Hops Harvest: One of Michigan's historic staple crops is back with a vengeance

2013-09-23T12:46:00Z Hops Harvest: One of Michigan's historic staple crops is back with a vengeanceJane Ammeson nwitimes.com
September 23, 2013 12:46 pm  • 

Back in Civil War days, two crops dominated Southwest Michigan’s rural landscape—cherries and hops, the flower of the hop plant and a necessary ingredient for making beer along with grain, yeast and water.

In 1862, a local farmer built a barn a 28' x 60' hops barn, a building where the cone shaped hop flowers, once harvested, could be left to dry. 15 years later, the hops louse hit Michigan, the hop industry destroyed and the barn, located in Pokagan, was sold to a congregation who wanted to have a place to worship. And so the renovated hops barn because The First Methodist Episcopal Church of Pokagon, Michigan and, in an interesting aside, in 1913 a visiting reverend wrote, while attending a revival at the church, the famed hymn "The Old Rugged Cross."

The church remains and is being restored. In an interesting coincidence, just down the road, Ed Dohm and his two sons, Joe and John, were among those who first began resurrecting the long dormant Michigan hops business.

Where grapes grow well so do hops and thus both Southwest Michigan and Northern Michigan, now known for their wineries, were ripe to become major players in the hops business.

And that was good news for Ed Dohm. Unemployed with a two acre lot he had to keep weeded, Dohm decided in 2008 to attend a seminar presented by the Michigan State University Extension Office in Traverse City. The following year, he and his sons prepared that empty lot for hops growing, erecting poles, trellises (hops are like pole beans and like to climb) and all the other paraphernalia needed to create the type of cabling system needed to grow hops. In all, it can cost between $10,000 and $17, 000 to establish an acre of hops. One acre of hops will produce between 800 to 1500 pounds of dry hops and the price ranges from $9 to $20 per pound. But it’s not easy money, there’s cabling and cultivating as well as about a three year wait for the hops to mature.

“It was an untapped market,” says Ed Dohm, owner of Michiana Hops, who started off raising four types of hops—Chinook, Cascade, Centennial and a few Galenas. “With all the craft breweries in Michigan there’s more and more of a demand for hops particularly locally grown hops.”

With more than 75 to 100 varieties of hops available, Dohm says that you just have to pick a few and go with them. Hops counter the sweet malty taste of beer and brewers can play with different hops to create the tastes they want.

“I chose Centennial because that’s what a lot of the brewers like to use,” he says. “Each type of hop has its own special flavor.”

Indeed, according to Simon Rusk, pub operations manager at The Livery, a microbrewery in Benton Harbor, their two single malt and single hop (SMaSH) American style IPAs, SMaSH: Chinook and SMaSH: Warrior, have their own distinct characters because of the hops used.

“The Chinook has more of a citrusy hop grapefruit with lots of aroma and it finishes with a sharper bitterness,” says Rusk. “The Warrior is a lot less aggressive with its nose, it’s not pungent like a Chinook and has more of a lingering bitterness on the back of your tongue.”

Before there were hops, brewers used heather and myrtle to add flavor says Steve Berthel, Head Pub Brewer in charge of overseeing the specialty beers brewed at the Pub for New Holland Brewing Co.

“Then they discovered hops which have add an aromatic flavor and are a preservative,” says Berthel noting that water was often contaminated centuries ago and so drinking ales and wine were much safer—or so they said.

It was the need to get pale ale to the English colonizing India that made Great Britain’s brewers increase the amount of hops and alcohol in their pale ale recipes.

“Then they were able to ship it to India,” says Berthel noting that it would go first by boat, then rail and horse and wagon. “It could take up to six months to get there. The soldiers loved it because they had a great beer with high alcohol content.”

So avid of a brewer, Berthel built a hop fence in his front yard.

“It’s a great conversation piece,” he says about the super tall hops in his yard. “The police would sometimes stop and look but it’s was legal.”

Though he buys from other hops growers, Scott Sullivan, co-owner of Greenbush Brewing Company in Sawyer, also grows them himself.

“I've test plotted varieties in my yard and on a friend’s farm and from what I can tell, the traditional American hops grow like weeds and the European varieties are pretty anemic and slow,” he says. “There must be something to it, as it seems like farmers in the area who are starting to grow hops are having similar issues and are offering traditional American varieties. There's also the issue of supply and demand and anyone growing things like Centennial or Amarillo is going to sell out fast. Supply issues have been a big reason behind our choosing odd or easily available varieties, but in a sense I'm glad as I'd rather use something that everyone and their brother isn't using.”

Currently Sullivan uses dozens of varieties of hops at the brewery.

“We do a rather large amount of Cascade, Columbus, Spalt, Goldings and Vanguard at Greenbush,” he says. “Cascade is popular everywhere, but we really do find it to be a good dual purpose hop, as well as a good hop to blend with a higher alpha like Columbus. Vanguard is one I started using as a home brewer and have stuck with commercially, as it is widely available and not frequently used.”

Most hop growing happens in the Northwest, particularly Idaho, Washington and Oregon. But with the demand increasing, Michigan with its perfect microclimate for growing hops, is definitely a contender.

Sidebar: A guide to Hops


Origin: Washington, USA

Flavor Profile: Amarillo hops are one of the most commonly used hops in IPAs today. Used primarily for aroma and flavor, this style of hop traditionally displays spicy orange and other citrus characters. They are also known to give a beer a bit of floral profile, too.

Beer Styles: Pale Ales; India Pale Ales; Black IPAs


Origin: Oregon, USA

Flavor Profile: Who doesn’t love a good grapefruit aroma and taste in their IPA? As one of the “three C hops,” the cascade hop is notorious for providing this character to both the flavor and aroma of a beer. Floral and spice accents are also seen with this variety which sees most of its usage in Pale Ales, India Pale Ales, and an occasional Lager.

Beer Styles: Pale Ales; India Pale Ales; Black IPAs; Lagers


Origin: Washington, USA

Flavor Profile: If your IPA has a citrus and/or floral character, it could have something to do with the Centennial variety of hops. Also known as one of the “three C hops,” it’s fairly high alpha acid percentage and a medium range aroma make for a great hop to use for both bittering and aromatic characters.

Beer Styles: Pale Ales; India Pale Ales; Black IPAs


Origin: Washington, USA

Flavor Profile: Chinook is the hop that smells and tastes the most like you would imagine—a dank piney forest. These hops are known to have a very spicy finish, too, and because of the very high alpha acid levels it makes for the perfect bittering component of a beer. Many brewers will tell you to watch out, because they can easily be overused.


Origin: Washington, USA

Flavor Profile: This is a very new variety of hop on the market and it’s blowing peoples’ minds with its fruity and citrusy characters. It is basically the lovechild of three different hops: Hallertau Mittelfreuh, US Tettnanger, Bavarian, Brewers Gold and East Kent Goldings. Having had this in a few IPAs so far, I can tell you it’s one hop junkies are going to love.

Beer Styles: Pale Ales; India Pale Ales; Black IPAs


Origin: Washington, USA

Flavor Profile: Primarily known as another one of the “three C hops,” the Columbus (aka Tomahawk) variety has enough alpha acid to remove the teeth from your mouth. Aside from that, it is regarded as having a very nice herbal character that can be used to bitter and flavor everything from IPAs and Lagers to all types of Stouts.

Beer Styles: Pale Ales; India Pale Ales; Lagers; Stouts

Origin: United Kingdom

Flavor Profile: This variety of hop, while grown in very small amounts in the USA, is one of the classic English hops. While it does have a fair amount of bittering properties if used in great amounts, it is primarily used for aroma and flavor. You can expect this hop to impart flavors that have been described as woody, earthy, and sometimes fruity.

Beer Styles: Porters; Milds; ESBs


Origin: Germany

Flavor Profile: As the name would suggest, this hop variety comes from the Hallertauer region of Germany. It is a noble hop that has very low bittering qualities because of its alpha acid level, but it gives a beer a light floral (and spice) character.

Beer Styles: Pilsners; Bocks; Hefeweizens


Origin: Germany

Flavor Profile: While this hop originated in Germany, it is also currently grown in the Pacific Northwest. Again, this hop has a very high alpha acid unit and is most commonly used to bitter and flavor a beer. The aromas and flavors of this variety have been described as citrusy, herbal, and even spicy.

Beer Styles: Pale Ales; IPAs; Stouts; Porters


Origin: Washington, USA

Flavor Profile: Spicy, grassy, and herbal are the primary elements this hop variety possesses. On the higher end of the alpha acid unit spectrum, these hops are primarily used for bittering American Lagers and Stouts. Tröegs Brewery even went so far as to brew a beer that highlights this hop called Nugget Nectar. So look for it if you’re interested in this hop variety.

Beer Styles: Stouts; Old Ales; Lagers


Origin: Washington, USA

Flavor Profile: With a relatively low alpha acid unit, the Palisade hop variety has been referred to as one of the better aroma hops. This is another variety that is fairly new, and is produced by Yakima Chief, Inc. in Washington. Its profile can be described as floral, grassy, and even apricot-like and is ideal for IPAs.

Beer Styles: Pale Ales; IPAs; English IPAs


Origin: Czech Republic

Flavor Profile: Saaz is another noble hop. It’s main aroma and flavor profiles have been described as earthy and spicy. Some will say it even has a bit of cinnamon-like character to it. Because it has a lower alpha acid unit, this variety can be used for aroma and flavoring, but will likely not bring a lot of bittering character to a beer.

Beer Styles: Pilsners; Wheats; Lagers


Origin: Washington, USA

Flavor Profile: There are many brewers using this variety today, but to get a clear understanding of what this hop variety smells and tastes like, one should look no further than the Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA. With a very high alpha acid, this is a hop that isn’t bashful with its pine, citrus, and cat urine characters. In fact, this is commonly referred to as the “cat pee” hop. Try it!

Beer Styles: Pale Ales; India Pale Ales


Origin: Japan

Flavor Profile: This variety was originally created and grown for the Sopporo Breweries in Japan, but has recently been growing in the Pacific Northwest. During the hop crisis of 2007/08, a lot of brewers were looking for high alpha acid hops. Because of the alpha acids, it is typically used for bittering (and sometimes flavoring). The flavor is unmistakably with its spicy and lemony characters. See Brooklyn Sorachi Ace.

Beer Styles: IPAs; Saisons; Wheat Ales


Origin: Washington, USA

Flavor Profile: One of the more prominent hops varieties to be grown in the state of Washington, the summit hop is a bad sumbitch at nearly 20% AAU. It is also one of the better tasting hops to currently be used in big Imperial IPAs with its huge grapefruit and tangerine characters. An excellent dry-hop variety to be sure.

Beer Styles: Pale Ales; India Pale Ales; Imperial IPAs; Barleywines


Origin: Germany

Flavor Profile: This German hop variety is similar to the Hallertauer, but it has been called the “spicier version.” It too has a lower alpha acid unit so its primary use is for aroma and flavor, which has been described as spicy, grassy, and floral. It is also grown in Washington.

Beer Styles: Pilsners; Bocks; Hefeweizens


Origin: Washington, USA

Flavor Profile: While this variety of hop has a very high level of alpha acids, the claims is that it can be very light in aroma. As far as the aromas and flavors that have been called out: Grapefruit, pine, lemon, and spice are all profiles that make this one perfect for those big American Imperial IPAs.

Beer Styles: Pale Ales; India Pale Ales; Imperial IPAs


Origin: Oregon, USA

Flavor Profile: The Willamette hop variety is at the lower end of the alpha acid scale at about 5.0%. While it may be low, it is one of the better bittering and aroma hops out there with its fruity, floral, spicy and earthy characters. This is a great hop for Brown Ales.

Beer Styles: Brown Ales; ESBs; Pale Ales

From: thehopry.com/hops/

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