Chris Sartori looks at hopsfield in the Columbia Valley above Lake Caltus.
It’s been a good year for hops, and they glow yellowish-green in the September sunshine. It’s harvest time at Sartori Hope Farm, and the little crew is approaching the middle of the two-week harvest cycle.
“I think we have a really good product and that’s the main thing,” said Sartori.
The local farmer has been growing hops for the past fifteen years. Hops field covers perhaps 12 acres on his 160-acre ranch located in Lyndale Beach, a historic farming community within the Columbia Valley.
Sartori has produced two main types of hops this year: magnum and block.
In early September, when they harvest hops flowers from “bushes,” the long, flexible stems on which hops grow — not the vines. They harvest them by hand. Then they are fed into a machine that Sartori brought from Germany. The hops are then put to dry in a special drying area in the attic, before being baled and pelleted.
Sartori receives assistance from his brother at harvest time, as well as from his daughter and son during the year, but he said that they get all the work done in each season with the help of only a few workers.
It’s always been tough growing in the steep hills of the Columbia Valley, said Sartori, rather than down at the bottom of the fertile valley of the Fraser Valley, but he’s been farming there for 40 years.
At first it was cattle – beef and pork – for a quarter of a century, then hops.
“There was an opportunity to get into the jumps and I took advantage of it,” Sartori said.
He is upset about the reliable quality of his product.
Hops are the main ingredient in beer that gives it that distinct bitter flavor, especially with craft beers like IPA where it’s definitely a case of the hopper the better.
Hops were once the dominant crop in Chilliwack and brought seasonal work to the thousands who traveled to the area at harvest time. By the 1990s, it was only a memory, but starting in the mid-2000s, Chilliwack’s hops grew again.
Sartori hops are used by many British Columbia breweries, including Molson Coors, as well as craft beer producers.
But Sartori says there are other uses for sticky aromatic cones beyond beer.
“You can make some kind of chocolate with it,” he said. “Or tea. It’s good for the stomach or for sleep.”
But hops farm and brewery are a match made in heaven
“It’s great to be such a small operation in the bush and to get recognition from Molson,” said Sartori, recalling the early days of his business relationship with Molson Coors.
“It was excellent. They helped us when we started. They will buy everything we produce.”
In fact, Molson Coors buyers were buying high-quality sartori hops before they built their big new brewery in Chilliwack, and they were still in Vancouver. And they still are today.
“Local hops grown in the province have been a staple ingredient in Canadian beer brewing for more than 125 years,” according to a statement from Molson Coors about local hops.
“British Columbia has excellent growing conditions, which makes our current partnership with Sartori Hope Ranch so important to maintaining the flavor of our signature beer.
“We are proud to use it to make our beer here – and across Canada.”
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Business and Industrial Fraser Valley Regional Districts