BUENA VISTA -- Twenty tourists sipping suds in the sunshine: most were blissfully unaware that they were witnesses to a unique line of beers that will be crafted with all-Oregon ingredients.
Instead, those touring Rogue Farm on Wigrich Road near Independence skipped through two buildings full of hop processing machinery, strolled through the 20-foot vines, and then headed straight for the bottles of nectar that come from all the hard work on the farm.
Rogue Farm -- Rogue Ale's hops are part of the larger 250-acre Alluvial Farm owned by John, Tom and Mike Coleman -- was the site of four tours in July originating from Portland. The tours continue in August to showcase Rogue Ale's home-grown ingredients.
Willamette Cascade hops has already grown for years on this rich bottomland soil just a barrel roll from the Willamette River. But Rogue has planted four more hop varieties -- Perle, Sterling, Horizon and Centennial -- to supplement brewer John Maier's frothy 40 kinds of beer.
Growing hops is just one part of the Newport-based brewery's efforts to use local products to control its ingredients. Rogue has also harvested 122 acres of winter malting barley and next month will harvest 103 acres of spring barley near Tygh Valley south of The Dalles. The company established proprietary Pacman yeast from Wyeast Labs in Odell. Even the bottles are Oregon-made -- manufactured in Portland with labels screened in Tualatin.
With finished product in hand, the tour group viewed the idle rippers -- the machines that tear the mature hop cones from the vines that twist themselves around twine made of coconut husk. They walked the ramps above toothy machines that separate the sticks and leaves from the hop flowers, called cones.
Visitors followed guide Dustin Oswald along conveyor belts into the kiln, a building with a top floor of screen beds and a bottom floor of huge dryers and fans that heat the hops to 145 degrees until they are fleeced of 90 percent of their moisture.
Into the sunshine and across to the adjacent building, the dried hops are sent to cool before they are packed into bales and sent to the brewery. Although no hops have been in the buildings for nearly 10 months, the spicy smell lingers, as does the lupilin -- the sticky resin left by last year's dried hops. As Oswald leads his group to the fields, workers behind him clean conveyor belts of the pungent stuff.
Out in the fields, tall vines reach to the sky, some dripping buds of "green gold," the affectionate term for hops. There, Oswald shows guests the agricultural work of Keven Christensen and his crew. Christensen began stringing hops at the farm 32 years ago, when it was still owned by John I. Haas Farms. Today, he's in charge of the growing Rogue Farm.
Hops, like wine grapes, grow best in Oregon's latitudes around the world, but reflect their home soils. Grown in the Pacific Northwest, for example, hops are high in Alpha oils left after drying and are thus tastier than the more aromatic German-grown varieties, Oswald said.
Because a variety of hops can taste entirely different than the same one grown elsewhere, Rogue renames its hops to reflect their origins. Sterling, for example, is renamed "Independence," after its home. Willamette Cascade has been renamed "Maverick" when it grows in Rogue Farm soil.
Some guests lingered in the fields, visiting the younger vines which are cut back to promote even growth. Others smashed ripening female cones to sniff or to chew. But most, their cups empty, returned to the office for a refill. Why worry? Rogue's van driver was the designated driver.
Independence has long been famous for its hops and was once an international center for hop production. The small town during the late 1800s and early 1900s swelled with out-of-town workers during the hop harvest. The town's Heritage Museum displays its former glory, and several years ago the town revived a Hop and Heritage Festival that takes place each September at hops harvest time. One of the most popular attractions at the festival is Rogue Ale's tent.
The company will continue the public tours of its hop farm in August and is exploring the possibility of hosting overnight guests at the old farmhouse. Reservations for the hop tour can be made by calling Denise at 503-347-8288.
If you can't take the tour, you can watch the hops growing at the Rogue Farm in Independence by visiting its Web site, www.rogue.com.