New York State was once the country’s leading producer of hops, the key ingredient that gives beer its flavor profile and aroma. In fact, in the mid-19th century, New York State farms produced 85 percent of all hops grown in the country. With Prohibition, however, the once-thriving industry lost its viability as a commercial enterprise, and the production of hops declined to the point where now they’re grown in limited quantities on small farms, primarily in the Pacific Northwest.
The growth in the local craft-beer-brewing industry has led to a demand for local hops production. Eastern View Nursery in Lagrangeville is now home to Dutchess Hops, the first commercial hop farm in the Hudson Valley. Farm director Justin Riccobono and Eastern View Nursery’s Carmine Istvan plan to bring back the industry that was once so strong in this state, providing an organically grown quality hop to brewers in New York State.
The supply for hops at present can’t keep up with the demand for them, says Dr. Marcus Abreu, who is working with Dutchess Hops to test their product and help develop a proprietary hop from the Hudson Valley. Last spring, Dutchess Hops planted four acres with 4,000 hills (hops are usually planted on small hills for good drainage, says Abreu), with more acreage devoted to hops to follow in the next few years. All of the hops plants were acquired through Cornell University’s disease-free program and certified as such.
And things are off to a good start, with the new enterprise’s Hudson Valley Centennial hop winning a First Prize blue ribbon at the Dutchess County Fair in August. Dutchess Hops also plans to provide plants, hopyard consultations and installations, along with processing and packaging for hop farmers in the Hudson Valley.
Abreu says that up to now, craft-beer brewers in New York have had to have their hops shipped to them from out-of-state for the most part, and the dried hops can be up to a year old in some cases. Hops don’t last that long once off the vine, explains Abreu; they have to be dried immediately after harvesting. But if the hops are grown locally and shipped “wet” right off the vine, brewers in New York State can make a wet-hop beer, which has an entirely different flavor profile from the dry-hop beers, he says.
A farm brewers’ bill recently passed by Governor Andrew Cuomo allows local farmers to profit from growing hops, Abreu adds. An increase in the number of hop farms and craft-beer brewers in the state will not only build a strong industry for farmers and brewers, but provide a boost to tourism as well, with visits to a Hudson Valley Beer Trail on par with the winery visits and wine trails throughout the state.
Dutchess Hops and Eastern View Nursery are doing their part to get the word out with the inaugural Hudson Valley Hoptember Harvestfest on Saturday, September 14. The event will feature at least 21 different New York State-based craft-beer brewers. Proceeds will support the promotion of the Hudson Valley Beer Trail and Farmer’s Hop Harvester.
Tickets cost $50 for general admission, which includes unlimited beer-tastings starting at 1 p.m., including wet-hop beers from the 2013 harvest. All-you-can-eat food choices include a pig roast from the “Bacon Brothers,” 2012 winners of the Hudson Valley RibFest, along with offerings from Tomas, Sprout Creek Farm and Crown Maple hop-smoked pulled pork and bratwurst. The VIP tickets at $75 include early entrance at 11:30 a.m., a panel discussion about the Hudson Valley Hops Initiative, a Dutchess Hops tee-shirt and pint glass and access to early unlimited beer-tastings starting around noon. Live music will be provided by Buckeye Rooster.
Hudson Valley Hoptember Harvestfest, Saturday, September 14, 1-5 p.m. (11:30 a.m. early entrance for VIP), $50 ($75 for VIP), Dutchess Hops Farm at Eastern View Nursery, 1167 Noxon Road, Lagrangeville; (845) 456-1227, www.dutchesshops.com.