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Philadelphia Brewing cancels beer release after city destroys its hops

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City workers whisked past a sign last week that the Philadelphia Brewing Co. had posted next to its hop vines.

“HOP GARDEN — watch us GROW!” the sign read in bright green and yellow letters before continuing in smaller black type. “These hops will be used in Harvest from the Hood, an annual limited release wet hopped IPA brewed by Philadelphia Brewing Co.”

That was the plan, anyway. Early on Sept. 13, a city crew charged with fixing code violations and beautifying neighborhoods in Philadelphia mistook the hops for overgrown weeds and mowed them down. Philadelphia Brewing co-owner Nancy Barton told The Washington Post that the brewery lost its entire 60-pound hop crop. That forced the small business to scratch the release of Harvest from the Hood, a seasonal IPA it has made for 10 years. She estimated the company will lose $30,000 to $40,000, revenue it counts on each year.

“I was angry and frustrated and in disbelief and super sad when we got here and saw it,” said Barton, 57, who’s owned and operated Philadelphia Brewing with her 54-year-old husband, Bill, since 2007.

“I probably cursed a lot,” she added.

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Kevin Lessard, a city spokesperson, confirmed that the city cut down the hops. “Regrettably, due to miscommunication and staff error, the hops were removed by the City’s Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP), as they were initially marked as a violation as it appeared the lot was overgrown,” he wrote in an email.

City officials apologized to Philadelphia Brewing, he added. They are working with the Bartons to “explore what we can do to rectify this situation” and have explained how to file a claim with the city, Lessard said. “We’re also engaging with staff on the ground to ensure that proper procedures are followed in the future.”

The Bartons have been in the beer-brewing business for roughly 25 years. Philadelphia Brewing started making Harvest from the Hood in 2012 and, about three years later, employees began growing hops for the seasonal IPA on an 18-by-70-foot lot that sits a few feet from the brewery, Barton said. Every year, shoots emerge from the hop vines in March. Early in the season, the brewery selects two or three of the strongest ones and directs nutrients to them by chopping back the rest.

This year, a brewery employee made growing the hops his pet project, toiling out in the “blazing sun” throughout the summer to care for “his baby,” Barton said. The vines were growing strong along the string of coconut-fiber rope the brewery had set up — his hard work was paying off.

“It probably would have been the best year we’ve had with these hops. They were just — it was perfect,” Barton said. “The hop cones were getting just big and beautiful, and it was going to be good. … And we were probably two weeks out from harvesting.”

As always, the hops were destined to go straight into the beer to add aroma, taste and bitterness to the final product. Normally, brewers add hops that have been dried and concentrated into pellet form, Barton said, and that’s how Philadelphia Brewing makes its other beers. The Harvest from the Hood IPA is the only “wet-hopped” one it brews.

“It gives it more of a very fresh, earthy flavor to it. It’s the only beer we do like that once a year, and people look forward to it,” Barton said.

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It also introduces variability to the process that the Bartons can’t entirely control, she said. They never know exactly what they’re making until they taste the final product, which, despite sharing a name, is never the same as its predecessors.

“That’s the fun thing about this beer, is it does change each year depending on the harvest we get from the hops,” Barton said.

This year is the most extreme example — no hops, no harvest, no beer.

The events that led to the Sept. 13 hop massacre started about six weeks earlier when the city sent a violation notice to the New Kensington Community Development Corp., the organization that owns the lot where Philadelphia Brewing has grown hops for some seven years, Barton said. The organization forwarded the notice to the brewery, and Barton immediately called the city.

Barton said she explained that the hop vines weren’t weeds and that the brewery rigorously keeps up the lot, making sure it’s free of trash and “crazy weeds.” An inspector told her he’d gone back out to the hop garden and determined there was no violation, Barton said.

Then, on the morning of Sept. 13, the employee who’d diligently cared for the hop garden for nearly six months texted Barton to tell her it had been destroyed. Barton said she’s still not sure how city workers mistook the vines for weeds.

“I don’t know anybody that grows weeds and trains them up coconut string to make them look lovely. That’s not a thing,” Barton said, adding that, in her view, the vines actually “spruced up” the neighborhood.

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People from across the country have since reached out to offer Philadelphia Brewing their hops, Barton said. She’s politely declined, explaining that the point of Harvest from the Hood is to make it from hops grown in the Kensington neighborhood. But, she added, the offers make her “feel much better about humanity.”

She also said she feels better knowing there will be more hops in the future. While the crews destroyed this year’s crop, the plant’s underground stems remain. They’ll keep growing and once again put out shoots come March.

“They’ll come back next year,” Barton said.

And, she added, so will the beer.

Source: Washington Post

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