By Chris Rotolo |
COLTS NECK –Bob Clark can still recall his pride when he first ventured to a local brewery and was treated to an ale brewed from a batch of hops plucked fresh from his farm in Colts Neck.
“It’s the best feeling and it rushes through you,” said Clark, who owns and tends The Fir Farm at 166 Hillsdale Road with his brother Mickey.
“It’s a lot of work, but to sit down with strangers who are enjoying a beer with your ingredients in it and then to take that first sip, it’s something to savor, because you know the work was all worth it.”
For nearly three decades the tract operated as a Christmas tree farm. But in 2015 the Clark brothers began growing hops as a labor of love for their own small-batch home brew and along the way discovered this could be a good business decision, as well as a way to support Monmouth County’s burgeoning craft brewing scene. Currently there are 11 breweries in Monmouth County and six more with licensing and permits pending. Three of those are due to open in Red Bank.
Passion for craft brew and its people are the reason behind The Fir Farm’s annual event, which was held Aug. 11 for the fourth year.
“Each summer since we started we’ve invited those who love craft beer, local brewing experts and distributors, and other community members to the farm for our annual Hops Harvest Festival,” Clark said.
The event drew approximately 100 participants, including county freeholders Thomas A. Arnone, Lillian G. Burry, and Patrick Impreveduto for an afternoon of beer, BBQ and live music from the local folk-rock outfit Accidental Seabirds.
A highlight of the day was the collection of the hops from the farm’s 1,000 bines. Hop plants are grown on bines, rather than vines.
Bayville resident Kim Sakevich was one of the guests who helped transport the bines from the field to a tent on the grounds, draping the 20-foot strands of greenery over her shoulders and unfurling them on a folding table for guests to clean.
“I don’t know a lot about beer, which is why I was interested in coming out to this,” said Sakevich, who was attending her second Hops Harvest Fest at The Fir Farm. “When you’re part of this event, you’re really part of the creative process. It’s a great way for someone to educate themselves while meeting some great new friends and getting to try some great new beers.”
The Fir Farm supplies hops to several notable craft breweries both within and beyond the Monmouth County border, including Jughandle Brewing in Tinton Falls, Dark City Brewing in Asbury Park, Backward Flag Brewing of Forked River and Ship Bottom Brewing in Beach Haven.
The Clark brothers specialize in the cultivation of several varieties of hops, including Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, Nugget and Mt. Hood, and are now in the process of expanding their offerings with test rows that feature Sorachi, Tettnang, Columbia, Goldings, Sterling, Newport, AlphArmora, Yeoman, Tahoma and Willamette.
Chris Hannigan is the artist behind the creative process at Jughandle Brewing and, while offering guests sample cups of the brewery’s revered Pacifically Speaking IPA, he confirmed that it won’t be long before patrons are able to taste The Fir Farm hops in a special batch of beer.
“For us, this is the third harvest we’re part of, which means our third batch of Harvest Ale is coming soon and will be ready for customers to drink in the next two to three weeks,” Hannigan said of the English-style ale, which he described as a malty, hoppy blend.
“This is such a great day for us and the community as a whole, because it’s really a once-a-year celebration of the craft. This is the genesis of beer brewing. It’s the very first step in the process for a brewer,” Hannigan said. “We love it because it allows us to be out with and give back to the community we love and work alongside people like the Clarks who want to see local brewers be successful.”
This article first appeared in the August 16 – 23, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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