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The Hunt for Wild Hops

For most brewers, hops are typically purchased through massive multiyear contracts from far away farms in the Pacific Northwest. But for one rugged brewer in New Mexico, hops harvest is time to hit the trails and canyons of the state’s high country.

Jamie Bogner Aug 16, 2017 - 15 min read

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The email came out of the blue in late July. “The time draws near. I’ve been scouting multiple locations and attempting to coordinate a team to pick … The females aren’t showing their sex quite yet, so we are a couple weeks out.”

Brewer Kyle-Bartholomew Yonan began his yearly tradition of brewing a commercial batch with foraged fresh hops several years ago, and each year his work hunting down hops in the New Mexico backcountry has yielded bigger payoffs. This year, his goal was a 15 bbl batch for Enchanted Circle Brewing in Angel Fire, New Mexico, where he recently took the reins as head brewer.

Three weeks later, it’s on. An email arrives with the warning “DO NOT SHARE THIS DOCUMENT.” Confidentiality is expected—as for a Western prospector in the 1800s gold rush, locations of these hops claims are shared on a strictly need-to-know basis. Yonan has put years and years of work into identifying these pockets of brewing gold, returning week after week during the season to check on their progress, and timing the pick for the peak of the hops cones’ potency. The email ended with a quote from Gandalf—“Keep it secret, keep it safe.”

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Jamie Bogner is the Cofounder and Editorial Director of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine®. Email him at [email protected].