You can Lindy Hop, there’s a bunny hop, there’s even hip-hop. But there’s only one kind of hop that beer drinkers care about.
The flowering, cone-shaped hop plant has vines that can grow up to 25 feet long. Its importance in brewing beer goes without saying — it’s used for both flavor and as a preservative. And now, a group of Hudson Valley farmers and business owners hope the hop becomes an important staple of the area.
The group has formed a co-operative called Dutchess Hops, located at Eastern View Farm in Lagrangeville, in a bid to create the area’s first major commercial hop yard. The goal is to work with the emerging microbrew industry in the Hudson Valley to provide local brewers — as well as those across the country — with a key ingredient in craft beer.
“That’s our initiative,” says Justin Riccobono, farm director at Eastern View. “Hops in this state are primarily grown upstate, although there was once a long history of hops in the Hudson Valley. With the renaissance of craft brewing in our area, we thought it was the right time to bring it back.”
And in a big way. Senator Charles Schumer has gotten behind the initiative, and Sean Eldridge, president of the investment firm Hudson River
Ventures, said he was interested in a public-private partnership to invest in hop farming.
Riccobono said Dutchess Hops will also meet with Dutchess Tourism to possibly create a Craft Beer Trail in the area.
In the mid-1800s, the region grew three million pounds of hops annually and was responsible for 85 percent of all hops grown in the country. Then the perfect storm of blight, an infestation, better climate conditions in the Pacific Northwest, and Prohibition all but ended the production of hops in the state.
Riccobono said about 3,000 plants on four acres were ready to go on the farm. Dutchess Hops hopes for 1,000 pounds of hops this year, and between 8,000 and 10,000 pounds in three years — the time it takes for a hop plant to mature.
And in craft beer-making, the hop is everything. As Riccobono says: “You can throw in more, you can throw in less, you can mix varieties and play with recipes forever.” There are more than 100 types of hops — Dutchess Hops will grow eight initially, according to Riccobono — that can make a craft beer taste and smell anywhere from earthy to spicy to citrusy.
“The growth of craft beer is creating the demand,” Riccobono says. “We’ll be working with the local brewers to see what kind of hop they want.”
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