The scene at Nopalito Farm & Hopyard’s mid-June grand-opening party in Valley Center was something straight out of a Geico ad-exec’s wildest dreams. Cute-couple band the Dawsons played on a stage hosted by Grampadrew’s Flim Flam Revue, a collective of alt-country and folk musicians who perform monthly at Whistle Stop Bar. Impossibly adorable kids ran through the fields in braids and cowboy boots, their 30-something dad trailing behind with a handful of magnifying glasses to help better examine the hops. Friends from San Diego and L.A. lounged on picnic blankets throughout the farm, wearing overalls and sipping lemonade made from Nopalito citrus and gin from East Village’s Old Harbor Distilling Co.
Everywhere I looked, everything was so gosh darn cornpone beautiful (blame gin?). The sentiment breached critical levels as a few of us piled into a 1973 Swiss military safari Jeep run by Scavengers Beer Adventures, a local tour outfit, and took a spin around the organic farmyard. Named for the small cacti that dot the landscape, Nopalito was founded late last year by Jordan and Mariah Brownwood. The couple planted two-and-a-half acres of hops, making them the second largest of ten farms in the San Diego Hop Growers Association. Thanks to the region’s climate, the Brownwoods have been able to harvest as early as July and deliver locally within hours of the hop leaving the vine. Dried hops will be available in August after strains such as Cascade, Chinook, Nugget, Crystal, Galena, and Zeus have cured in solar driers.
“San Diego County has one of the largest brewing communities in the world,” Jordan later told me, “but what’s lacking is a direct connection between growers and brewers like you see in the Northwest. We are not just looking at farm-to-table, we are looking at farm-to-barrel. Just like chefs in recent years have developed relationships with farmers, we would like to see the same thing happening between farmers and brewers.”
Breweries including Nickel Beer Company, Monkey Paw Brewing, Fall Brewing Company, and Cervecería Insurgente (Tijuana) have already expressed interest in Nopalito’s estimated 2000+ pound harvest. Meanwhile, their avocados are supplying Lucha Libre, which has a new location in North Park, and their lemons go to Fairweather/Rare Form by the ballpark, where Jordan bartends. It’s likely that some of the farm’s flora may also end up at Royale with Cheese, a gourmet grilled-cheese stand that the Brownwoods operate behind the nascent Park & Rec in University Heights. One of the cocktail consultants at Park & Rec, Trevor Easter, is an old friend of Jordan and his brothers since the sixth grade growing up in East County.
Shortly after our farm tour disembarked, Easter presented the Brownwoods with a replica of Grant Wood’s classic American Gothic painting in which Jordan and Mariah’s faces replace the stoic originals. The comraderous mood was augmented by kegs of Fall IPA and a Belgian from Mission. The taps on the jockey box had zonked out earlier in the day, so neighbor Bob Marek and his son Alex, the owner and brewmaster at Valley Center Brewery, respectively, had brought out extra growlers and, later, had hand pumps delivered so the party could continue. The bond between farmer and brewer was already all too apparent.
“The party we had was just one of the beginning stages of [the farmer/brewer connection],” Jordan says. “It was really special having guys from some of our favorite breweries walking around the hopyard, showing such genuine curiosity. We’re just excited to be another part of the vine-to-barrel process here in San Diego.”