In August we teamed up with PA hops farms to offer our commercial patrons the opportunity to learn first-hand hops cultivation practices and their labor-intensive harvest. Meredith from Deer Creek led groups to visit both GEMS Hop Farm (Carlisle, PA) and Murphy’s Hop Yard (Effort, PA) for these educational field days.
Murphy’s Hop Yard hosted Bonn Place Brewing, USciences, Downriver Brewing, Tannery Run Brew Works, Hop Hill Brewery, Barley Creek Brewing, and Ace Catering. Meanwhile GEMS welcomed Chatty Monks, Lindgren Craft Brewery, Sons of Alchemy Homebrew Club, Keystone Homebrew Club, and the Philly Brewing Homebrew Club.
Hops, used for everything from brewing, baking, cheese making, food preservation and as a bittering agent for cocktails, is a close cousin to cannabis. On their visit, attendees learned that hops grow according to something called the Coriolis effect, or the pattern of deflection by an object circling the Earth, much like cyclones or trade winds. The plant naturally wants to twist, so the grower must “train” the bine, or hop vine, to grow in a specific direction.
To show off the quality of these hops, several area breweries have released wet hop beers utilizing both local hops and malt, including Bonn Place (three years in a row!), Chatty Monks, Downriver Brewing, and Tannery Run. Brewers up to the task make haste; to fully express hops’ characteristics, wet hop beer must be produced withing 24 hours of harvesting!
We caught up with the owners/farmers of GEMS and Murphy’s to learn more about their operations, and gain insight into the perks and pitfalls of growing a niche ingredient in today’s agricultural landscape.
US Navy Veteran Michael Reifsnyder didn’t always plan to start a hops farm. The idea cropped up over a few beers with some friends, but soon turned into a solid business plan. GEMS established their first hops plants in 2017, and since then have expanded to 3.25 acres dotted with 3400 hops plants representing 5 varieties.
Challenge and Reward
“Some of the perks of offering hops in PA is getting to meet lots of people who are passionate about craft beer and seeing what they can do with PA grown ingredients. One of the pitfalls would be trying to get support for this niche crop. Many are either not aware that PA does grow hops on a commercial (but small) scale or they are really not interested in the varieties we can provide because of proprietary reasons.” – Reifsnyder
GEMS finds the greatest combination of consumer interest, plant vitality, and broad application with Comet, Triple Pearl and Tahoma hops. Though more challenging to grow, Mt Hood and Newport provide unique characteristics.
How to Find Them
Murphy’s Hop Yard
Scott Murphy of Murphy’s Hop Yard, meanwhile, began growing a handful of hops plants in his garden in 2015 when his interest in craft beer sparked the idea to cultivate his own ingredients.
Challenge and Reward
Murphy explains that “it can be a challenge to cultivate working relationships with brewers. I work diligently to help brewers understand that we are committed to providing a quality product that will only enhance their beer.” Events like the recent field day offer Murphy and his potential customers an opportunity to develop a rapport, which can help push the conversation forward.
Currently Murphy grows Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, and Triumph, but is looking into Cashmere in the near future. While Cascade offers fantastic disease resistance, ease of harvest, and a friendly price point, Cashmere may show promise for craft brewers seeking a unique alternative.
How to Find Them
Photos courtesy of @formerlyemily.