A squadron of five small planes will take to the skies on Tuesday on a mission to retrieve several hundred pounds of freshly harvested hops from the Western Slope and then return to the Front Range. The goal of the early-morning sortie is to immediately use the hops to make the freshest fresh-hop beer in Colorado.
Organized by FlyteCo Brewing, whose owners are pilots, the mission also includes owners and brewers from Bruz Beers, Long Table Brewhouse, Locavore Beer Works and Uhl's Brewing. All five breweries plan to make a fresh-hop IPA called Hop Is My Co-Pilot, which will be released on September 14.
"We wanted more breweries to join in on the fun," says FlyteCo co-owner Eric Serani, who adds that the brewery embarked on a similar mission last summer with Bruz. "Since then, we learned that a number of owners and brewers from other local breweries are also pilots, so we asked them to join the collaboration."
The planes will depart from Broomfield's Rocky Mountain Metro Airport. The squadron will include a Vans RV-10 flown by Serani, a Twin Duchess flown by Greg Moore of Uhl's, a Cessna 180 flown by Andy Nelson of Locavore, and a Cessna 182 piloted by Zach Hill of Long Table, plus one other plane. Depending on the weather, they "may fly in a loose formation," Serani says, though the "no-fly" zones created by the fire in Glenwood Canyon could affect their flight path as well.
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In addition to 75 pounds of Cascade and Chinook hops, which the brewers are picking up from the High Wire Hops farm, the breweries will fly home with more hops for other fresh-hop collaboration beers.
One of the most seasonally specific styles that a brewery can make, fresh-hop (or wet-hop) beers are brewed with just-harvested whole-cone hops (rather than hop pellets) rushed from farms to brew kettles to capture the most vibrant flavors and aromas of these pungent flowers before they begin to fade. This limits the brewing period to the very short hops harvest season every August and September.
In addition to procuring fresh hops, one of the goals of the trip is to "draw attention and support for the aviation industry — one that has been hit especially hard by the pandemic," FlyteCo says. As one of its founding guidelines, the brewery donates 10 percent of its profits to organizations that support aviation scholarships and youth aviation engagement programs.
Next year, Serani says he hope to get even more breweries involved, including Lone Tree Brewing, which is "pilot-owned" but had a scheduling conflict this time. "Any brewery that can provide their own ride to Paonia is welcome to join in future years," he explains.