Spring is here and all around the central coast gardeners and farmers are enjoying the early signs of what summer will bring. This is also the time of year that the hops vines start poking out of the ground. Come August many of them will be 10-15 feet long, bursting with fragrant cones, ready to add flavor and aroma to beer. If you don’t already have a hops plant in your yard (for home brewers, this is highly encouraged, even a modest container will do), Santa Cruz’s local organic home brew cooperative, Seven Bridges, is now selling several popular varieties of rhizomes such as Cascade, Chinook and Nugget.
But did you know that Santa Cruz county has its very own local hops varietal? Although it’s not for sale, the McGrath hops have been growing in Santa Cruz County since the late 1800’s. George McGrath was one of a handful of farmers that were growing hops in the late 1800’s-early 1900’s. This particular variety was grown on his property and at the time had no formal name – it was dubbed the “McGrath” hop variety many years later in honor of the family business. This variety has acclimated over time to the local climate, actually starting and flowering later than most other varieties – the McGrath will be flowering in late September when most others will be ready for harvest mid-late August. These vines will also get quite a bit longer, 18-30 feet. The cones (flowers) are not too tight and have aromas of pear and apricot, grassy pine and citrus.
You might even be able to spot some of these hops starting to grow soon in south Santa Cruz County at the newly opened Corralitos Brewing Company which has many varieties of hops growing on site including the elusive McGrath hops. So to celebrate days that are getting longer and warmer, stroll on into one of our many local breweries have a beer and appreciate a crop that has a little known history here in Santa Cruz County.