Hop growing has expanded in the United States from the Pacific Northwest to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to coincide with the rising tide of craft beer. At long last, it is beginning to grow roots here in New Mexico, as we are still growing as a brewing destination.
I had the chance to attend a forum hosted by Red Hat Hops and the Village of Los Ranchos earlier this month, and was pleased to be included in the first collective meeting between hop growers, breweries, farmers, brewery chefs, and other related officials from the Guild and the state. Above all, the intent for this gathering was to open a dialogue to foster community, collaboration, and communication between the farmers who would like to supply our local breweries with local ingredients, and the breweries.
John Seabrooks, formerly of Rio Bravo and with over 26 years in the brewing industry, started us off by illustrating the impetus behind local collaboration.
“It is important to start the dialogue and figure out what all of the needs are (of breweries),” John said, “so we can go to the state and other federal agencies and begin to see what we can do to begin to get the appropriate funds to support the initiative of local growers.”
Starting an industry from scratch is no easy task, with much of the equipment required to grow the ingredients needed for making beer costing more than your typical startup business is able to afford. Thus, creating a group for our local growers much like our Brewers Guild is quite important, so as to be able to foster collaboration and cooperation to get our local hop business going. As of this writ, we are up to four total hops growers in the state of New Mexico, with representatives from Red Hat Hops, Crossed Sabers Hops, Stone Lizard Hops, and White Crow Hops all in attendance.
With the recent explosion of some tremendous wet-hopped beers appearing at the end of this year’s growing season, which built on the success of prior years in magnitude and availability, the general consensus is to push for that as a stepping stone for our local hop growers initially, and build on the success of such beers as Bosque’s Acequia IPA and wet hop series, La Cumbre’s Wet Hopped Elevated, and Santa Fe Brewing’s Wet Hopped Strong Ale, to name a few. The possibility of a future Wet Hopped IPA challenge to go alongside our annual IPA challenge was also broached, and is certainly a mouthwatering and palate-destroying possibility, which we will certainly keep on our radar for any developments.
When it comes to brewing beers with wet hops, freshness is king. As we are in relatively close proximity to hop growers in Colorado, our breweries can sometimes see hops harvested and brought down within one to two days or so, and added to beers in the process of being brewed almost immediately. If we were able to cut that time down to a matter of hours, our collective palates would all benefit from the added oils and luscious flavors and aromas that wet hops are known for.
So where are we in terms of hop production in our state now and where are we headed? As Tom from Red Hat Hops put it, “This year we all established what we are doing. I think most of us are doing expansions for next year already. So, for 2018, we are looking at between 10 and 12 acres of harvestable hops in New Mexico. The following year that will likely double and if we get the support of brewing community it’s going to take off exponentially.”
Here’s hoping this will take off, which would benefit all of us hopheads, brewers, and local growers alike. On the topic of hops and how they are used, a typical brew will use strictly dried hop pellets, which keep their magical powers of flavoring substantially longer than fresh hops, so a longer-term goal will be for our state to grow our hop business enough to support the procurement of a large scale hop-drying facility or oast house, likely with some help from the state via the NM Brewers Guild.
You may ask yourself why now? Why are locally sourced ingredients from private businesses so vital to the future of the craft brewing industry? The answer lies with the elephants in the room, the evil empire that is AB InBev and its ilk, which have been procuring malt and hop suppliers to drive their own costs down and put pressure on their competitors, which limits or in some cases eliminates (as was the case with South African hop varieties this past year) availability of those ingredients for craft breweries. These types of market manipulative, monopolistic practices are a huge reason to forge ahead with locally grown and sourced ingredients for beers not beholden to the deplorable multi-billion dollar “beer” conglomerates.
As John so excellently put it, “As a result of AB InBev’s hold on the market, they essentially said we will no longer sell the hops that some craft brewers throughout the world are using that are produced in South Africa. They essentially told everyone that we are saving those hops so that we (InBev) can give them to the craft breweries that we own. In my mind this is the tip of the iceberg. I don’t believe what they are saying in terms of there being a shortage of these hops. What they are doing is essentially taking care of their own business first at the expense of other craft breweries in the world who need to use these South African hops. So, as these huge conglomerates continue to get bigger and buy up more and more craft components, they begin to exert market forces which make it even more difficult for craft brewers to keep their doors open.”
As John went on to illustrate, this also hits the home brewer as well, with the conglomerates wanting to have complete dominance over alcoholic beverages worldwide from the macro to the micro all under their banner for their own profit. So it is essential that we do all that we are able to fight this attempt at utter monopoly by looking to our local providers, which will remain local rather than caving to the self-serving dumptruck-of-cash approach of these conglomerates.
Those of you who know your hop varieties are probably asking which ones are being grown in our state and the answer is quite a few, including the following — Chinook, Cascade, Neo Mexicanus, Centennial, Columbus, and Nugget. There is definitely a lot to look forward to in light of what I learned here about how well hops grow in our climate, and the possibilities for growing not only hops at the local level, but also grain and other fruits and vegetables used in brewing beer or supporting brewery kitchens to bring us good quality locally sourced cuisine.
This was a well attended and successful first gathering of growers, farmers, and brewers, and here’s hoping for a successful harvest this coming year and for good collaboration going forward. Thanks to Red Hat Hops for bringing all of this together and I look forward to future meetings like this as our local brewing community expands from brewery to farmland and beyond.
— Franz Solo