I cup the blossom and raise it to my nose. A sweet smell of wet grass and pine can be
easily detected. Then I return my gaze to the motherly apron clad women sitting by the barn merrily plucking hops from the vines. My lovely wife is now among them laughing as she helps toss hops buds into a nearby basket. One of the women begins singing a Bavarian tune. I imagine that is a hymn to hops that has been sung in these rolling hills of the Hallertau for centuries.
Hops are no longer harvested by hand. But on this fest day in August, an hour’s drive north from Munich, the practice has been revived. Today, they honor the flower that is entwined itself into the culture and economy of these hills. If I were to climb to the top of the hill behind the barn and look out in any direction I would see fields of tall hops vines waving back at me. But that climb would take me away from all of the action of the fest. I would miss the small parade and the dance of the coopers. The fest music and laughter from the beer garden would barely be audible. I would be to far away to smell the roast chickens or to squeeze the fresh baked pretzels. So, instead, I explore the temporary hops market on the way back to our table.
Nearly twenty market stalls have been set up selling a wide variety traditional Bavarian goods. Leder-hosen and dirndls, of course, are spread around a couple stalls. Baskets, local cheese and baked goods are also available. Fittingly, many of the stands offer of items made the celebrated star of the day. Hops infused soap or hops and berry jams, for example, are on display. With mild apprehension, I choose to sample the hops infused sparkling wine. To my delight, it was crisp and refreshing. The subtle flavor of the hops complemented the earthy light oak aromas of the wine. It was unique and delicious.
Nevertheless, hops in wine is only a novelty. The best way, in my opinion, to celebrate this noble flower, this cousin of cannabis, is to raise a glass of beer. So, I find my way back to he table where my friends and my wife have also returned. And, in the time honored method, we bring our glasses together saying “Prost” to the hops.
The Hop Plucking Festival (Hopfenzupfen Fest) is an annual event held in early August at the Ratzenhofen Schlossgarten. Ratenhofen Schloss is located at Dorfstrasse 32 near the town of Elsendorf. Visitors to the fest may also want to check out the nearby Hopfenhimmel (Hops Heaven), an observation deck that offers a unique perspective of the surrounding hops fields.