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It’s Hot to Grow Hops

Anyone who has had a beer in the last two years knows that hoppy beers are at the top of the market, but what’s all this about growing hops? It seems like everywhere you look nowadays people are growing hops, picking hops or searching for hops. There are a few reasons for this new trend, and one of them is the Farm to Fork movement that’s happening right here in Sacramento. Farm to bottle? Well, it’s clear that now is the time.

This year’s theme seems to be sustainability in the brewing industry. At The Art of Beer it was a hot topic, and since then we have heard about some monumental changes to the industry. Pamphlets detail new green production methods, brewers have built ties with local farmers and on bottles you now see the names of farms and beekeepers. No longer are we interested in making beer fast and cheap, and using local hops is a part of this.

Almanac Beer Co., known for their “Farm to Bottle Beer,” is quickly growing in popularity. Sierra Nevada has a hop yard on their estate, thus, an estate hop yard, and Rogue has its own farms and produces hops, grain, honey and much more.

We are now watching the movement towards growing your own hops go local. Homebrewers may have been doing this already for years, growing hops for their own beers, providing nice shade for their backyard barbecues or simply to learn more about an integral brewing ingredient. Now, starting with Boneshaker Public House in Rocklin and Ruhstaller of Sacramento, local establishments and breweries have taken to the idea as well.

High climbing hops at Lucky Labrador Brewing Company in Portland, Oreg.

For those unfamiliar with hop production, new hop plants generally come from cuttings from a cone-producing female plant. A rhizome is a stem with some root growth. Boneshaker Community Brewery planted 75 hop rhizomes in an amazingly small-sized planter box just a couple of weeks back. They plan to add an herb and vegetable garden as well.

BCB looks to be starting things out right, with estate Centennial hops in the ground even before opening to the public. Centennial hops, one of the main three Cs, along with Columbus and Cascade, provide that West Coast IPA flavor we all know well.

Watch for news in late summer or early fall on when the brews from Boneshaker Community Brewery will be available at Boneshaker Public House.

Nugget hops to be used in future Boneshaker Community Brewery brews

Ruhstaller planted their first hops at the Center for Land-Based Learning, but they now have their own New Ruhstaller Hop Farm just over in Dixon. “Hop off the Grid,” a release party for the revived Gilt Edge lager, took place there on Thursday.

New Helvetia Brewing Company is in on the local hop scene as well. According to founder Dave Gull, they have gotten wind of some native California Cluster hops that still grow wild around the American and Cosumnes Rivers. Is this true or simply a figment of someone’s imagination? They’re going to find out by going on a hop hunting expedition later this summer.

Growing things locally and then using them to make more local stuff? Revolutionary! It’s all the rage.

Yes, dissenters, please enter the discussion here. There are certainly some crops that really shouldn’t be grown in this valley due to the amount of resources they require, unnaturally, and the deterioration of the natural conditions they cause. I’m no expert, so I plan to stay out of it, but I encourage those in the know to share their knowledge. Are hops sustainable here in the Central Valley?

Hops need to be well-watered. Most of the world’s hops are grown in places like the Pacific Northwest, Germany and England. New Zealand is another fairly well-known hop producer. Obviously there are some fairly substantial differences between the Sacramento region and the aforementioned places, but still, there are some benefits to growing hops around here, despite the hot climate and lack of summer rainfall.

To start with, hops take up very little space. A hop vine grows best when it grows upwards. They crawl up just about anything you set before them. This manner of growth means two things. First, they can be planted fairly densely. They also create shade. You could then also conclude that very little water would be wasted in the watering process. There isn’t much room for evaporation and runoff doesn’t have to be a problem because you can surround hop plants with natural grasses – or better yet, grains to be grown and put in the beer as well!

Jordan Hess, a Sacramento native who has been working at Alpha Beta Hops in Ashland, Oreg. for the past two years and who has grown his own backyard hops, weighed in on the idea of Sacramento-grown hops. Hess wondered how viable it would be over a certain period of time, but also noted that things simply grow well in the Sacramento area.

“[I’m] not sure if it’s the ideal climate, but it’s kind of weird; everybody’s kind of realizing that they’re really easy to grow,” Hess said.

While he was uncertain about the success of commercial hop farms, Hess was enthusiastic about backyard hops.

“If you have them set up correctly, then they could be used for shade,” Hess explained. “You’ve got to provide the trellis and the string and they just keep growing.”

Is it possible to grow hops successfully here? Ruhstaller refers to hops as a legacy crop here in the Sacramento region, but I repeatedly find myself wondering why they disappeared in the first place.

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