No, not feral after all

I was out for a walk with my beloved one day when I found them. It was a sunny afternoon in mid-October, the kind of day that is a gift from the weather gods – one last day of nothing-but-a-tshirt warmth before November starts to chill our bones.

We were walking along the mountain bike trail in the valley below us when I saw them…a green vine twining up a small tree and over to a hydro tower, festooned with the now-familiar shape of hop cones. It was late in the season, and they were brown and papery, but there they were. I managed to snag a few of the lower ones and found a nice citrus aroma under the dry leaf smell when I rubbed them between my palms.

I mentioned the find to a few people, and then mostly forgot about it. I’d think of the plant when it was least possible to harvest or dig up a rhizome, like the middle of summer or on a blustery winter day.

Fast forward to last Saturday. I was part of a beer panel at the Ontario Fermentation Fest in Picton, and got to talking beer afterwards with likeminded individuals, as one does. I was talking hops, and mentioned the find to a friend of a friend. Turns out he planted them! No, not feral at all, just a little wild after a guerrilla gardening experiment. Apparently there’s a mother plant a little further west…time to do more exploring.

I went back to the site the next day, and found things a little changed. The little tree had been cut down, the trail was now a wider dirt access road to the hydro station and there was nothing growing up tower. It looks like I waited too long to get back.

I poked around the tall weeds near where I remember the tree being, and found a patch of stinging nettles for my troubles. As i was cursing and flapping my now sore hand around, is was that there in the middle of the nettles hung a few cones. They hadn’t been able to climb, and the bugs had eaten the leaves to lace, but the plant was still alive.

Have to go back in a few weeks to check on them. Going to bring some gloves this time.

Germany, day 6

Day 6: Friday, April 29th
10:00: Tour Hop Museum
11:00: Beer Tasting
12:30: Bus to Weltenburg
14:00: Open time
15:00: Tour Abbey brewery

Well, Tuesday’s hangover had nothing on this one. Epic. We were all, and I mean all, in a great deal of self-inflicted pain.

The visit to the hop museum was a bit rough; it was hard to truly enjoy the tasting prepared by the beer sommelier. I felt truly awful that I could not fully appreciate the 3-year-old bottles he brought in from his private cellar.

The hair of the dog had the desired effect and was much better by the time we got to Weltenburg Abbey. This place was truly spectacular, and I spent most the time after the tour exploring along the river.


Day 202


Nate presented some interesting information about high gravity brewing, and confirmed something I’d long suspected, that big breweries only brew about 10 worts but make about 20 beers from them by varying the dilution factor. It puts quite a strain on the yeast, and there is a high degree of oxygenation and nutrient supplementation that has to occur.


The big topics are apparently over, and the next lectures will combine 2-3 small topics in one. Today’s small topics were:

  • Lagers and sulfur. Because of the colder process, there tends to be more sulfur present in lagers (reason #1 why I am not huge fan of the style). By adjusting yeast strain, the VDK’s that cause the sulfur can be minimized. Or at least I hope that’s the case – it was a long hard weekend and a late night, and I will freely admit to zoning out now and again.
  • Hop Bitterness. Nate looked at IBU’s vs. perceived/sensory bitterness, and at the gaps between them. We also talked about the flavour & bitterness differences between hops in the boil vs. dry hopping. More aroma is perceived in dry hopped beers, which increased the perceived bitterness in the taste. Makes me wish I’d been a bit more awake for this part, as I’m fascinated by this difference between real and perceived sensory.



Day 80 – Friday, Nov. 21

This was the second early morning sensory class. My system is just not sure about ingesting beer before the coffee has even had a chance to wake me up yet. It will get used to it just in time for the semester to be over and the schedule to be shifted around.

It was all about hops this morning, and we rubbed, smelled and tasted the noble hops (Hallertau, Tettnang, Saaz and Spalt) and near-noble hops (East Kent Goldings, Syrian Goldings, Hallertau Herbrucker and Fuggles. My favourite is Fuggles – I like its earthy and slightly floral notes the best. Plus,I like to say Fuggles. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to say or think Fuggles without a little inner giggle.

Intro to Brewing was next, and we had Mark Murphy from Left Field as a guest speaker, talking about the trials and tribulations of contract brewing and then of building a brewery. I can’t wait to see it when it’s done, and so glad there is more east end beer action! It was a quick presentation; we went over past tests and assignments afterward and had a chance to voice any concerns about the program so far. The slightly scattered nature of the curriculum was discussed, how we learned hops first thing in one class, four weeks ago in another and just now in Sensory. I also mentioned concerns about the lack of detail in the midterm assignment which was basically one sentence, with no indication of how it was being assessed.

Jon took all our concerns and issues seriously and agreed to do what he could in terms of scheduling, and to give more detail in assignments. So we’ll see.

I did get my midterms back in Intro and Basic, and did well even though the vagueness completely stressed me out.

Early class dismissal was appreciated, so I could rush home to sit on on the QEW, the Gardiner and then on Overlea. Finally got home at 6-ish. The novelty has definitely worn off of commuting.

Days 23 & 24

Was is the lack of sleep? The overindulgence in bad food and candy (which might account for the lack of sleep)? The stress of over- booking an up to now very disorganized life? A slight hormonal imbalance?

What ever the cause, Thursday and Friday were not good days. My brain blew small nuggets out of proportion, and I spent way too much of time obsessing over what my classmates thought of me, possibly imagining things and over-reacting. The phrase, what the fuck am I doing here? drifted across my mind a few times.

I think what it comes down to is that after 12 years of working with women in a highly feminist environment, it’s a bit of a culture shock to turn 180 degrees and be around men and men only, some of whom will argue there’s no gender bias in using the word “he” in a sentence that is meant to convey both genders. Throw in teachers who ignore the duality of the class, and talk about things like distractions of “crop tops and shortie shorts” as if that applies to all of us.


Luckily there were two events that stopped my brain from spiralling. The first was a great presentation given by Laurie Craig of Clear Valley Hops. She and her husband John, started Clear Valley Hops in 2010, and her presentation went through all of the trials and tribulations they encountered as they built their business. After, we all went out and took at look at Niagara College’s new hop yard, and it was clear that the woman knew her stuff after four years in the industry.

After two days thinking about gender biases, it was amusing to go to Sensory Evaluation class and talk about more bias, this time of the sensory kind. Notes were taken furiously by everyone. Apparently some biases are believable; others not so much.

I left as soon as class was over and made my way home to Toronto, stopping close to home to visit the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies. I could feel some of the stress lift off me as I walked up the stairs of the Jam Factory and into the hum of women drinking beer and having a great time. I was back among my tribe.

The environment wasn’t all that conducive to long conversations (hey, there was beer drinkin’ to be done!), but I managed to get hugs from my pals Erica and Jenn, and have some very good chats with Robin LeBlanc, Ren Navarro and Kristen MacDonald from Muskoka Brewery.

Just what I needed. I was finally able to quell the self doubt, put a damper on the emotions and realize that the only way I am going to make it through the next 15 months of school is to just be the my own weird, feminist self. Once more I had made the mistake of worrying about what people thought about me; that way lies madness as I well know.

And has change ever come from people trying to fit in?