Step 1. Marketing your hops

Pursuing hop production is a hot topic. Craft beer enthusiasts want more than just craft beer made locally. They seek out regional craft beer made with locally-grown ingredients. And while our climate, latitude, and soils make growing hops conducive, it’s not an easy undertaking. One of the most challenging parts about hops production doesn’t even involve the physical growing part of production. It’s the marketing aspect. It’s befriending and building relationships with brewers, giving away or testing out your hops in the first one or two years, and proving that you know your product and can produce a high quality product for their brewing needs. It’s a serious part of hop production that I’d encourage you to consider before putting any plants in the ground.

This past Saturday, the Nebraska Hop Growers Association (NHGA) held their annual meeting at Blue Blood Brewing Company in Lincoln, Nebraska. Their owner and founder, and member of the NHGA board of directors, Brian Podwinski spoke from a brewer’s perspective on working with regional hop growers and purchasing local hops.

As a brewer, he tries to incorporate as many locally sources ingredients as he can. What he prioritizes in making ingredient purchases is the quality and quantity of the product. With the majority of U.S. hop production happening in the Pacific Northwest, and more recently in Michigan, the scale of production has allowed them to produce high quality hops at lower costs. However, Nebraska brewers, like Brian, understand that Nebraska grown hops come at a premium (within reason), and are willing to work with growers because their customers like Nebraska-grown hops in their beer.

For brewers, quality doesn’t necessarily mean pelleted hops, though that is what the majority of brewers prefer to use in the brewing process. (One of the main reasons for preferring pelleted hops over whole cone is because the alpha acids in pelleted hops can be fully isomerized in the boil. It essentially utilizes the entire hop.) Quality means keeping spray records and following label instructions carefully to prevent residues in brewers’ beers. Quality means taking the necessary efforts to maintain color and prevent disease presence on or in the cones as the mature and ready for harvest. Quality is properly drying the cones to the correct moisture content and storing them in mylar bags to prevent any light of moisture from entering and causing degradation and mold. Quality is reaching the alpha and beta acid target levels and storing hops at the proper Hop Storage Index (HSI). (HSI is a value given when cone samples are submitted for alpha and beta acid testing.)

Once you believe you’ve taken the correct steps in producing quality hops, Brian encourages growers to reach out to him about doing test batches in his pilot system. Ideally, you brew with your own hops and know exactly what you’re selling. Not all growers and brewers have a small brewing system, but brewers do expect you to know your own product. Learn what your hops should smell like and taste like in beer. The more you know your product, the easier it is to sell that said product.

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As we amp up for the 2018 growing season, we have a few workshops coming up and some other exciting events so stay tuned for more details.

  1. Weed Management & Fertility Workshop. Friday, April 6, 2018, 4-6:00 pm. East Campus, Plant Science Hall Room 199. Topics to be covered include management of weeds in your hop yard, fertility of hops, and how to develop a fertility plan for your yard. Email katie.kreuser@unl.edu or call 402-472-3036 to register.
  2. Introduction to Hop Production Workshop. Friday, June 8, 2018, 4-6:30 pm. East Campus, Plant Science Hall Room 199. Topics to be covered include hop production costs, trellis design and set up,  and basic information on hop agronomics, harvest, and post-harvest processing. We’re excited to have a local brewer join us to share more of their perspective on working with local hop producers. Registration details will follow.

Stay tuned for First Saturday Hop Yard tours! UNL Hops will be partnering with the Nebraska Hop Growers Association to tour a few hops yards across the state this summer. We will incorporate hands on scouting and integrated pest management with these events. Plan to join us bright and early on a few Saturday mornings over coffee, light breakfast and hop yard tours. I’d like to plan to have at least one event in the central part of Nebraska. Tentative dates: May 5, June 2, and July 14 (postponed later due to July 4 holiday). If you are a grower and interested in hosting, please contact Katie at katie.kreuser@unl.edu or 402-472-3036. The only obligation is allowing visitors in your hop yard. These events will be limited to 20 people. 

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