Edible Ohio Valley Summer 2016 : Page 54

FARM TO STEIN A beer aficionado explores a new offshoot of the booming craft brewing business: locally grown hops. BY THOMAS MORGAN PHOTOGRAPHY BY NATALIE JEANNE 54 edible ohio valley www.edibleohiovalley.com

Sustain

By Thomas Morgan • Photography By Natalie Jeanne

FARM TO STEIN

A beer aficionado explores a new offshoot of the booming craft brewing business: locally grown hops.

If you know anything about beer, you know that hops are an integral part of brewing, adding flavor, aroma, and stylistic characteristics that help distinguish, say, a lager from an IPA. Given the ever-expanding local food movement plus the booming craft brewing industry, it shouldn't be surprising that local hop growing is on the rise in Ohio. Breweries in Ohio spent around $6 million dollars last year on hops, with almost all of that money leaving the state. That makes hop farming a logical extension of local food, increasing the farm-to-glass possibilities found in the Ohio Valley. While Ohio lacks some of the necessary infrastructure, the last couple of years have seen a rapid growth in local hop processing as well as the opening of maltsters in the state.

MANKATO FARMS

I visited Tom and Stacey Hoenie at Mankato Farms in New Carlisle, OH, a couple of days after they had finished harvesting last year's crop. Tom had already delivered fresh hops to Dayton Beer Co. and Mad Tree Brewing Co., and was still in the process of drying the rest of the whole-cone hops to prepare them to be pelletized. After showing me around the barn where most of the harvesting takes place, he took me to the drying room to show me the new processing facility. All those drying hops smelled like heaven.

Last year was Mankato Farms' third year of operation for the Hoenies and their partners, Joe and Aimee Pellegrino. They started with 1 acre of hops in the first year, added an acre each of the last two years, and plan to continue growing at that rate for at least a couple more years. Production has grown from about 60 pounds of hops in their first year to around 900 pounds in 2015. Cascade is the primary hop, but they also grow Centennial, Chinook, Columbus, Fuggle, and Mt. Hood.

The big change to Mankato Farms in 2015 was becoming a licensed processing facility. In addition to purchasing a pelletizer, which turns hop cones into pellets and aids in the storage and preservation of hop bitterness, this means that Mankato Farms can pelletize hops for other growers. "Putting a dent in the out-of-state supply is our short-term goal," Tom Hoenie says, adding that there's simply not enough existing growing or processing capacity in Ohio to fully supply local brewers. Still, his main focus is on growing hops. "Our goal is not to be an industry juggernaut, though. Knowing we're helping to restore a lost industry and be part of its future is fun. We just want to help people make good beer with ingredients grown closer to home."

While hop farming is not a full-time job–both couples work elsewhere– Hoenie's interest in hop farming stems from his days as a homebrewer and his family's history of farming. But his real motivation came during a business trip to Wisconsin, when he visited one of the largest and oldest craft brewers in the state. While on the brewery tour, he asked a family member of the brewery's founder about his thoughts on growing hops in the Midwest. "His response was, 'No way. It's not going to happen,'" Hoenie recalls. "I went home and started planning. I wanted to stick it to him and prove him wrong."

LITTLE MIAMI FARMS

This is the third year of hop growing for Little Miami Farms in Spring Valley, OH, a partnership among Jamie Arthur, Krista Arthur, and Amy Forsthoefel. Currently, they have 500 plants covering a little over half an acre, including Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Nugget, and Zeus. There is also a second, smaller section down the hill from the main plot that has Southern Cross and Crystal. Their primary aim is to provide local homebrewers with fresh local hops.

The hops are located on a larger farm that Jamie and Krista bought several years ago, and hop growing is a second career for all three. While Krista still works in the corporate world, each has a role in hop production: Jamie is the Chief Hoperating Officer, Amy is in charge of Marketing Hoperations, and Krista is the Eternal Hoptimist. When they first discussed the possibility of hop farming, Jamie acknowledges that he had reservations, admitting that he initially thought it sounded a bit too much like recent farming fads. "When we first looked at growing hops, I wanted to make sure hops weren't another alpaca craze like in the early 2000s when folks bought the animals for tax breaks and big profits but ended up losing their investments when the demand for alpaca products never materialized." His initial experience has been the exact opposite, however. "Local demand already exceeds local supply," he says, "and all signs indicate demand will remain strong for years to come."

All three are excited to be a part of the burgeoning hop farming movement in Ohio, as well as part of the local food scene as it connects to the world of craft beer. As Krista notes, hops are also good for making friends: Several neighbors they'd never met had stopped by to see what they were doing on the farm. They've all enjoyed getting to know local homebrewing groups, and have been looking for ways that they can create beneficial relationships for both. To that end, they've hosted brewouts for local homebrewers out on the farm, and hosted hop workshops with Five Rivers MetroParks. In addition to the hops, they planted three acres of winter barley the last two years. While there were no Ohio maltsters last year, they hope to work with some of the recently opened in-state maltsters (Rustic Brew Farm in Marysville, OH, and Haus Malts in Cleveland) so they can provide local breweries with both hops and malt to make an all-local Dayton beer.

HEARTLAND HOPS

Andy Pax got his start growing hops after watching a TV special about Prohibition, learning that hop growing had previously been a staple in Ohio. With eight years under his belt, Pax is the most veteran local hop grower, and is affectionately known as the Hopfather (Julie, his wife, refers to herself as a "hop widow"). At his Ft. Recovery, OH, farm, Pax is focused more on developing connections with other local hop farmers than overall growth. He has an acre of Cascade and Nugget, and began a second acre that includes Centennial, Columbus, Galena, and Willamette. Heartland's 2015 crop was sold mainly to Yellow Springs Brewery and Moeller Brew Barn.

Pax sees himself as a mentor to others starting out in the business; for him, helping others is an important part of building and developing the hop growing community in Ohio, and it allows him to share his passion for hops with others who are equally invested. Both Tom Hoenie and Jamie Arthur expressed gratitude for Pax's insights and willingness to answer questions.

He figures that he gets two to three phone calls a day regarding hops, especially during the peak growing season. He anticipates that the recently formed Ohio Hop Growers Guild will continue to build educational opportunities for those interested in growing hops in Ohio.

In 2015, Pax paired with two other Ohio hop growers, Spanky's Hops in Jamestown, OH, and Ohio Hop Union in Ottawa, OH, to share their resources for harvesting and pelletizing their hops. Pax had rehabbed a 1946 alfalfa pelletizer to work with hops, and one of the other growers had recently purchased a harvester– a machine that picks hops off of the vines–which turned several weeks of picking into an eight hour day. That collaboration and division of labor encapsulates the Ohio hop growing scene.

Ohio Valley hop farmers are linked in a community with a shared passion and dedication to hops. It's a sustainable crop that contributes value to the local economy. Like brewing, hop growing is a historic business in our area that's enjoying a welcome resurgence.

Local Hops in Local Beer

YELLOW SPRINGS BREWERY makes fresh hop versions of its IPAs with hops from Heartland Hops. There is Harvester of Wobbles, a version of Wobbly Wheel that gets 60 pounds of fresh Cascades at the end of the boil, and Breaking Harvest, a take on Breaking Edge made with 50 pounds of fresh Nuggets at the end of the boil. The brewery has hosted hop-picking parties during the harvest at the brewery, mainly to provide hops for their beers, but also for homebrewers who wanted to buy a couple of pounds for home use. In 2015, YSB also bought hop pellets from Heartland Hops, including Cascade, Centennial, Columbus, Galena, Nugget, and Willamette.

FIFTH STREET BREWPUB in Dayton made its first fresh-hop beer last year using hops from Little Miami Farms. Thirty pounds of mostly Cascade and Zeus and a smaller amount of Centennial were added during the last 10 minutes of the boil. Plans are already underway between Fifth Street and Little Miami Farms to make another version this year.

DAYTON BEER CO. also makes a freshhop beer, Area B Wet Hop IPA, with hops from Mankato Farms. Brewmasters add 50 pounds of Cascade at the end of the boil to create this beer. DBC also bought hop pellets from Mankato Farms last year, specifically Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, and Columbus.

Read the full article at http://onlinedigeditions.com/article/Sustain/2493119/304226/article.html.

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