Hop farms are sprouting up in Central New York as some seek to revive one of the state’s historical cash crops.
Randy Lacey, owner of the Hopshire Farm and Brewery, which is currently under construction in Dryden, said the Hopshire building will emulate a traditional hop barn with a hop kiln, a place used to process dry hops, and a drying tower reminiscent of those from the 1800s.
“If New York hadn’t grown hops back in the 19th century, it probably wouldn’t be as appealing to try it again,” he said. “But we know it can be done. It was done for 100 years — very successfully. For me, the appeal is not just to grow the hops, but to link what we’re doing today to that culture.”
About 90 percent of the country’s hop supply was grown in New York throughout the late 19th century, specifically in Madison and Otsego counties, according to Rebecca Jablonski, a former agricultural specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Madison County.
Then, after Prohibition and several years of unfavorable weather conditions, hop production in the state came to a standstill. The rebirth of the industry started in 1999 when Rick Pederson, who now owns the state’s largest hop farm, planted a commercial hop yard in Seneca Castle, N.Y. Jablonski said Pederson and Dan Mitchell, the owner of the Ithaca Beer Company, made the first beer created exclusively with New York-produced ingredients in at least 50 years.
Land devoted to hop production in New York is expected to double to include more than 100 acres by next year, according to Steve Miller, the state’s first hop horticulturist with the CCE.
Chris Hansen, one of three co-owners of the Climbing Bines Hop Farm in Penn Yan, N.Y., said the farm supplies hops to five breweries and has expanded to grow 1,500 plants each year.
“We’re trying to recreate what was happening here a century ago and move forward with our own styles and our own New York state beers,” Hansen said. “I take a lot of pride in that.”
Hop farms like Climbing Bines are beginning to establish on-site breweries. In turn, breweries like Ithaca Beer Company are planning to start their own hop farms.
Jablonski said growers and brewers are excited about what locally grown hops will add to their beers, even though it can cost up to $11,000 to plant an acre of hops, and the weeds take up to three years to grow.
“Even the same hop that’s planted in the Pacific Northwest as in New York state — it’s going to have a different sort of flavor,” Jablonski said. “That’s what I think the brewers are so excited about — to have something that’s uniquely New York.”
New York State Senator David Valesky, D-Oneida, and Assemblyman William Magee, D-Oneida, are working on a bill that would provide a special license to farm breweries that use state-grown ingredients. The bill would reduce licensing costs for farm breweries and allow them to sell beer on site.
Brewers and hop farmers, in addition to a better product, point to a potential side business in tourism, much like the one spawned by the Finger Lakes Wine Trail. Lacey, a beer connoisseur, said he hopes Hopshire will not only help return the state’s hops production levels to those of the 19th century, but also create enthusiasm for local brews.