Throughout the summer people would ask, “How is the hop farm doing?” I’d respond with something like, “It’s a lot of work, but we’re making progress and the plants are growing!” With the first season in the books I’ve been adding to that statement, “If we could grow ten times as much we could probably find a brewery to buy them.” The thing is, when we started this project in the fall of 2012 we really didn’t know how many hops we’d get the first year and who might want to buy them. If we didn’t just give them away, we anticipated selling fresh hops to homebrewers. As it worked out, most of our sales went to breweries… and for the most part they wanted to buy as many hops as we could offer!
Mystery Brewing and Fullsteam Brewery were our two largest customers. Mystery brewed a fresh hop amber lager called, “Local Pride”. The beer was brewed for Weaver Street Market’s 25th Anniversary. It was made with North Carolina grown ingredients, including malts from Riverbend Malt House out of Asheville. We were the sole hop contributor to this brew. Fullsteam, in collaboration with Bull City Burger and Brewery, brewed a brown ale with several local hop contributors. It debuted at the World Beer Festival in Durham. Both beers were available in 22 oz bottles.
Three Horses Hops ended the season with about 75 lbs of hops grown and harvested. Some were sold fresh, some were sold dried, and some still remain in my freezer for wintertime brewing. So yes, it was a successful first season (and year since we first got started) in terms of getting a small business off the ground, making contacts in the brewing industry, prepping the land, building the infrastructure, and of course, growing hops. What now?
Well, the hops are trimmed back and heavily mulched. We planted a cover crop (rye and crimson clover) in the paths to build up and improve the soil between planted rows. To determine the soil quality we took several samples throughout the rows to help determine what amendments we may need to add in the coming months. There are also a few small projects to work on over the winter, like a rain catchment and irrigation system. Then hops again next season!
A few things we learned in our first season as hop farmers:
- Not many folks in the area are familiar with how to brew with fresh hops.
- A 7 barrel system makes 217 gallons of beer. This requires a lot of hops.
- The sugarcane beetle likes more than just sugarcane.
- If you have a choice, buy your rhizomes locally and don’t leave them in your fridge for too long.
- When delivering large quantities of fresh hops in your car obey the speed limit. The smell is especially incriminating.