Grassroots brewing is the epitome of Backyard Hops Brew Day, an annual event at Company Brewing (735 E. Center St.) that showcases both the Riverwest neighborhood and the local brewing community.
“Backyard hops farmers definitely come out of the woodwork for this,” said George Bregar, owner of Company Brewing. “The first year we did it I was amazed at how many people showed up, one after another with grocery bags full of fresh-picked hops. One thing that has been pretty cool about this event is seeing folks year after year who talk about how they now take extra care of their hops because they know they will be putting them into this beer.”
Added Joe Yeado, owner of Gathering Place Brewing, a member of the Riverwest Brewery Syndicate: “Growing hops at home is surprisingly common, especially given the high number of home brewers in the Milwaukee area. Hops grow upward, so you need some kind of trellis or high point to anchor a guide wire, but you only need a few square feet of a flower bed. The plants take a few years to fully mature, but after that they will provide quite a number of cones, which are used for brewing. People come to Backyard Hops Brew Day with garbage bags full of fresh hops, which is pretty awesome.”
Here’s how it works. The doors of Company Brewing open at noon. At 1 p.m., the initial part of the brewing process starts. Hop growers can bring in their fresh harvests all day, and the collection of hops continues until 5 p.m. From 5 p.m. until 6 p.m., those who brought their own hops can pour them into the brew kettle. The brewing part is fun, but so is the release of the ale when it’s ready for drinking. That happens on Saturday, Sept. 28 at noon at Company Brewing.
During the event, beers from all four Riverwest Brewery Syndicate members—Company Brewing, Gathering Place Brewing, Lakefront Brewery and Black Husky Brewing—will be pouring from the taps. There will also be free snacks, which is always a good thing.
“When we were getting ready (for the event) last year, involving the Riverwest Brewery Syndicate was an obvious choice,” explained Bregar. “The goals of the Syndicate are basically the same as the reasons why we brew the Riverwest Backyard Hops beer—to combine all of the things we love about our neighborhood with our passion for craft beer and the work that we put into our businesses.”
BACKYARD HOPS BREW DAY began in 2015, shortly after Bregar had a conversation with a friend.
“An awesome neighbor of Company Brewing, Jenny, and I were chatting at our bar one day and she was telling me that she has hops in her backyard and she was wondering if there might be a use for them,” explained Bregar. “Then I started realizing that there are probably enough neighbors just like Jenny who have hops and would love to see them make it into a commercially brewed beer. I actually reached out to Gorst Valley Hops here in Wisconsin for some advice on how to put this together, and here we are.”
Rolling the Flavor Dice
THE X-FACTOR IN THIS ENTIRE PROCESS is the hops—different varieties have drastically different flavors and aromas. Bregar has no way of knowing what types of hops are going into the brew ahead of time and therefore doesn’t know what the specific flavor will be.
“We have no idea how it’s going to turn out when it comes to the hop profile,” explained Bregar. “There’s always a nervous feeling when you take that first sip that’s quickly followed by a feeling of relief and delight. Many of the folks who bring hops don’t even know what variety they are, and often times the hops were already planted when they moved in to their house or apartment. Typically, we get between 12 to 20 different varieties.”