Hike, hunt, harvest and then drink with Summit Land Conservancy | ParkRecord.com

Hike, hunt, harvest and then drink with Summit Land Conservancy

Alan Maguire, The Park Record

Help make beer while you hike.

The third-annual Hops Hunters Hikes, conducted by Summit Land Conservancy, send Parkites to scour open lands for wild hops throughout the Park City area over the next couple months.

The conservancy, a nonprofit devoted to protecting open spaces in Summit County, is seeking out and monitoring wild hops on protected lands. At the end of the summer, the hops will be harvested and delivered to Wasatch Brew Pub. The brewery will then use the hops to make an "open-space beer."

The hunts

Summit Land Conservancy led its first hike of the season June 14 at Empire Canyon. McKenzie Schwartz, Summit Land Conservancy’s AmeriCorps intern, says the hops hunters are starting the summer by visiting the populations they monitored and harvested last year.

"They did a pretty intense harvest last year and we’re trying to see if the hops are coming back this year and so far they’re doing really well," she said. "Hops are pretty aggressive plants, so you can cut them back and they grow back really well."

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More than 20 came on the first hike of the season. Cheryl Fox, executive director at Summit Land Conservancy, would love to see even more people participate.

"It’s really a great activity for people of all ages. On the last event we had 80-year-olds who were shredding up the mountain, literally jetting up the mountain, and we had moms and kids, 4 years old, 3 years old — of course those are Park City kids who are pretty hearty," she said. "I think sometimes people think ‘Oh, beer, it’s not for kids.’ This isn’t about beer. It’s about things you can eat in nature."

"We’re interested in the brewing but we’re also interested in local history, native plants, edible, wild plants," Schwartz said. "We’re excited about the beer but there’s so much more than that."

The beer

Local wild hops are thought to have originated from German varieties, when German immigrants came to Park City during its mining heyday in the 1800s.

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 nearly 100 varieties and they impart in beers bitterness, flavor and aroma qualities, depending on how the hops are added during the brewing process.

While breweries generally use specific strains of hops that have certain desired characteristics, wild hops are different, according to Wasatch and Squatters Brewery’s brewmaster, Dan Burick.

"The wild hops don’t really have a ‘type,’" he said. "Generally speaking, wild hops can be low in hop flavor and bitterness, therefore we try to use them in the kettle and hop back to pull as much flavor as possible."

The beer the brewery will create this fall will carry the same label as last year’s brew.

"We’re still fond of the name," said Schwartz: Clothing Hoptional.

She said the conservancy came up with the name and label design.

Though the name may be the same, an exciting part of brewing with wild hops is the element of surprise.

"It will always be a little bit different because of the nature of the wild hops," said Schwartz. "So I think no two brews will be exactly the same."

The next of Summit Land Conservancy’s Hops Hunters Hikes is scheduled for Sunday, July 12, at the Virginia Mining Claims, followed by hikes at July 26, at the Rail Trail, and Aug. 16, at Prospect Ridge. Anyone interested in participating can register at wesaveland.org or by emailing mckenzie@wesaveland.org.

Homebrew with wild hops

For any homebrewers who want to try brewing with wild hops, Brewmaster Dan Burick has a few tips:

  • Dry the harvested hops out in the sun and use them as you would other whole (as opposed to condensed pellet form) hops. You can use the hops "wet," but you need to use a far greater amount than if you dry them out first — "Something on the magnitude of 5-8 times the amount of dry cones," Burick said.
  • If you want a pronounced hop flavor (like in an India Pale Ale, for example), you will need to use much more hops than usual, because wild hops tend to have lower amounts of alpha acid and oil levels.
  • When designing your wild-hop beer, whether an ale or lager, choose a simple malt charge that can showcase the wild hops.