Friday, May 1, 2009

Press Release Friday - Midwest Hop Production Workshop

Beer Talk Today interviewed James Altweis of Gorst Valley Hop Farm a few months back. Unfortunately the audio was lost. But, hopefully we can make it up to them. Gorst Valley is leading the drive in Wisconsin for a return to our hop-growing past. This the second workshop they've done, since demand was so high for the first one.

Also involved in this one is Capital Brewery. Capital is doing great things to draw attention to the great farmers and processors here in this state and for that they deserve a lot of credit. So, I'm glad to see Kirby and the folks at Capital helping Gorst Valley to educate farmers about how to grow hops here.

Anyway. Without further ado, here's the press release. Please, if you're interested in growing hops, sign up.

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Midwest Hops Production Workshop has overflow attendance. Second workshop scheduled in May with support from Capital Brewery.

The second workshop is to be held May 30, 2009 at Rosemary Garfoot Public Library, Cross Plains, WI.

MAZOMANIE, WI (April 28, 2009) – Gorst Valley Hops, with Capital Brewery, will be hosting another workshop for all interested in sustainable Midwestern hops production. The workshop will be held at Wisconsin’s first LEED-certified sustainably built library, the Rosemary Garfoot Public Library (2107 Julius St., Cross Plains) on May 30, 2009 from 8:30 am until 4:30 pm. The focus of this workshop is the education of current and potential hop farmers in the basics of low impact hops horticulture, harvesting and processing. This workshop will be identical to the workshop held last March, which reached capacity at 90 attendees. Registration may be booked online at

Gorst Valley Hops held their first educational workshop and roundtable discussion of Midwestern hop production on March 14th, 2009 in Cross Plains, WI. Unfortunately, attendance was cut off at 90 people so not all interested parties were able to attend. To rectify this, a second workshop has been scheduled for those still interested in the subject. Please register early as registration will be limited to 60 for this workshop.

The workshop drew crowds from across the Midwest and beyond. The village of Cross Plains marveled at the collection of license plates from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa scattered throughout their town. Participants also arrived from farther destinations such as Nebraska and Colorado. The group was an eclectic mix of seasoned agri-businessmen looking to diversify beyond the typical row crops, entrepreneurs hoping to profit from Midwestern brewers’ desire for locally grown ingredients and visionaries dreaming of a life in the country growing a crop that could provide high value from a few acres.

“At the moment, I live within the city limits of Chicago. I can grow a few bines in my backyard, but that’s all the room I have,” said attendee Taylor Harman. “Someday, I hope to open my own little Bed, Breakfast and Mircobrewery using hops grown in a garden out back. This workshop has given me wonderful insight into how I can plan a small hop yard to provide all that I need while maintaining a sustainable focus that visitors to my bed, breakfast and brewery would desire.”

Attendees to the first workshop were instructed on sustainable hops production methods including: production techniques, trellis construction, plant care, establishment costs, harvesting/processing, market analysis, brewery relations, round table discussion, and regional assistance options. Participants were also treated to enlightening and informative presentations on the history and use of hops in the brewing industry by Kirby Nelson from Capital Brewery and Wayne Esser from Esser’s Best Brewery.

Mr. Nelson also emphasized the desire of Midwestern brewers to find locally sourced product, citing the wheat from his Island Wheat beer as an example. “By sourcing the wheat from such a recognizable Wisconsin location, not only do we have a great starting point for marketing our product, but we are also helping an area of our state to flourish in many ways.” Nelson further explained, “We thought we could help out the residents of the island by giving them a new agricultural product they could produce. It also turned out to be a tourism opportunity for them. People now drive to the island to have their picture taken by the signs pointing out the Island Wheat fields. That is the type of promotion that Capital Brewery wants to bring to other parts of this state through the use of other locally grown ingredients for our beer such as hops.”

The workshop concluded with a discussion on the opportunities and challenges facing an industry in its infancy and ideas abounded. Midwestern brewers in attendance re-iterated Mr. Nelson’s desire for a locally sourced product. “With the recent boom in hops prices, I’ve been conditioned to pay a substantially higher price for hops. I wouldn’t mind continuing to pay a higher price if it means I receive a higher quality product grown in the middle of my distribution area instead of coming from Europe or New Zealand,” stated Peter Fauerbach of Fauerbach Brewing Company.

Many challenges were identified as well. Harvesting, drying and processing equipment commercially available is sized for fields of 100 acres or more instead of the fields of 1 to 10 acres most workshop participants envisioned. Additionally, developing strict quality standards for Midwestern hops seemed to be foremost on the minds of many participants. Matt Schueller and Deb Wilson from Renaissance Hops in Seaforth, MN summed it up with, “We are currently growing a product that we want to be known as ‘Midwestern hops’, not just ‘hops’. We want people to identify it as a superior product due to its point of origin and strict production standards. The only way we can achieve this is through a uniform standard of growing, drying, processing and packaging that is unique to the environment and demands of Midwestern growers and brewers.”
To develop these standards, the participants agreed upon the formation of the Midwestern Hop Growers Association (MHGA). Formed under the guidance of Renaissance Hops (Seaforth, MN), Gorst Valley Hops (Mazomanie, WI) and Mission Valley Hops (Traverse City, MI), the MHGA would develop standards for the growing and processing of hops in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions. It would also provide educational resources for prospective growers and testing services for existing ones.

The challenge of harvesting, processing and packaging is being handled by Gorst Valley Hops staff. “We currently have all the equipment needed for turning the whole leaf hop into dense pellets and packaging it in a way that brewers are accustomed to using,” stated James Altwies of Gorst Valley Hops. “We are also creating several designs for stationary and portable oasts (drying chambers) as well as appropriately scaled harvesting equipment suitable for the small acreage grower. Within a year or two, we should have all the equipment we need scaled to sizes viable for Midwestern growers.”

Look for further updates on the Midwestern Hop Growers Association and processing equipment on Gorst Valley’s website:

Gorst Valley Hops is committed to providing high quality pelletized and whole leaf hops to craft and home brewers while maximizing environmental stewardship through sustainable growth and processing of our product and that of other hop growers throughout the upper Midwest. Gorst Valley Hops can be contacted at:

Gorst Valley Hops
9261 Gorst Road
Mazomanie, WI 53560

1 comment:

  1. I attended the workshop in March and highly recommend it for anyone interested in growing hops, even if just in your backyard. The crew from Gorst Valley (and friends) thoroughly covers all aspects of growing hops, including the history of hops in Wisconsin. They also focus on issues of concern to growers in the midwest. Plus you might meet some neat people from around the region.


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