Drying hops is the boss’s domain

The sight is a thoroughly familiar one for me. So familiar even, that I don’t really think about it when I’m driving down to Munich through the verdant landscape of the Hallertau region. After all, I’ve already seen the fields full of high, green-clad poles innumerable times, and I know they are Hallertau hops that are growing their way upwards. By the end of the summer, a hop vine will have soared seven whole meters closer to the Bavarian sky. And then, when they’re at their tallest – they get harvested. It would almost be tragic if it weren’t so interesting. Because the hop harvest is most definitely interesting, as becomes clear at the latest after with two of my colleagues I get a chance to experience the hop harvest on Eugen Kirzinger’s farm.

Once we’ve arrived at the farm, we start off by getting an impression of the hall in which the hop cones are being picked. First of all, it’s noisy. And dark. Gradually, our eyes can make out two gigantic machines – and we realise where the noise is coming from. If you think hop-picking is a calming, meditative manual occupation, then Eugen Kirzinger’s farm will swiftly prove you wrong. Two farmhands “feed” the two harvesting machines with the vines of the hop plants, and then in the deafening machines they are shaken, vibrated and separated until the cones and the unusable rest of the plants leave the hall separately.

We’ve been observing that tractors are repeatedly delivering trailer-loads of new hop vines. And then driving straight back out again to fetch new ones. So we pile into the car and follow the next tractor. We end up in a hop field, where on this morning the “Hallertauer Mittelfrüh” variety is being harvested: the hop vines are cut off at the bottom, tear away from the top of the wire frame where the wire is bent, and then fall neatly and lengthwise onto the trailer. More or less ready and waiting for the harvesting machines in the hall. To make sure that none of the precious hops are lost, two helpers are busily engaged in gathering up everything that falls off the trailers or gets stuck on the wire frame – in a jiffy the field has been harvested and looks really “tidy”.

Back on the farm once more, Agnes Kirzinger shows us the two harvesting machines again in more detail: the tilted conveyor belts and the blowers that separate the hop cones from the leaves and twigs. And the ramified paths of the belts, on which the cones pass through three different levels in their journey out of the machine into the various drying rooms – and here, in the kiln. Agnes Kirzinger’s guided tour comes to an end. Because “drying hops is the boss’s domain”. So her husband takes over, and explains to us how the hops are dried in three stages at 65°C – until they are then packed with a moisture content of 10 %. No more and no less. Because only when the moisture content is right will the quality and the price be right as well.

I would much prefer to stay there, in the kiln that Eugen Kirzinger lovingly calls the “hop sauna”. Where it’s so warm and cosy, and above all has an incredibly intensive smell. Sweetish, but nonetheless spicy. And at the same time fruity-fresh. Hops, you see – I’m crazy about them.

But at long last we tear ourselves away and finish off our visit by ascending to the heavens. Well, it’s “only” the hop heavens, but it does full justice to its name: even the sun comes out specially for us when we gaze out from the viewing platform that the Kirzingers have built, towering high above the surrounding hop fields. And you do feel a bit closer to heaven– we even get a bit nearer to it than the hops.


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