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Southwest Fresh Fest in Montrose, Colorado

During the summer, passersby on U.S. highway 550 between Montrose and Ridgway on Colorado's western slope can see the hop bines at Billy Goat Hop Farm from the road. From April through August, the plants gradually climb from the ground up their 18-foot trellises, getting bushier and greener as they mature.

Southwest Fresh Fest in Montrose, Colorado

Courtesy of Billy Goat Hop Farm


By Labor Day, farm owners Audrey Gehlhausen and Chris DellaBianca have harvested their crop to supply craft brewers across the southwest with their seasonal delicacy – fresh hops.


While most beers are made with hops that have been dried and pelletized, the August harvest

offers brewers a once-a-year opportunity to use the crop in its most natural state. The fresh

hops, also known as wet hops, infuse bitter styles like the India pale ale with bright, green and

herbaceous flavors while also lending dank notes to the aroma.


Thirsty yet? Mark your calendar for Sept. 23, when Billy Goat Hop Farm invites drinkers to

Southwest Fresh Fest in Montrose, Colorado, a party where drinkers can indulge in seasonal recipes made exclusively with the locally grown fresh hops.


More than 10 breweries from Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona will serve samples of their

unique wet hop beers as part of a friendly competition. Attendees will vote for their favorite

beverages, and the brewery with the most will earn the title of best fresh hop beer of 2023.

Southwest Fresh Fest in Montrose, Colorado

Courtesy of Billy Goat Hop Farm


Gehlhausen and DellaBianca hosted the inaugural Southwest Fresh Fest in 2022 and

welcomed about 250 people out to the farm to enjoy beers and live bluegrass music. The goal was to spotlight the Western Slope’s agricultural industry and inspire drinkers to think about where their beer comes from.


“The fresh hop beer is so traditional. I mean, that’s what was first used when they started putting hops in beer was the fresh raw hops. It’s like getting that fresh peach off the tree when you can only get them at harvest. You can only get this beer this time of year,” Gehlhausen said. “The fresh hop beer ties it to the land and the farm and the community.”


At 32 acres, Billy Goat is among the largest independent hop farms in Colorado. And yet it’s a

small outfit compared to the companies it competes with out of the Pacific Northwest, which

grow thousands of acres of hops each year.


At February’s Cascade Cup, an annual event hosted by trade association the Hop Quality

Group, Billy Goat beat out the competition when judges rated its Cascade hops the best in the

U.S. The farm became not only the first in Colorado to earn the title, but also the first outside the Pacific Northwest – a feat that shocked Gehlhausen, DellaBianca, and the rest of the industry.


What’s their secret to award-winning hops?


“So much love!” Gehlhausen said. “We put so much love into everything we do.”


The competition boded well for what turned out to be Billy Goat’s biggest fresh hop season yet.


“We sold 6,707 pounds this year to 60 breweries in five states,” Gehlhausen said.

Southwest Fresh Fest in Montrose, Colorado

Courtesy of Billy Goat Hop Farm


Breweries participating in Southwest Fresh Fest purchased any of the nine varieties Billy Goat

grows, though more than half of the beers will feature Cascade hops, she said.

The brewery lineup includes Avery Brewing Co. (Boulder), Grateful Gnome Brewery (Denver),

Wren House Brewing Co. (Phoenix), Base Camp Brewing Co. (Grand Junction), and Yampa

Valley Brewing Co. (Yampa Valley), among others.


Southwest Fresh Fest, which runs from 2 to 6 p.m., features live music from Drew Dvorchak

Band and Still House String Band alongside beer tastings, food vendors, and other revelry. In an effort to bring the experience full circle, Gehlhausen will lead a tour of the farm on which

attendees can see the inner workings of the "hoperation," from planting and picking to drying and packaging.


The second annual festival builds on momentum from its first year, when beer lovers celebrated the fruits of the farm’s labor by the sample glass even despite morning rain that turned the dirt dancefloor into mud.


“Folks came out in their boots and their flip flops and made the most of it,” Gehlhausen laughed. Gehlhausen advises visitors to wear appropriate shoes for a farm party.


The duo’s ambitions expand beyond an annual festival, too. Earlier this year, Billy Goat Hop

Farm secured a liquor license and a special use permit from the city of Montrose in hopes of

hosting private events year round at the farm. Gehlhausen and Della Bianca also plan to build a campground on the property with 14 spots that will be available to book throughout the year.


Gehlhausen and DellaBianca aim to expand farm tours in 2024, allowing drinkers to walk

between the bines and enjoy a beer onsite after. Keep up with all the happenings at Billy Goat

Hop Farm by following the company on Instagram.

Southwest Fresh Fest in Montrose, Colorado

Courtesy of Billy Goat Hop Farm


Tickets for Southwest Fresh Fest are $30 if purchased in advance ($35 day-of) and include a tour and bottomless beer samples. Food and merchandise are extra. Designated driver tickets are on sale for $15 and kids 12 and under get in free. Additionally, Southwest Fresh Fest is offering free shuttles to the farm from Cerise Park and the Montrose Rec Center from 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.


Find all the details at southwestfreshfest.com.


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