Fresh hops are a long way off, we know, but early spring marks a critical moment in the life of a hop plant. As the first shoots start poking through the soil — three on this plant, five on that one — it’s pruning time. Trimming the shoots resets the clock on their growth and ensures that the vines will all climb and mature at the same time, a big help come fall.

It’s a lot of dirty, hands-and-knees-type work, but there’s a delicious perk … for us and for you.

“Hop shoots are normally the type of thing we would cut off and let decompose,” says our friend Adam Dellinger, the farmer behind Carlisle’s Sunny Brae Hops. “In the U.S., it’s very rare to pickle them. But in Europe, particularly in Belgium, hop shoots are a delicacy, and we’re trying to bring that tradition to America.”

To help Adam prune his two acres of Cascade, Chinook, Nugget and Comet, a 30-strong team of Tröegs brewers, chefs, packagers, servers, bartenders, planners and mechanics recently made the hour-long trek to Sunny Brae and got our collective hands dirty.

“It was a killer day,” says Tröegs co-founder John Trogner. “It’s good for our team to get out of the brewery every once in a while and actually see and feel and taste some of the raw ingredients that go into our beer.”

It was one of the first sunny and 60-degree days of the year, and pretty much all of us got the sunburn to prove it. But we got done in a matter of hours what would have taken Adam and his wife Diana days.

Row by row, hop knives in hand, we scooted along in small groups, cutting every hop shoot in sight back to the soil. We also cleared any weeds, which helps keep the hop plants warm and dry and fends off downy mildew, the scourge of East Coast hop growers. By lunchtime, we had more than half a dozen 5-gallon buckets brimming with leafy green shoots, which Adam graciously let us take home.


First taste

Luckily, we didn’t have to wait to get a taste of pickled shoots. Michael Reese, one of our packaging line operators and an avid gardener, pickled a handful of shoots and brought a few jars to Sunny Brae.

“It was pretty good for my first try,” he says. “I just used traditional pickling techniques. I put them in apple cider vinegar with raw garlic, mustard seed, water, fennel, clove, salt and sugar. Everyone seemed to like them.”

Quick and simple works, too. Catering Manager Alicia Ferrari took a bunch of shoots home and sautéed them in butter and garlic.

“I didn’t even salt them or pepper them,” she says. “It reminded me of kale or a really dark green. They were delightful.”

Back at the brewery, Sous Chef Brian Kerstetter found a traditional Bavarian recipe and put a Tröegs twist on it. He created our brine with apple cider vinegar and Perpetual IPA and added coriander, minced carrot, garlic, sugar and mustard seed. Steeping the shoots for about a week softened them a bit but kept a slight crunch.

Curious what they taste like? Pop in to our Tasting Room & Snack Bar and order the Cheese & Charcuterie Plate. Alongside the Pennsylvania cheeses, our chicken-liver mousse and a slice of toast, you’ll find a few pickled hop shoots fresh from Sunny Brae … while they last, of course!

“They’re almost like a fresh-hop beer,” Adam says. “It’s a once-a-year thing.”


Eat the hops, get the T-shirt

“We couldn’t do what we do without the support of the local breweries,” says Adam. “That sense of community enables us to survive and become a viable business.”

Show your support for a local grower by picking up a Sunny Brae Hops T-shirt, now available in the General Store at our Hershey brewery. We have two designs in both men’s and women’s cuts.