By Beau Eastes

The Bulletin

For more information on Smith Rock Hop Farm and growing your own hops, go to www.smithrockhopfarm.com.

Bend resident Leslie Veenstra and her sister, Mary Robinson, who lives in France but spends a good part of her summers in Bend, made sure to hit at least one event every day of Central Oregon Beer Week.

With that in mind, it only made sense for the sisters to conclude the 10-day local beer celebration with a bang.

Miles Wilhelm, one of the partners behind Smith Rock Hop Farm and the founder of the Central Oregon Hop Growers co-op, guided Veenstra, Robinson and several other local beer enthusiasts Sunday on an urban hike along the Bend Ale Trail. The cheerful beer blazers, many of whom are amateur hop growers themselves, started at Cascade Lakes Brewing on Bend’s west side, with stops at Deschutes Brewery’s production facility, Crux and Silver Moon, among others.

Wilhelm made it a point not to drone on about endless hop facts but was glad to help point out taste differences in beers and flavor profiles certain types of hops bring.

“I don’t want to push it,” said Wilhelm, who has helped organize different beer tastings around town, during an Ale Trail stop at Crux. “But if there’s a beer that someone really likes, I’ll help explain what’s in it.”

The real goal of the hop-focused hike — besides drinking local craft beer — is to raise the Central Oregon Hop Growers profile, Wilhelm said, and to get people talking about growing hops in the region.

“Typically when people do a fresh hop beer, it takes three to six hours to get those hops from the (Willamette) Valley into Bend and ready to brew,” Wilhelm said. “We can get that down to 30 minutes.”

Wilhelm and his partners grow Cascade and Centennial hops on their operation near Smith Rock State Park. The drier, warmer weather near Terrebonne makes for better hop-growing conditions than the Bend area, Wilhelm said.

“It’s our little banana belt,” he said. “But people are growing hops all over Central Oregon. There’s a guy in Christmas Valley, someone in Sisters — not Tumalo, but Sisters — Lone Pine, Madras.”

Eventually, Wilhelm said, he’d love to help anyone with property and an interest in hops set up their own growing operation.

“I really like beer,” Wilhelm said. “But I found it really tough to get into the industry. So I found a backdoor way in through ingredients.”

Wilhelm’s farm harvested 25 pounds of fresh hops in 2014, its first year of operation. This year should produce even more. With local brewers desiring local hops, he expects Smith Rock Hop Farm to continue growing, and with it the Central Oregon hops scene in general.

“The whole local movement helps,” Wilhelm said. “People want local products.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7829, beastes@bendbulletin.com

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