As beer cul­ture ex­plodes, Vir­ginia makes mark for hops

The Washington Times Daily - - FROM PAGE ONE - BY NICOLE AULT

Hops haven’t al­ways been trendy. Pliny the El­der re­ferred to “hu­mu­lus lupu­lus” in a botany sur­vey just decades af­ter the birth of Christ, but there’s no record of peo­ple us­ing hops for brew­ing for another eight cen­turies — in France. By the 1600s the Eng­lish were cul­ti­vat­ing hops as well. Dutch and Eng­lish set­tlers brought hops to the New World soon af­ter.

Hop vines — called “bines” — grow ver­ti­cally on trel­lises up to 40 feet high, pro­duc­ing cones and flow­ers that are har­vested in Au­gust. Brew­ers use lupulin, a bit­ter oil from the hop cone, to fla­vor and pre­serve the beer. They can prac­tice “dry hop­ping” or “wet hop­ping,” mix­ing either dried or fresh (wet) hops with the drink.

In the early years of the new United States, most hops were grown in New York dur­ing the 1800s, but downy mildew and in­sect pests blighted the crops, driv­ing pro­duc­tion out west. The desert cli­mate of Yakima Val­ley in Wash­ing­ton pro­vided a highly invit­ing en­vi­ron­ment for hops, said Rob Sir­rine, se­nior ex­ten­sion ed­u­ca­tor at Michi­gan State Univer­sity. Now, Wash­ing­ton is the na­tion’s big­gest hop pro­ducer, with Ore­gon and Idaho close be­hind. In 2016 the U.S. was the largest hop pro­ducer in the world, fol­lowed by Ger­many, the Czech Repub­lic and China.

In 2007, Mr. Sir­rine said, the in­dus­try faced a short­age: Low yields in Europe and a ware­house fire in the North­west strained the sup­ply of hops. At the same time, the craft beer in­dus­try was tak­ing off.

“Hop pro­duc­tion has ex­panded to the East solely be­cause of craft beer,” Mr. Sir­rine said. Mean­while, he said, the hops in­dus­try in the North­west is “stronger than ever.”

Farm­ers should be able to grow hops suc­cess­fully in Vir­ginia, Mr. Sir­rine said, but there will be a learn­ing curve. Tim­ing is cru­cial for the hop plant, which flow­ers based on the length of the day and grows best in the 45th lat­i­tude, a lit­tle north of Vir­ginia.

And though the early re­turns are promis­ing, com­mer­cial hops farm­ing in Vir­ginia is still on trial.

Jonathan Sta­ples, owner of the Lucketts, Vir­ginia-based Black Hops Farm and Van­ish Farm­woods Brew­ery, noted that ma­te­ri­als, la­bor and time spent on hops can eas­ily run up to $10,000 per acre, and he doesn’t ex­pect to get his money back for another four-and-ahalf years.

Craig Nargi, owner of Way­nes­boro’s Sta­ble Craft Brew­ing, noted that hops re­quire a lot of wa­ter but must be pro­tected from mildew. Ja­panese bee­tles are another threat, and har­vest­ing a plant that grow tens of feet in the air comes with its own set of reg­u­la­tions. On top of that, it takes about three years for the crop to reach full pro­duc­tion, and Vir­ginia grow­ers are still try­ing to fig­ure out which hop va­ri­eties work best in the area.

But hops also have one very at­trac­tive qual­ity for farm­ers: Their ver­ti­cal growth pat­tern means they take up far less land than many other crops. (The word “hop” de­rives from the An­glo-Saxon word “hop­pan” — to climb.)

Vir­ginia Tech and Vir­ginia State Univer­sity are ac­tively re­search­ing the plant’s po­ten­tial in the state.

“I per­son­ally think hop farm­ing is go­ing to con­tinue to grow,” said Mr. Nargi. “Some­one’s go­ing to come up with a bet­ter way to do it.”

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