Tucked along Yale Road on the western edge of Chilliwack lies Royalwood Farm, a 77-acre acre property owned by the Pauls family, who have been farming in the Fraser Valley for three generations.
“My grandparents came to Canada from the old country in 1948,” said Brian Pauls, who now runs the family business, Rosewood Farms Ltd., which has its roots in a variety of agricultural operations: from chickens to corn and flowers to food, if it can be grown in or on the ground, you can likely find it on the Pauls’ property.
And now they can add being the only farm in Western Canada to grow the nation’s first patented hops, aptly named Sasquatch.
The Pauls family is growing nearly 20 acres of Sasquatch hops on two properties within the Fraser Valley; this will be the first commercial harvest of Sasquatch hops. (Sarah Gawdin/The Progress)
“Sasquatch is sort of a fun name,” said Don Konantz, CEO of Hops Connect, the company that designed and patented Canada’s first homegrown hop plant.
“It’s very true, north, strong and free, wild, snowy, interesting, enigmatic image of what Canada and the true north is all about.
“And people just love it!” he continued. “They love the name, the idea, and that it’s local. Who doesn’t want to consume local and Canadian when they’re having a beer?
That’s another reason why “we are so excited to bring out … the first Canadian hop,” added the CEO happily.
Based on a wild strain, Sasquatch “is its own hop in every way … (and Hops Connect) has the plant breeders rights for it. The plant is patented, has been vetted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and we’ve trademarked the name Sasquatch,” he continued.
First cultivated in the Coastal mountains north of Vancouver on a little one-acre farm, Konantz says Hops Connect has moved the first commercial Sasquatch harvest to two plots of Pauls land within the Fraser Valley.
“There were agronomic factors (involved in moving the crops like) climate and soil,” said Konantz.
“The land (where the hops are now being grown) is good … as is the available partnership and expertise that came with the Pauls Family … and this year in particular has been really good for growing hops.”
However, for the Pauls, the decision to add Sasquatch to the family business was a good farming opportunity because they already had infrastructure in place for hops crops.
“When my grandparents first arrived in Chilliwack, their first job was to pick hops,” said Pauls with a smile. “So we’ve come full circle.
“And we’re supplying a market. I mean, Molson is now in Chilliwack, so (the market’s) right here,” said Pauls standing next to almost 5,000 Sasquatch hop plants.
However, Sasquatch won’t likely end up in a Molson beer can anytime soon, says Konantz.
“We (only) grow, process, import, and distribute hops (for) the leading craft brewers in Canada,” said Konantz.
Our hops aren’t for “the big, corporate, multi-national brewers who make beer on such a grand scale that they … put things in beer that doesn’t need to be in beer.”
True, good-tasting beer, says Konantz, should follow rhenheitzabut, or the Bavarian Purity law, which states beer should only be made up of four ingredients: water, malt, hops, and yeast.
|The traditional flavour from the hops comes from the oils produced in hops cone's lupulin gland. (Sarah Gawdin/The Progress)|
Originating in Europe, hops made their way in beer production centuries ago. And although there are a few main strains used in brewing today, there are 245 kinds of hops being grown the world over, explained Konantz. And of those, the most popular are Columbus, Chinook, Cascade, which has flavour notes similar to Sasquatch.
“It’s like a mix between Cascade and Goldings, which is a traditional UK variety,” explained Nick Fengler, Brewmaster at Old Yale Brewing (OYB) in Chilliwack, who’s signature beer is their Sasquatch Stout.
“So when we heard about the Sasquatch hops, we wanted to get to the front of that line,” and produce the first Canadian-made beer with the first Canadian-made hops.
To do that, Fengler says OYB is bypassing the waitlist for dried, processed hops, and is instead brewing a batch of fresh hops beer, meaning the first cans of Sasquatch hops-brewed beer will hit the shelves in September.
“It’s a collaborative effort with four other breweries,” said Fengler. “It’s under our license, but (there) will be a hundred per cent new label (on the cans), with everyone’s logo.”
And true to the Canadian roots of both the hops and involved breweries, Fengler says the project is a gamble, yet exciting.
“We as brewers want to support each other as we’re often left out of the Vancouver (craft beer) scene, so (we’re collaborating) to make sure our (brewing) community is strengthened.”
But it’s not only OYB who’s excited for Canada’s first hop, says Konantz.
“What’s exciting is even at this small level, we have brewers lined up saying (they’ll) take everything (we) can grow,” Konantz said. “And we want these brewers to express themselves and create a beer (with our hops) that Canadians can be proud of.”