Summit Land Conservancy is teaming up with Wasatch Brew Pub to brew an "open space beer" using wild hops harvested in Summit County.
Beer traditionally requires four ingredients: water, malted grain (usually barley), yeast and hops.
Hops are the flowers that bud from hop plants (Humulus lupulus). There are countless varieties and they impart bitterness, flavor and aroma qualities in beers, depending on how they are added during the brewing process. They even have antibacterial qualities that are key to beer preservation.
After a volunteer led last year's pilot program, this year, Heleena Sideris, an AmeriCorps intern at Summit Land Conservancy, is leading hops-hunting hikes throughout the summer at different protected open spaces throughout Summit County.
"I feel like it's my baby," Sideris said of the project. "I'm watching it grow and develop and see a ton of interest in it and it's nice to be excited about working!"
Previous hikes have taken place in Empire Canyon and the McPolin Farmlands. This Sunday, July 13, Sideris will lead a hike at the Virginia Mining Claims in Old Town.
These initial hikes are for locating local hops populations and assessing their viability for harvesting and ultimately brewing.
"A large focus of our hikes, although it is finding hops, we're also very naturalist-oriented so it's very interactive," Sideris said. "We're definitely trying to get to know our local surroundings and it's really nice -- it gives us a sense of place.
After the initial scouting hikes are completed, Sideris will lead a hike in early August to check in on the previously located hops populations. The hops will then be harvested, likely in late August.
The harvesting is especially important in this climate.
"Last year we kind of got to the viable population kind of late and we weren't able to harvest because it already got too cold," said Carly Ferro, programs coordinator at Summit Land Conservancy.
"It will be a lot of manpower to get the hops off the mountains," Sideris said. "We're hoping five to ten 55-gallon barrels."
"If the yield is good, we'll do a 15-barrel brew up in Park City," said Dan Burick, head brewmaster at Utah Brewers Collective (Wasatch and Squatters beers). "If the yield is maybe not so hot we'll do a seven-barrel brew in Salt Lake City. It's just a matter of how much we get out of the harvest. Right now we're setting our sights on getting enough hops to do a 15-barrel brew. And it takes a lot of fresh hops -- they're wet hops, they're full of moisture and it takes a lot of them to get any sort of flavor or bitterness out of them."
Burick explained how brewers give up some control over their beers when using wild hops.
"In a commercial operation, growers get familiar with varieties -- they know when to harvest them, they'll keep checking them in the laboratories for peak times to harvest, and you don't have that with a wild hop. You just gotta go out there, do a visual," he said. "As far as flavor is concerned, it's really hard to say what you're going to get out of them."
"The idea here is to have fun," he said. "Let the flavor show up however it shows up, that's kind of the idea."
Local populations of wild hops are thought to come from Germany.
"A long time ago there was a brewer here," Burick said. "He sent some away to a grower, to a hop company, and they analyzed them and, as the story goes, they kind of thought these were mostly of German varieties here in Utah because of all the German immigrants, maybe from the mining days."
In addition to the beer expected to result from the wild hops harvest, Ferro and Sideris said a goal of the hikes is to get people out exploring the county's protected, open spaces, which are what Summit Land Conservancy is all about.
"It's easy to forget," Sideris said of the protected lands. "I grew up here and I just kind of assumed these open spaces were going to be open forever, because people are kind and wanted to have pretty places in Park City.
"But there's actually this amazing organization, Summit Land Conservancy, that's fighting behind the scenes to keep Park City beautiful."
Searching for wild hops can even be empowering, Sideris said.
"They're really beautiful plants," she said. "They're really biologically interesting plants too -- they act like vines, but they're not -- and they're super easily recognizable. I think that gives people a lot of power and access to being kind of that citizen-scientist that we're promoting. You know, you empower somebody that can identify their natural surroundings.
"And everybody loves beer."
The next hops hunting hike will be Sunday, July 13, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Virginia Mining Claims (across from Prospect Avenue at the top of Main Street in Park City). Anyone is free to participate. Visit Summit Land Conservancy's Facebook page (facebook.com/WeSaveLand/events) to stay up to date on hops hunting events throughout the summer.