The forgotten hops

Since late spring I’ve been taking advantage of any sunny afternoon that presents itself to get outside and stretch my legs by walking home from work. It’s nice to get out after a day in the office, the walk isn’t strenuous, it’s all sidewalks, almost exactly two miles from door to door and it gives me some time to think, more than one blog post has come to me while on those walks. This blog post is one of them, like many posts I’ve written and I’m sure I’ll write, it’s about hops.

Not just any hops mind you, the mystery hops that I’ve watched grow since I started walking home after work. Less than a half mile from home there is a house with a small garden about ten feet from the sidewalk, I took notice of the garden almost immediately but had no idea what was planted there, just that it was there and the soil had been tilled. Day after day, week after week I walked by this small garden and always threw a passing glance, from tilled soil came young shoots. The shoots grew quickly, getting taller, growing leaves and buds, flowers and fruits and vegetables. Some of the garden was dedicated to carrots and tomatoes and other veggies, the other side turned out to be flowers, and then there were the vines. There was one on either corner of the garden, growing up a stake that had been driven into the ground.

As the days and weeks passed the garden filled in, some days there was a sprinkler set up to water the garden, and from the sidewalk as I passed not a weed could be seen, a well cared for little garden, someone loved this patch of soil. Then one day I noticed that a couple of ropes had been strung across the gap between the two stakes and the vine was slowly wrapping around them and crossing the newly placed rope bridge to meet each other and I began to wonder, what kind of vine is that and why do the leaves look so familiar?

The vine began filling out impossibly fast, criss crossing and intertwining with the ropes and itself, obviously becoming heavy, it started to droop from the ropes but continues to cling on, then the flowers came and it hit me, hops, not vines but bines.

What kind of hops are they? The owner of this garden is obviously a homebrewer, will these hops go in a wet hot, harvest ale? will they be dried, bagged and stored in the owners freezer for a mid-winter brewday? The possibilities are about endless and I’d probably never know, but I could look forward to watching these hops grow as I passed by until they were harvested.

Well, part of that is true.

I did continue to watch the hops grow, they grew into a short, fat cone, a beautiful bright green that almost appeared to glow in the sun, and lots of them, these two bines were producing an impressive yield. As the days passed the hops continued to hang there, swaying in the breeze, the tomatoes turned from green to red and disappeared from the plants, the carrots were pulled up, even the flowers were picked. The garden started thinning out, the veggies were all harvested, the flowers pulled up, the tomato plants died off and were removed and the hops just hung there, green as ever, I could smell them as I passed.


It’s been a couple weeks but on Friday I walked home from work, maybe my last walk of the season, the trees along the route have dropped most of their leaves and the sun was sitting so low in the sky it threatened to drop out of sight before I made it home and the cold is coming, today was brisk but it’ll get colder. I walked past the little garden and was for the first time all season filled with disappointment, the hops are still hanging there. The garden is empty, pulled up, cleared out all set to be tilled and planted next spring and the hops still hang there. Those brilliant green cones are now a mottled brown-tan color, flaking open and curling like old paper. The bines are sagging, dried up, dead.

I still don’t know what kind of hops they were, I half suspect Cascade, they had that smell about them, but from the sidewalk, ten feet away it’s only my best guess, the other questions are answered though, there won’t be a harvest ale and yes they did dry up and will probably freeze but there won’t be a mid-winter brew. I watched these hops grow and wondered what their potential was, what they could be and would be and in the end they were someones missed opportunity.

I’m sure next spring I’ll start walking again, and that little garden will be there, maybe the hops will grow again, whoever planted them may not have enjoyed or appreciated them as much as the rest of their garden, but they made me smile every day I walked past, so maybe they weren’t a complete waste in the end.

Chad Lothian

About Chad Lothian

Chad Lothian lives in Old Town, Maine. He is a craft beer enthusiast and homebrewer. Chad has travelled to brewpubs, breweries and brewfests all over New England.