chance to meet some of these big names in the beer industry.

We eventually arrived at the hop farm and I can’t even describe the aroma to you as we stepped off the bus. Fresh hops – literally only harvested minutes ago – filled our nostrils with delight.

The first sight that we were greeted with was an open industrial garage and Tettenanger hop vines swinging from aerial hooks. A gentle shower of leaves and petals floated down as the hops literally swirled around us. I’ll share a few pictures of the scene below – but they probably don’t do justice to the live scene. I was amazed that the voyage that the hops take through processing.

We saw the raw vines come in, swirl gracefully around the bend, and then be thrashed, jostled, and transported all around the small processing facility. Conveyor belts and ladders and grates and moving metal everywhere – a symphony of green and industry. I was impressed by the constant work – people were always doing some part of the long process – and by the smiles on the faces of the workers. I don’t know if that was just for us, but they really seemed to enjoy what they were doing.

The second building housed a heater where the hops were dried – and yet another delicious aroma. The hops were laid out 3 feet thick, just drying and awaiting bailing. It was really a romantic beautiful sight. The green hops just laying there waiting to be made into sweet, delicious beer.

We didn’t get a chance to go though the hop fields, but just seeing how the key to great beer gets harvested was amazing. It was the first day of their harvest – so we were lucky to see it all in action.

The Goshie family was generous enough to open their farm to us to view this marvelous process, as well as provide a beautiful dinner. Their more than 100 year old farm (of over a thousand acres in size!!) was a beautiful sight, especially in the golden twilight hours of the afternoon.

A photo of the epic hop brownie by Chris, the awesome beer photographer from Beer Simple (http://beersimple.blogspot.com)

As we ate dinner on the grounds of the hop farm featuring some delicious bratwurst, home-made saurkraut, peach and blueberry cobbler and epic hop brownies, I began to understand the northwest hop obsession. Embracing this ridiculously fresh resource, brewers in the northwest are poised to make something fresh and beautiful.

Thanks are due to the Goschie family and to all of the dedicated hop growers out there that make it possible for us to enjoy such delicious beer. Cheers!