Local hops freshen annual Lookout ale

Fred McCormick

Craft beer drinkers in the Swannanoa Valley will get a true taste of Black Mountain this month when Lookout Brewing taps its annual wet hop ale.

The beer, the result of a collaboration between the Black Mountain brewery and a local farm, is a “different style of flavor,” Lookout owner Jon Garcia said. It also features some of the freshest ingredients possible.

Each year for the past nine years, Van Burnette has harvested Cascade and Nugget hops at his Hop’n Blueberry Farm just north of Black Mountain. In 2013 he began bringing his harvest to the waiting kettles at Lookout, where the hops are immediately added to the boil.

The hops, which are bright green when they come off of the vine, are considerably different than the dry, hop pellets typically used in the brewing process. The goal for Lookout is to produce a beer with a unique flavor that reflects the freshness of the product used.

“In our wet hop beers, we tend to make a less bitter beer,” Garcia said of the process. “With hops like these, where we’re trying to get this fruit-like, floral, aromatic flavor out of them, we only put the hops in towards the end of the boil. We actually don’t add any bittering hops to our wet hop beers.”

Garcia learned of Hop’n Blueberry Farm in 2013 during a tour with his wife. He was immediately drawn to the idea of using some of Burnette’s hops for an annual brew.

“We tried some of his hops in small batches, and they were delicious,” Garcia said.

The process for creating beer using green hops is considerably different from that used to produce popular Lookout staples like Alison’s Front Porch Ale, Black Mountain I.P.A. and Dark Town Brown.

Last year Lookout produced six kegs of the beer from the first harvest of the season. It sold out in “within a day or two,” Garcia said.

“I have a lot of people that come in that don’t drink pale ales and don’t drink I.P.A. (India Pale Ale) that say that’s their favorite beer,” he said.

For nearly a decade, Burnette’s hops have been featured in beers made by several breweries in the region. This year’s production represented an all-time low for the farm, however, netting roughly one third of the output from last summer’s harvest.

“I could tell after about the third year of growing them that they (hops) wouldn’t really be a viable crop here,” Burnette said of the decline in growth. “They’re a high-volume crop, and we’re too far south in latitude for good production.”

Hops thrive in the Pacific Northwest where they are exposed to sunlight longer during the spring, according to Burnette. Shorter days in the South lead to premature blooming on the vines that leave less space for hops to grow.

But the value of the crop for the agritourism-based farm may be the interest that they generate with guests. Burnette’s annual Hop Harvest Tour on Aug. 22 consistently attracts more visitors to his farm than any other event.

“We get anywhere between 50 to 75 people at the farm for the hops tour every year,” he said. “I’ll be doing a tour of the farm and hop yard. We’ll have hop vines on the ground that folks can pick for themselves.”

The tour runs from 1-2:30 p.m. Tickets are at