From seeds to suds, hops stay on sin­gle site

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY NICOLE AULT

LUCKETTS, VA. | Un­like the thirsty vis­i­tors who roll off bustling U.S. Route 15 to sam­ple them, the hops grown at Black Hops Farm don’t travel far.

Not 200 yards past the plot of green vines climb­ing their 20-foot trel­lises, a sprawl­ing new brew­ery boasts shiny vats that de­liver craft beer, fla­vored with hops from those bit­ter plants. The hops had one pit stop: in­side a ware­house just across the parking lot, where they were pro­cessed in a 1972 Slove­nian wolf picker and heated in a hand­made kiln.

Jonathan Sta­ples, owner of the 3-year-old Black Hops Farm and Van­ish Farm­woods Brew­ery, dis­plays quiet pride in show­ing the seed-to-suds life cy­cle of his hops.

Though the U.S. is the world’s big­gest hops pro­ducer, Vir­ginia has been nowhere near the top state. With the first and largest

hops pro­cess­ing fa­cil­ity in the midAt­lantic on his prop­erty, Mr. Sta­ples is at the fore­front of a trend that is putting the Old Do­min­ion’s hop farm­ing in­dus­try on the map: craft beer, brewed and sipped on the same land on which its in­gre­di­ents are grown.

“The craft bev­er­age in­dus­try in Vir­ginia is one of the fastest-grow­ing in­dus­tries,” said Basil Gooden, Vir­ginia sec­re­tary of agri­cul­ture and forestry, who calls Black Hops Farm “one of our mod­els of try­ing to spur in­no­va­tion in Vir­ginia.”

Mr. Sta­ples owned bars and restau­rants in the District of Columbia be­fore stum­bling upon this 53-acre plot of land, a for­mer eques­trian arena. His young daugh­ter was tak­ing rid­ing lessons, and he vis­ited the prop­erty on a whim when he saw it was for sale. He made a low of­fer. The own­ers re­fused, and then they called back — de­vel­op­ers were com­ing for the land, and they wanted to get rid of it sooner. In 2014, the prop­erty was his for $1 mil­lion.

At the time, the new landowner had never rid­den a trac­tor. “It was in com­plete sham­bles,” Mr. Sta­ples said.

Now, fresh lum­ber and steely decor dis­guise the for­mer rid­ing fa­cil­ity, and the one­time horse stalls serve as bath­rooms.

Busi­ness is thriv­ing, he said as em­ploy­ees were set­ting up for a big event in the af­ter­noon and mem­bers of Amer­i­can Agri-Women stopped by for a tour.

With its healthy bus­tle and re­vived land, Black Hops Farm can be seen as a mi­cro­cosm of the in­dus­try, a byprod­uct of the hip­ster craze that has rev­o­lu­tion­ized Amer­i­can beer.

Craft brew­ing and lo­cal hops farm­ing rep­re­sent a source of eco­nomic growth for Vir­ginia, par­tic­u­larly for Loudoun County. In four years, the num­ber of craft breweries in the county has jumped from three to more than 20, said Kel­lie Hin­kle, agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer for Loudoun’s Depart­ment of Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment.

The num­ber of craft breweries in Vir­ginia has in­creased by more than 220 per­cent since 2012, ac­cord­ing to the Brew­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, and the in­dus­try has a $1 bil­lion eco­nomic im­pact on the state.

“We’re look­ing to po­si­tion Vir­ginia as the craft bev­er­age cap­i­tal of the East Coast,” Mr. Gooden said.

To­ward that end, the state has of­fered Agri­cul­ture and Forestry In­dus­tries De­vel­op­ment grants to farms if coun­ties are will­ing to match them. Mr. Sta­ples re­ceived a $40,000 grant, matched by

Loudoun County, for Black Hops Farm.

Since 2012, some $1 mil­lion in AFID grants have been chan­neled to eight craft breweries, which source an av­er­age of 63 per­cent of their in­gre­di­ents lo­cally. With the grants, these breweries have in­vested $45 mil­lion in cap­i­tal and created nearly 200 jobs, said Cas­sidy Ras­nick, deputy sec­re­tary of agri­cul­ture and forestry at the Vir­ginia gov­er­nor’s of­fice.

En­gine of growth

County of­fi­cials are quick to laud the craft brew­ing trend as an en­gine of eco­nomic growth. Ge­orge Anas, the Rock­ing­ham County direc­tor of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and tourism, said the in­crease of craft breweries has brought in rev­enue for farm­ers, kept younger gen­er­a­tions com­ing back to the agri­cul­tural area and at­tracted tourists.

“Peo­ple are com­ing back and get­ting in­volved in this in­dus­try,” he said, and the county is ea­ger to en­cour­age the trend.

Mr. Gooden said the in­dus­try es­pe­cially has helped the state’s ru­ral ar­eas, many of which have not ex­pe­ri­enced the pros­per­ity of North­ern Vir­ginia and other ur­ban cen­ters.

“With a brew­ery or win­ery, you can lit­er­ally open up in the mid­dle of nowhere and peo­ple will come,” Mr. Sta­ples said. “There are very few things you can do that with.”

Vir­gini­ans have grown hops for cen­turies, but on a mod­est scale and not com­mer­cially. The big­gest Amer­i­can hop pro­duc­ers are in the North­west. Wash­ing­ton, Ore­gon and Idaho hold al­most 97 per­cent of the acres of com­mer­cial

hops in North Amer­ica, ac­cord­ing to Hop Grow­ers of Amer­ica, the in­dus­try’s trade group.

The num­ber of grow­ers in Vir­ginia has sky­rock­eted. Though num­bers are only an es­ti­mate, 52 re­spon­dents com­pleted a re­cent grow­ers sur­vey in the state. In 2014, hop pro­duc­tion in Vir­ginia didn’t even reg­is­ter in na­tional re­ports.

Aside from the grants, mar­ket de­mand is lead­ing en­trepreneurs such as Mr. Sta­ples to hop cul­ti­va­tion. Dur­ing re­cent hop short­ages, big­ger breweries have con­tracted out for most of their hop sup­plies, Ms. Hin­kle said, in­creas­ing hop prices and lo­cal de­mand.

Grow­ing the hops lo­cally al­lows brew­ers to avoid some of the mar­ket fluc­tu­a­tions, and hop farm­ers can make a nice profit. Be­cause hops grow up­ward, they don’t take up much land. On top of all that, hoppy beers, such as In­dia pale ale, are trendy.

Another cause is less quan­tifi­able. As with the farm-to-ta­ble food trend, the craft beer move­ment is cul­ti­vat­ing its own pref­er­ence for lo­cal sourc­ing, a farm-to-ta­ble brew­ing cul­ture.

“We see in Vir­ginia a cre­ative group of en­trepreneurs around the agri­cul­tural sec­tor, younger peo­ple re­ally get­ting ex­cited about the whole ex­pe­ri­ence,” Mr. Gooden said. “Peo­ple are look­ing more for ex­pe­ri­ence. They want to know more about the food they’re con­sum­ing.”

Craig Nargi, owner of Sta­ble Craft Brew­ing in Way­nes­boro, grows hops on his rid­ing farm and brew­ery. He said vis­i­tors are at­tracted to more than the beer.

“Grow­ing hops on our land con­nects the tourists to the whole beer process,” he said. “It be­comes this ex­pe­ri­ence when they come to us. And when you con­nect a per­son to the ex­pe­ri­ence, they are not go­ing to for­get about you.”

Mr. Sta­ples also has tapped another niche in the in­dus­try. He pro­cesses hops for other farm­ers, pel­letiz­ing them in a re­pur­posed wood chip­per so they can be stored year round. The pro­cess­ing just cov­ers his costs, he said, though he hopes it even­tu­ally brings in a profit.

At the brew­ery, 20 beers are on tap, from IPAs and bocks to two dark Eng­lish sweet stouts.

The small but ex­pand­ing group of Vir­ginia hops grow­ers has a spirit of co­op­er­a­tion as it es­tab­lishes the state in­dus­try’s rep­u­ta­tion.

“Our pur­pose was to be a re­source for other farm­ers,” Mr. Sta­ples said. “The in­dus­try is in such an early phase that it’s re­ally a col­lab­o­ra­tive in­dus­try — there’s a spirit of co­op­er­a­tion, not com­pe­ti­tion.”

For Mr. Sta­ples, grow­ing hops is also a way of con­serv­ing the land.

“At $10,000 to $15,000 per acre, farm­land here is go­ing to be used for houses,” he said. “We’re us­ing beer as a way to pre­serve the land, to show that farm­land can pro­vide a re­turn. It’s us­ing the mar­ket econ­omy to pre­serve land rather than zon­ing pol­icy.”

He is op­ti­mistic about the in­dus­try and its ben­e­fits for the re­gion.

“There aren’t that many things you can do in a ru­ral en­vi­ron­ment to cre­ate jobs and get young peo­ple to stay,” he said. “This is a way to make the ru­ral econ­omy come back.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.