In February 2015, an environmental scientist and a teacher walked onto fallow land in Karridale in the hope of establishing their own hop farm. Trey Gee and Olivia Hertsted, originally from the United States, are the passionate duo behind WA's Karridale Cottages and Hop Farm and recently completed their first hop harvest.
And, across every variety they planted – which includes well known varieties such as Cascade, Perle, Cluster, Chinook and Nugget – Trey and Olivia were delighted to find that the hop bines had developed well beyond their expectations.
“This was a bit of a trial to see what would grow well and unfortunately all have,” says Olivia with a laugh. Though a little unexpected it does mean very positive things for their plans to double production next year and again in 2018.
Karridale Cottages and Hop Farm, where accommodation meets agriculture, is 300km south of Perth or 20 minutes by car from Margaret River. Trey and Olivia spend their weekdays in Perth, still working their day jobs (Trey is the teacher; Olivia the environmental scientist), while weekends are spent at the farm.
Like all endeavours driven by a passion for good beer, Trey and Olivia’s journey to their first hop harvest has been a long one: it was back home in the US, as a home brewing 20 year old, that Trey made his first attempt to grow hops. A couple of years later the couple moved from San Francisco to Perth, as Olivia’s mum lives in WA, and intended to live and work for a couple of years before returning to the US. Yet the first part of their plan turned out to be more compelling than they’d originally thought.
They successfully grew, and still do, Perle hops at their Perth home which they use in their home brew. Coming from the US, where a growing number of craft brewers are using locally grown hops and the number of small hop farms looking to meet the industry's seemingly insatiable demand is growing apace too, the idea of helping to grow a similar culture here in WA is what led them to their hop farm.
With hop bines being the fussy buggers they are, needing the right amount of daylight hours each day, good soil, not much wind and so on, it made finding the right place for their farm a challenging task. But the land at Karridale Cottages ticked all the right boxes.
“We were working with a blank slate,” Trey says, referring to the 23 years the land was fallow before they moved in. He says the soil is great and there are no pests threatening the hop cones; the odd rabbit shows up here and there but they seem largely uninterested in the bines and it’s surrounded by tall trees that shelter the area from strong winds. It is also large enough to accommodate their expansion plans.
But that's for the future. Right now, they are celebrating a far better year one yield than they had anticipated. Already, some cones have been dried and vac-sealed into pack sizes that will suit homebrewers and, if growing your own appeals, they have plans to sell rhizomes in the future too.
In addition to traditional varieties, Olivia and Trey have also had success in growing a hop variety they are calling Pemberton Wild Blend that has a long history in WA, last commercially harvested in the mid-late 1970s.
The Pemberton Wild Blend originates from Golden Cluster and Fuggles varieties that a dredging engineer by the name of JJ Bunn first brought over from Victoria. JJ Bunn grew Golden Cluster successfully in Pemberton in the 1930s before his son, Arthur, established a second farm in the 1950s in an area known now as the Karri Valley Resort.
Their hops were used by the Swan Brewery, which even helped establish a lake to provide water to the hop farm, before, in 1978, the Swan Brewery moved to Canning Vale and switched from using whole hop cones to pellets from outside of WA, eventuating in the hop farm coming to a halt.
Four decades on, Olivia and Trey hope to bring the Pemberton Wild Blend hop back and, you never know, maybe someone out there might take on the task of recreating the old Swan Draught, AKA “Swanny D”, recipe with the whole hop cones.
Unsurprisingly, local breweries from the south west and around Perth are very interested in what Trey and Olivia are doing.
“They all want to use the hops differently,” says Olivia, with the idea that their hops might drive the direction a beer takes one that is both exciting for the couple and exactly what they want their hop farm to be about. They plan to showcase wet hops too and provide a quality local product to brewers they can work closely with, particularly when it comes to hop harvest and keeping brewers updated so they can plan their brews accordingly.
The first brewery to feature hops from the Karridale Hop Farm is The Beer Farm in Metricup, originally set up to be Young Henrys' western outpost before separating and starting out on its own. Brewer Josh Thomas was most eager to play with the Pemberton Wild Blend and used the variety in his La Maison (The House) Saison: a limited edition beer tapped at the brewery late last week. The hops were harvested, sorted and added to the beer within a couple of hours.
“They were looking and smelling great, I was getting really fresh, subtle floral tones,” Josh says of the Wild Blend. “Trey has definitely done a great job in producing some healthy looking hops.”
The original beers now classed as saisons – beers brewed by farmers in their Wallonian region of France and Belgium for their seasonal workers – were, by their nature, made with local ingredients, so Josh also added local honey, raspberries and mulberries to complement the hops and offer a nod to the history of the saison style. He describes his 7.5 percent ABV saison as being “full of those classic, rich Belgian yeast characters with a nice spice and rounds off with a nice dry malt profile with subtle aroma of berries.”
Looking ahead, he says: “I’m excited for the future growth and plans for the Karridale Hop Farm and look forward to working with Trey more in the future. I plan to work with him and shuffle my schedule around to ensure his hops have a happy home.”
At a brewery of a vastly different scale to The Beer Farm, Gage Roads also found the allure of the Karridale Hop Farm too good to resist. Brewer Ben Bunker, who grew up not far from Karridale, checked out the farm and, as a result, Gage Roads added wet hops from the farm – Cascade and Centennial – to a small batch of its Atomic Pale Ale. The release of these extremely limited kegs is a couple of weeks away.
Clearly, Trey, Olivia and their Karridale Hop Farm have quickly established a place in the WA craft beer industry: there’s a buzz of excitement around what they're doing and, much like their hop bines, it’s growing quickly.
“We are passionate about the craft beer industry and want to grow a quality product that can help our talented brewers continue to push their craft to new heights," says Olivia. "We’ll be happy as good hop farmers with the region’s talented brewers showcasing our boutique product in their beers.”
And that seems like a pretty compelling business plan.
Find out more about Trey and Olivia's farm and accommodation via their website.
About the author: Pia Poynton is the girl behind girl + beer and Crafty Pint WA on Twitter. For full disclosure, she's also Nail's rep in WA but, like Benjamin in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat musical, she's straighter than the tall palm tree.