Bad Cats and Wet Hops
We love sourcing locally, and, luckily, in Cape May, “locally” means anywhere in South Jersey. This area is what gives the Garden State its name, and we’ve got some of the best produce in the world.
It’s even better when it comes from right up the street.
“I love working with local farmers,” says Head Brewer Brian Hink, “and you don’t get much more local than these guys! Flacco, or at least maybe his older brother, could throw a football to Bad Cat Farms. Maybe. If the wind was in his favor. and had a good bounce or two.
“You get the idea. They’re really close.”
Last year, we told you about Fincas del Mar Farms. It’s changed hands and has been rechristened as Bad Cat Farms. Rob and Shayla Woolfort are running the game — the third set of farmers in four years.
“We’re hoping to be the last farmers on that land,” Shayla says hopefully.
“Farming looks amazing on Instagram — and it is amazing — but it’s a lot of sweat and sunburn. But with the amount of time we’ve put into weeding this year?” she laughs. “We couldn’t walk away.
“But we wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she admits. “It takes a special breed of crazy and grit to really be a hops farmer.”
Rob grew up in the area, but Shayla is originally from the Poconos. They met at school in Philly and moved back down here a few years ago. Shayla was a journalism major and Rob and his brother started a construction business.
Neither of them has any background in farming, but they’re making it work.
“I knew the landlord,” Shayla says, “and he kept mentioning that he was looking for someone. I thought it was a crazy idea. I didn’t even mention it to Rob for a couple of months. But this guy just kept asking me to take over his hops farm.”
And, to be completely honest, you have to be a little crazy to farm hops. They are notoriously difficult to farm, as we’ve mentioned previously. It takes a few years for the plants to really produce anything worthwhile.
However, these aren’t new plants. They were planted in the spring of 2016, so this was their first full yield.
“This year was an experiment,” Rob says. “We didn’t know if the plants were going to live, if they were going to die of fungus or mildew or pests. We were so encouraged by how far we got in such a little amount of time.”
They’re growing Cascade, Nugget, Columbus, Centennial, and Chinook, and they’ve sold their entire yield this year. With the number of breweries in the area, it wasn’t difficult. We took a fair amount of their Cascade, Chinook, and Columbus for a limited batch of wet-hopped Cape May IPA.
Usually, hops are dried out and pelletized for use by breweries. Drying them helps to preserve them, and grinding them down and pelletizing them allows for better dissolution and, ultimately, better utilization of flavors.
Wet hops, as you might imagine, have not been dried and are used as soon as possible after being harvested. They’re fresh from the vine.
“The flavor one gets from wet hops is very fresh and feels more natural,” says Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm. “It can be a bit more subtle on the aromatics, and it’ll have a bit of a rustic or agricultural note to it as well, but it’s great stuff.”
This version of our flagship IPA is a wet-hopped dry-hopped beer. Dry hopping involves adding hops after the primary fermentation has completed — this is where most of the hoppy aroma comes from.
This batch is going to be a little of the familiar with a “fresh” twist. Normally, Cape May IPA is dry hopped with half-and-half Cascade and Chinook, but they didn’t have enough Chinook for this batch, so we added a bit of Columbus.
“So it’ll have some similarities to our regular IPA but with a fresher feel to the beer,” Jimmy says. “It’s like using vanilla sourced from different locations. It’s still vanilla — or in this case hops — but it’s the little differences that make it fun to play around with.”
While Bad Cat is still on the small side — only about an acre-and-a-half — they got 1.1 miles of hops bines this year.
“Next year we should have quadruple the yield,” Rob hopes. “We’re looking to expand and we’ve got new plants in the ground this year. We’re hoping to expand into a few different varieties.”
They’re researching what they want to do next year, but a Citra is probably in the future.
“Hopefully with a larger yield next year we could do a full-sized batch with all of their hops!” Brian says. “They have some great variety, and with the second growing season offering a significantly higher yield, we should be able to do something really fun with them.”
We’re looking forward to it! In the meantime, our wet-hopped Cape May IPA releases next Tuesday. Don’t miss out!