Rockbridge County farm provides fresh hops for a special all-Virginia beer
“It’s neat to have that special brew," says Jason Oliver, the Brewmaster at Devils Backbone: "And you can only brew that one time a year.”
In the Devils Backbone Home Base, they’re working on a very limited run with very special ingredients.
“We love to use local ingredients when we can," Oliver says. "Case in point, we have our Virginia Farmhouse Ale in front of us. And this is a beer where we use all Virginia-grown barley, all Virginia hops, and Virginia honey.”
Those hops were hand picked, under a yellow tent by friends and family at a small Rockbridge County farm.
“We just like to get the whole thing," David Whipple, the owner, says when he explains the picking technique. "So we’re just coming at the stem and just pull it off.”
It’s a simple, but tedious process as is the growing of the hops themselves.
“I guess it’s a novelty," Whipple explains. "You’re not going to get rich. It’s a lot of work. It’s more of a passion.”
Retired neighbor Larry Smith is helping harvest too.
“Just have to see if it’s going to catch on," he thinks.."I guess somebody has to start. I’m glad he did. He’s a nice feller.’”
Whipple’s farm isn’t a living yet – he has a day job to pay the bills – but he loves growing his hops, and then running them, fresh off the vine, to the brewers.
“And the goal is to get them there within 24 hours,” Whipple says.
“Dave picks them, drives them over here, puts them in the cooler, and we use them right away,” says Oliver.
And into the vats they go. Fermentation is pretty quick, but then the beer ages for a couple weeks.
"When you’re using them fresh, you’re going to get a different characteristic," according to Oliver. "And you know it helps that it tastes really good, too.”