SPEARFISH | Steve Polley is more and more convinced that his patented method of quick-freezing hops is not only another way to preserve one of the key ingredients in beer, but it also enhances the flavor and aroma of the popular adult beverage.
Now, he has a $15,000 grant that he received last spring from the U.S. Agriculture Department specialty-crop program to continue his research on the effect of frozen hops on beer's taste and quality.
The hop flower, known by its scientific name Humulus Lupulu, is a delicate, pale-green bud full of amino acids, the primary bittering agent used by brewers to balance the sweetness of grain.
Hops give a beer bitterness when used early in brewing and impart aroma when added at the end of the process. Hops are also a preservative that help extend the life of a beer, according to kegworks.com.
Most American hops come from the Northwest and traditionally are kiln-dried quickly after harvest, a process requiring large heated drying barns.
Ten years ago, Polley founded Dakota Hops of Spearfish and has been applying for grants to help keep his research going.
“We’re looking at alternative methods of preserving the crop. That what this whole thing is about,” he said. “And if you’re using a different method to preserve the hop crop, how does that affect the quality of the beer?”
Ongoing tests over several years with brewers, both in the Black Hills and as far away as Oregon, have shown promise, Polley said.
The results were the same, he said. Brewers told him the frozen hops made at least as good a beer, if not better than kiln-dried hops.
Polley is using the latest specialty-crop grant to pay for a local brewmaster to work part-time, testing different varieties of his frozen hops.
“I’m not a brewmaster. I’m trying to learn, but if I’m going to get this done before I kick off, I better find someone that knows what they’re doing and that’s what we’ve done,” Polley said.
Polley and Spearfish High School classmate Judi Black will hand-pick a small crop of Cascade-variety hops from a pair of acreages, one between Newell and Nisland and the other near Rapid City.
Another small acreage of hops north of Newell was wiped out in a tornado this spring, he said.
“When I first got with Steve, I didn’t know what a hop was,” Black said. “I do now.”
The freshly harvested hops are either frozen in a home freezer, or frozen with nitrogen in a cryogenic freezer capable of temperatures as low as minus-120 degrees.
Polley started his project just out of curiosity, he said, after a reported shortage of hops in 2008.
Experts said it couldn’t be done, that the delicate hops flower would turn to mush, but they were wrong, Polley said.
“Hops freeze beautifully,” he said.
Polley will either freeze them whole right off the vine, or grind them up and press them into discs, resembling hockey pucks.
“We don’t know if some varieties don’t freeze well. We may find some that are better. We just simply don’t know until we do the testing,” he said.
Polley said the pilot research brewery at Black Hills State University may have a remote chance of becoming a brewing program at the university.
But that would take approval by the Board of Regents, along with legislative changes in regard to how sales of any beer produced on campus would be handled, he said.
City officials in Rapid City and Summerset are looking into connecting Summerset’s sewer system to Rapid City’s.
At today's Rapid City Council meeting, the board will consider an agreement committing the city to participate in a joint study to evaluate the technical and economic impacts of providing sanitary sewer service to Summerset.
Significant capital improvements are needed at the Summerset wastewater-treatment plant in the near term and both cities see a potential benefit if Rapid City provided collection and treatment at one facility, according to city documents.
The Council will also consider a request to authorize city staff to seek proposals from engineer firms for the feasibility study. Both cities would split the cost of the study, estimated at $60,000.
The study is expected to evaluate potential locations for sanitary sewer connections, the capacity of Rapid City’s collection system, and the cost of the necessary infrastructure improvements and cost of service.
Jesse and Ashley Lee’s stuffed gourmet burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches and fresh-cut french fries have developed a firm following since they brought The Good Stuffed food trailer to Rapid City in February of 2017.
Now, the Lees are hoping their loyal customers will follow them inside at the Countryside Grill & Events Center, recently opened at the site of the roadhouse long known as the Fireside Inn at 23021 Hisega Road, west of Rapid City on Highway 44.
Jesse said they were looking for an indoor restaurant space to get them through the winter months.
“It’s hard to make it with a food truck in the wintertime,” he said.
A food truck, or trailer in their case, is a convenient way to get into the restaurant business without the high overhead of a full restaurant. But along with the seasonal restrictions, the food trailer also limits menu creativity because of the lack of a full kitchen and pantry.
The old Fireside Inn building offers plenty of both.
“Now, we can start getting really crazy with our menu and options, because we have a lot more space and the ability to do that now,” Jesse Lee said.
To an expanded burger menu, they’ve added sandwiches, appetizers and pasta dishes. They also serve beer now, Jesse said.
Friday night’s menu offers a hand-breaded walleye special. Saturday is prime-rib night, and they host a Sunday brunch.
They’ve also brought back a Fireside menu specialty, when the place was known for its French onion soup
“The coolest part is everybody telling us all the cool stories about coming up here and what it meant to them,” Jesse said.
Lee is originally from Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, and spent 15 years in Colorado, where he and Ashley started The Good Stuffed trailer.
The Countryside Grill is open from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday. The events center there is also available for holiday party bookings.
“Everybody knows what the old Fireside was and now it’s just a matter of getting the word out that we’re opening it again,” he said.