Battle of Bines prepares for new ‘hoppy’ brew on September day

Participants in the Civil Sass-Karst Brewery hops contest give it their best as they start pulling cones off the bines. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS

Civil Sass hops farmer Abbey Sass gets ready to weigh the contestants' buckets of picked hops. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
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Everyone was Civil in battle at the hoppy place.

That’s because they’d found their Fountain of cones.

“Welcome to the Battle of the Bines,” said Civil Sass hops farmer Jake Sass, standing before a gathering of beer enthusiasts at Karst Brewery in Fountain this past Sunday. The Chatfield hops yard co-owner and his wife, Abbey, readied their newfound friends-in-ale for the work of picking as many hops cones off the bines as they possibly could within 10 minutes’ time.

A trailer load of hops stood at the ready as Jake outlined the rules, including that teams were limited to two people and two buckets, and that contenders had 10 minutes to pluck the hops carefully enough that the whole cones – but not the leaves – ended up in the buckets.

“When the whistle blows, it’s hands off the buckets. There will be a fresh hops brew here at Karst tomorrow,” Jake added.

Someone asked the couple, “What does that mean?”

Abbey replied, “That means that tomorrow, they will brew these hops here and on Sept. 16, we can all drink the beer.”

Approximately 50 people took in the sunshine, breeze, music and hops-picking, including a few pups, one of which discovered she had a taste for one of Karst’s beers.

Ten teams entered in each round of competition, aiming for – but not always hitting – the big buckets as they pulled hops cones off the bines and hoped to have their buckets weighed in as the heaviest, a feat not easily done because hops cones are not weighty things.

Jake announced, “Two minutes left. Abbey, how’s it looking?”

Abbey replied, “This bucket’s full of leaves.”

Jake instructed the nimble-fingered hops pickers, “Keep picking!”

The timer ran out and Jake handed buckets to Abbey to weigh, saying, “Four point one pounds starts it off!”

Abbey introduced a friend of the family. “This is Eli. We only want the cones to go in the brewing kettle, so it’s his job to pick out the leaves.”

She then encouraged pickers to make Eli’s job easier before reaching the conclusion that the Lee team – comprised of Brian Lee and Lee Amundson – had garnered first place with their nearly-full bucket.

The second round meant that another 10 teams could find their places under the hops tents, give it a go and see who had the most cones to show off at the end.

Bucket inspection came once the second round concluded, at which time Abbey’s parents, Jerry and Dixie Pomeroy, were declared the winners by .01 ounce more than the runners up who managed a hefty 4.02 pounds.

That’s when Jake opened up the tables for anyone who wanted to pick the rest of the hops from the bines and to inhale the citrusy aroma the hops emanate.

“We have a lot of hops put out on the table. We do need them picked. You can come up and smell them if you want,” he said.

Abbey issued the ultimate reason for everyone at Karst to dig into the piles. “If you want to drink beer on the 16th, dive in!”

Civil Sass is bringing its second season of hops-growing to a close, just as Karst, owned by Eric Luoma, is tapping tanks and filling growlers for its sophomore summer.

The competition was the prelude to the fresh, or wet, hops beer release for which the Sasses have sold hops to Luoma for the second time, and the anticipation of the finished brew, for die-hard craft beer lovers, a war of waiting.

But they’ll definitely remain Civil for the sake of being hoppy together in just a few weeks, when the autumn sun is shining down and there’s a cold one on the table. Yep, oh so hoppy.