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But pelletizers are pricy, too: They cost a minimum of $200,000 to $250,000, which is a little beyond the reach of the average four-acre Colorado hop farm. "That's what we need," says Godin, who has been working on strategies for purchasing a pelletizer that the state's hops growers could share. Fuller believes he has a bead on one as well, possibly for as soon as next year.

Randy Flores, who helped found San Juan Hop Farms in Montrose six years ago, thinks that MillerCoors could buy a pelletizer — and maybe start its own hop farm, too. He knows the company has considered it. "We were approached by the hops-materials people at MillerCoors. They told us that Colorado Native is popular and growing and asked if we wanted to grow with them," says Flores, who left San Juan a year ago and now works with some Washington growers. "But it never got to that point."

"We do not want to be in the hop-farming business," confirms Knippenberg. "We just want to help the hop-farming market, and we want to help it down the road. If Colorado Native grows, it is something you can count on. We are up 48 percent year-to-date, so that means our hops needs are up 48 percent."

In the meantime, Flores is hoping to give Colorado hop farmers a boost. "They are struggling, and they are going to struggle for a while," he says. "There are some farmers who want out and some who are passionate, but they are getting really tired."

So he's working with the Colorado Brewers Guild to promote fresh-hop beers, a fresh-hop festival this September and a fresh-hop day — not just in Colorado, but in other states with small hop farms. The idea came about four years ago when Steve Indrehus, the head brewer at Tommyknocker Brewing in Idaho Springs, was picking hops at San Juan Farms. He suggested having a fresh-hop day, similar to what French winemakers do when they release their beaujolais nouveau.

"Originally we wanted to find a specific day, like the last Thursday in September, but this year, the way it is setting up, it will be more like a three-week festival," Flores says. "But I'd like it to grow, and I've been promoting the Hop Nouveau Day concept around the country to states like New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Idaho."

*****

The hour-and-twenty-minute return flight from Paonia to Longmont takes Schwall and Spears northeast over Marble, Basalt and Eagle, where the planes rise to about 12,500 feet to clear the mountain passes on the way. After crossing I-70, they continue northeast past Kremmling and Granby before descending over Eldora and Boulder and into Longmont.

"Boy, this is God's country," Spears says over the radio.

"It's a religious experience," Schwall responds.

The two pilots use GPS, iPads and familiar landmarks to navigate their way across Colorado — but they could just as easily use a map of Colorado's breweries.

There are more than 160 of them now, with new breweries opening at a rate of about two per month across the state; Schwall and Spears fly over half a dozen before they even enter the airspace over Boulder County, home to at least twenty breweries.

After landing, a crew of brewers arrives to unload the sacks from both planes and drive them to Left Hand's compound on Boston Avenue. Like other Colorado beer-makers, Left Hand has grown so much over the past few years that it barely has enough space to make all the beer it can sell. In fact, because of time and capacity problems, Left Hand had to skip making Warrior last year in favor of its bigger brands.

But a recent expansion put Warrior, a local favorite, back on the menu this season, and the brewers are greeted with smiles from their comrades — and from a few drinkers in the tap room as well — as they return from the airport.

Less than eight hours after they were picked, the hops will be added to the beer kettle.

That's all in a day's work for Schwall and Spears, who grab a pair of stools at the bar and join some of the other regulars for a cold one.

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12 comments
CityStarBrewing
CityStarBrewing

@ColoBeerMan Great background info on Colorado grown hops! We currently have an IPA on tap featuring fresh cascade hops from Masonville, CO

sethotron
sethotron

@ColoBeerMan what are the two fresh-hop festivals you mention coming in the fall?

ColoBeerMan
ColoBeerMan

@sethotron One will be at @FallingRockTap in November. The other is here: http://t.co/1gC80AgN

FallingRockTap
FallingRockTap

@ColoBeerMan the @FallingRockTap event is having its 8th Annual Wet Hop Fest on Oct. 7th. Same week we've always done it.

FallingRockTap
FallingRockTap

@suitejaclynmary do not see anywhere on our website where it says 10/20.

suitejaclynmary
suitejaclynmary

@suitejaclynmary @FallingRockTap Actually, looks like your site's been updated to say 10/20 as well, which I assume is accurate. Can't wait!

suitejaclynmary
suitejaclynmary

@FallingRockTap Deschutes' website says Oct 20th, and you guys had it on Saturday the 15th last year. Can you clarify? Thx

ColoBeerMan
ColoBeerMan

@FallingRockTap that's right. Thanks!

sethotron
sethotron

@ColoBeerMan oh man..thats exciting!

 
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