Hops out in the Northeast – More Beer Here

“I look forward to meeting you on Saturday”, I said to Steve Miller.  A nearly 400 mile roundtrip from Eastern Pennsylvania to Springport, New York, would be well worth the time to meet Cornell University’s Cooperative Extension hops specialist.  Not only is Steve deeply committed to reviving the farming production of hops in the Northeast, he also had hops plants available for purchase.  The event, sponsored by Cornell University Cooperative Extension, the University of Vermont and the Northeast Hops Alliance, was Entitled “Summer Hopyard Tour and Picnic”.  This educational seminar was held at the new hops plot at Hop Meadow Farm, in Springport, New York, and was attended by hops farmers, breweries, and vendors.

The event started with a tour of the new 3 acre hops patch, featuring Cascade, Brewers Gold and Willamette species.  The hops plot, in its first year of production, featured 45 foot spans between 20 foot high posts, drip irrigation and nearly 2000 plants.  Coconut husk twine hung down from galvanized steel in a sight which evoked feelings of Bridge Over the River Kwai. 

I quickly sought out Steve, who was busy greeting attendees.   He directed me to the grower from whom I purchased flats of hops plants (Newport, Perle, Fuggle, Cascade, Liberty and Willamette species).  Based upon empirical research, these species were deemed to be disease resistant and would acclimate well to the climate in the Northeast.

The time for a hops renaissance in the Northeast has come.  As laws change, allowing for farms to obtain brewery licenses, and microbreweries are on the rise in the region, demand for locally grown hops is booming.  Hops are a key ingredient in beer, infusing bitterness and aromas that can add dimension and depth to the taste of beer, from citrus to pepper to floral.

Did you know that in the 1800’s, the Northeast region produced more than 90% of hops in the United States?  Outbreaks of mildew and aphids, combined with Prohibition, caused hops production to decline.  Recently, the majority of hops farming activity has been the northwest, with Washington State, Oregon and Idaho providing the most viable sources.  That’s where Cornell University, Steve Miller, and NeHA (Northeast Hops Alliance) become relevant.  Information, education, seminars and collaboration efforts between these people and other major Northeast institutions and states, are encouraging hops production in this region.  

Don’t be surprised when the Northeast begins to flex the muscle of its historic past, as the hops farming industry grows and begins to be noticed by local and regional breweries as viable sources of hops.  Teams of researchers, farmers and industry experts are poised to set the stage for increasing market share in hops production.

Issues faced in the Northeast include those of selecting the most productive, disease resistant varieties, establishing best industry standards for farming, organic vs. pesticide usage, production methods and harvesting efficiencies.

NeHA (http://nehopalliance.org/) is actively scheduling events throughout the remainder of 2012 in New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts focused on hops production and education.  Look forward to seeing more hops supply from the Northeast over the next few years as a viable alternative to those grown elsewhere.

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