When most homebrewers think of hops to use when brewing, they think of the small silver bags of pellets they get in a beer kit or pick up at the homebrew store (like Duluth Homebrew Supply ). But, where do these hops come from? It would not surprise you that the majority of hops that you see in these little packets are grown come from Germany and the Northwest United States. (Actually, in 2014 according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Ethiopia actually harvested the most hops, followed by Germany and the US.) But, did you know that hops are grown around us in the upper Midwest? We are at the same latitude (around the 47th north) as Washington state where some of the largest US hop farms are located. Yes, our winters are a little harsher and summers a little cooler, but because of the similar latitude, we get similar sunlight for the hops top grow.
In Minnesota, there are 28 commercial hop farms according to the Minnesota Hop Growers Association (mhga.org). Wisconsin also has a number of commercial hop farms, many of them are members of the Wisconsin Hop Exchange (wisconsinhopexchange.com). Within 100 miles of Duluth there are four hop farms and a couple just a little further up the road.
At Duluth Homebrew Supply, we carry whole cone hops grown and packaged at Harbor Hops on Hwy 2 outside of Two Harbors. You can easily drive right by the farm and miss it. If you have gone to the start of the Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon the past couple of years, you have driven right by the farm. This is a small 10 acre hop farm that is currently growing 18 hop varieties. At DHS, we are happy to have bags of whole hop cones of Crystal, Northern Brewer, and Saaz from Harbor Hops.
Part of the hop growing process is taking care of the rhizomes, the root-like structure that annually sends up the bines upon which the hop cones grow. These rhizomes are periodically thinned and split in the spring. These new rhizome pieces can then be planted to grow new hops. Harbor Hops makes their extra hop rhizomes available to home growers. If you would like to grow your own hops in your backyard, you can pick up rhizomes from us as DHS. We currently have great looking rhizomes of Brewer’s Gold, Centennial, Challenger, Crystal, Golding, Northern Brewer, and Saaz. How is the time to plant these rhizomes. Once they poke out of the ground, they are fast growers. You can almost watch them grow, sometimes growing inches in a day and can grow up to twenty feet tall in the right conditions. If you want to grow your own hops there are many great resources; books, blogs, articles, and forums (and maybe a future DHS post).
Harbor Hops hops have been used by local breweries. Our friends across the hall at the Fitger’s Brewhouse used 175 pounds of centennial right off the bine from Harbor Hops to make a wet hop beer last fall. Let’s hope they do it again. Many of the other hop farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin also work with local breweries making similar beers. There is something special about a beer with hops that were picked just hours earlier.
If you are not sure about growing your own, you can help pick hops at some of the local farms. Harbor Hops realized last September during their hop harvest that there was no way that they were going to be able to pick all the hops that grew while the hops were at their peak. So, they invited people to come pick a bine full of cones and take it home with them for much less than you can get from a store (even DHS) and much fresher.
Most of the hops you can use to brew are harvested, processed, packaged, and shipped around the world. Why not try something new and brew with some hops grown locally. Extend the local support from drink local, eat local, and shop local to brew local.
Duluth New Tribune published an article about Harbor Hops in April: Local hops add flavor to Northland brewing scene
Local Hop Farms from the Minnesota Hop Grower’s Association:
Aaron & Linnea Hansen – Aitkin
Harbor Hops – Two Harbors – harborhops.com
North Road Hops – Hovland – northroadhops.com
Six Finger Farms – Beaver – sixfinegerfarms.com
Squeedunk – Hackensack
Sunny Knoll – Brook park