Farm to Table Beer, or More Like Farm to Keg
Drink Local Is the New Eat Local. The local food movement has launched a new effort in the craft beer industry: farm to bottle beer. Not sure what will be the catch phrase, barn to bottle beers, farm to keg, farm to bottle either way it is coming to a brewery near you. More breweries are sourcing their beer ingredients from local farmers or growing their own and it’s happening nationwide!
Fruit Is A Good Place To Start
Infusing local fruit in beer is a popular method of making beer “local.” Full Steam Brewery in Durham, North Carolina produces “plow-to-pint” beers with North Carolina persimmons and muscadine juice. In 2013, they became the first North Carolina Brewery awarded a Good Food Award.
In the past, the folks at Cape May Brewing Co. in Cape May, New Jersey used the local beach plum in their sour Queen Street Beach Plum Ale. “Cape May’s Queen Street Beach Plum Ale is brewed with wild yeast that’s harvested from grapes growing behind the brewery. The wild ale is then infused with pomace—crushed skins and seeds—of the local beach plums” explains Heather Galanty of CraftBeer.com.
The Real Colorado Beer Project emerged to recognize Colorado beers using Colorado-sourced ingredients among its colossal beer industry. “If your current beer includes any Colorado ingredients, you may be eligible for some level of certification” reports its website. The first beer to reach Platinum certification is Ska Brewing’s Hop Ivy, sourcing even its kegs from Colorado.
New York Is a Line Leader in Local Beer
Good Nature Brewing in Hamilton, New York sums up barn-to-bottle brewing in their mission statement: “To contribute to a socially, economically, and ecologically thriving community, and to foster a sense of pride, ownership and a deeper connection to home through a truly good-natured beer.”
New York state has seen a rapid growth of farm breweries since the 2012 passing of the Farm Brewing Law. It permits farm breweries to serve beer by the glass to customers as long as twenty percent of all beer ingredients were grown in New York. That number is raised to sixty percent beginning in 2018. Before the new legislation, farm breweries had to acquire an additional permit.
During the 19th century, New York was the primary grower of hops in the U.S., or “the Hop King” according to the website of Hopshire Farm & Brewery. The family-owned business grows their own hops and integrates others like Willamette from Whipple Brothers Farms in Kendall, New York and Cascade from Lyke Road Farm in Trumansburg, New York into their mellow, middling, and mighty beers. With extra land to lease, the brewery works with local farmers to utilize the space to grow vegetables, too.
More About Hops
Today, over 95 percent of the hops used in the U.S. are grown in the Pacific Northwest. For brewers in Portland and Seattle, this is good news, but there
is a demand for hops grown closer to home along the East Coast. Hop plants are fast growers and in turn require a lot of water. The buckets of rain that pour into the Pacific Northwest help offset the irrigation costs for farmers out there, but growers on the East Coast have found routine watering works just fine.
A project called Hops on Lots Pittsburgh is growing hops on vacant lots across the city, offering the craft brewers of the area uber-local hops.
In 2010, North Carolina State University launched a project to research growing hops in western North Carolina, near the booming beer industry of Asheville, NC. The result? Cascade, Nugget, and Chinook varieties do well in North Carolina. Other hop varieties struggled to reach their full length because the days are shorter and hotter in North Carolina than they are in the Pacific Northwest. Despite hops being hardy plants, they can be particular about climate.
Volume is another obstacle brewers face when sourcing local hops. Most small-scale hop farmers harvest by hand. If they don’t have a machine to harvest their hops, they probably don’t have a “pelletizer” either, a cost upwards of $200,000. Brewers who may consider using local hops in their beer find they can only use them in seasonal or wet-hop beers. Year-round beers require a large quantity of hops that local farmers can’t produce.
A fair investment on an acre of hops is estimated to be a hefty $15,000. That’s one heck of a risk to take on for a local ground-to-glass pint of beer and farmers recognize that. An article published in 2014 reports that despite the rising demand for hops, the number of hop farmers is growing slowly. In contrary, Michigan hop production bloomed from 320 acres to 650 from 2015 to 2016.
Don’t Forget About The Grains
Thanks to all the hop-heads, hop farming has taken the main stage, but every good beer needs barley malt, too. Constructed in 2016, The 1886 Malt House in Fulton, NY is poised to be one of the largest suppliers of barley malt in the U.S. Committed to using NY-grown barley, the malt house is working to meet the local need of New York state’s thriving craft beer industry. A thousand miles west is Two Track Malting Company, a family business producing small-batch craft malt based in North Dakota. They grow barley malt on their sixth generation family farm and pride themselves on traceability. We won’t try to reinvent the wheel, so if you’re interested in learning more, check out San Diego Magazine’s article called “Everything You Need to Know About Malt.”
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