Vashon hops make for PNW beer

In the not-too distant future, it might be island hops you taste in your beer.

In the not-too distant future, it might be island hops you taste in your beer.

Owner and operator Alyssa O’Cotter has run the 12-acre Sweet Alyssum Farm for five years, selling flowers wholesale to businesses such as Herban Bloom or the Queen Anne Farmer’s Market.

Sweet Alyssum, located just east of the town core, is primarily a cut flower farm but since 2020 has also grown a quarter-acre of hops seasonally, O’Cotter said.

Their first hop harvest was just last year, and O’Cotter is hoping to grow the enterprise and get the Sweet Alyssum hops into more beverages.

Last year, they sold to Camp Colvos; this year, to Ghostfish Brewing based in Seattle. She estimated they harvested around 500 pounds of hops this year.

“Typically … we sell our hops fresh, which means they have to go into a brew within 24 to 48 hours from when they’re harvested,” O’Cotter said.

The drinks made with those hops have probably already been drunk, O’Cotter said, but she hopes to keep working with Ghostfish, and Camp Colvos if they’re interested, to put more brews out each September.

“I’m really hoping it becomes a bigger thing in the future, and maybe we can have some community involvement,” O’Cotter said, pointing out that hops harvesting is a labor intensive process.

Her husband helps here and there but works an off-island job, and seasonal hired help fills in the gaps; but it’s O’Cotter running the show.

The Pacific Northwest is an ambitious climate for growing hops — the flowers of which are the iconic, desired part of the crop. The hop plant is a climber that likes dry, warm weather and requires constant pruning and positioning to create airflow and prevent disease.

“People are pretty interested to learn that we’re growing hops on the western side of the state,” she said. “(But) we’ve had our highest yields, and the plants looked their best, this year.”

Grown and harvested correctly, hops add a rich bittering flavor to beverages, as well as floral or citrusy tones. They can be used in non-alcoholic drinks, such as teas and herbal medicines, too. Hops also have an antibacterial effect and slow spoilage of beer made with them.

Commercial operations aren’t the only ones brewing with hops from Sweet Alyssum.

James Cottrell is an indie cider maker who uses salvaged fruit from around the island. Cottrell has worked in the wine industry since 1970 and lived on Vashon for about 27 years — in that time taking advantage of the island’s many fruit trees to run his own non-commercial cider outfit.

“I call it Salvage Ciderworks because I’m salvaging all the fruit,” Cottrell said. “It’s all coming to me gratis.”

In recent years he’s experimented with using hop extracts to make hopped cider — a process aided when he got in