High Hops Brewery Exemplifies Crop-to-Can Model

Artwork: courtesy High Hops Brewery

Artwork: courtesy High Hops Brewery

Windsor brewery grows its own hops, closing the loop on local craft beer

By Kyle Kirves

If that smug foodie friend drops another “farm-to-table” reference on you, consider coming back with “Have you tried crop-to-can?” 

Crop-to-can? Yeah, that’s right. It’s a phrase I’m coining right now to describe an agricultural renaissance going on in Colorado. Crop-to-can involves local farmers and ranchers raising or cultivating their own hops and other homegrown ingredients, brewing them up onsite in dedicated facilities, and then canning those concoctions for consumption across the country. Crop-to-can. Get it?

Is it new? Not really. But it is getting more notice by discriminating craft connoisseurs. One local operation, High Hops Brewery in Windsor, exemplifies the end-to-end, closed loop process. 

There’s something that appeals to craft fanatics about having as few hands as possible touching the produce before it gets to the glass. To borrow from the wine world, it preserves the terroir of the produce and creates a singular taste uncorrupted by lumping a bunch of varied hops together haphazardly. 

“We were originally a hop farm,” says Zach Weakland, head brewer and production manager. “We grow at high altitude, but High Altitude Hops Brewery is kind of a mouthful. So we just went with High Hops.”

Weakland said the Windsor-based operation is staffed by “outdoors-minded and agriculturally minded people.” The brewery is also part of a wider 15-acre operation that includes the Windsor Gardener garden center and the new Heart Distillery. As such, you might say that High Hops and its sister businesses are powered by the sun. So small wonder that Ol’ Sol figures prominently in High Hops’ primary logo, which is a stylized rising sun powering the growth of a vibrant green hop cone. “The sun is a big part of who we are,” says Weakland.

Beyond the solar logo, High Hops labels have employed comic takes on natural and mystical elements. 

“We want to relate our outdoor ethos to the beer but also the imagery and branding on it,” Weakland says. “The Power of Zeus for example, has a toad on it. We actually named the toad Zeus after the hop variety that grew in that part of our farm. The toad just kind of took up residence there. And now he’s on 
the can.” 

Other cans take on a mythological bent, with two in particular serving as a kind of yin-yang of art and beer styles. The Golden One, a pilsen-based ale with lemon verbena and other plants, features a floating Eastern philosopher in a state of meditative repose. 

Artwork: courtesy High Hops Brewery

Artwork: courtesy High Hops Brewery

“In Eastern medicine, coriander, a key ingredient of The Golden One, can spark or inspire enlightenment,” Weakland says. 

By contrast, The Dark One milk stout can features a smirking horn-headed Greek satyr winking at you with 
stein raised. 

“The names came from some late night ‘marketing’ conversations by the founders that turned a bit risqué,” Weakland says, laughing. We’ll leave it to your imagination what those brainstorming sessions sounded like. 

The High Hops crew has been doing more brainstorming lately, and the brewery’s current branding redesign will appear on shelves incrementally over the next few months. There is a new focus on consistent branding that unites all of High Hops together while, hopefully, serving as a reminder of what life at High Hops is like. 

“If you look at our brewery and our new can art, there’s a strong primary color palette there, emphasizing the Front Range. We’ll be looking to mimic that on our new art,”
 Weakland said. 

The desired effect is to bring home the sensation of visiting High Hops in person. 

“Longs Peak really dominates our skyline,” Zach says, “And where we are is a large part of who we are. We have a great view of the range from the farm and the brewery and we want you to be able to take a little bit of that experience home with you.” 

I could not have defined crop-to-can any better. 

Kyle Kirves drinks beer, plays guitar, runs trails, and manages projects – all with varying degrees of success. While not a craftsman himself, he is quite content writing about the Colorado artisans who create such wonderful things and memorable experiences.