Craft Beer / Eat, Drink, Blog

It May Be Hot For You, But The Hops Love It! Learn More At Hopfest.

On Monday, Jimmy’s No. 43 along with East Village Meat Market, Parish Hall and Sigmund’s Pretzels will be joining local brewers (both commercial and homebrewers) to celebrate Hopfest: Backyard Hops In Support Of BK Farmyards. From 6:30-9:30 p.m. at Brooklyn Brewery, guests will enjoy a full three hours of unlimited walk-around food and beer tastings with local “backyard” hops growers throughout New York City (get your tickets here). Among the brewers will be Bronx Brewery, whose Urban Hops Project—in collaboration with the New York Botanical Gardens and the Cornell Cooperative Extension—is growing hops at community gardens throughout the Bronx. We recently talked with co-owner, Chris Gallant, about the endeavor and why the recent hot and dry spell is a good thing for hops growers.

How did Bronx Brewery come up with the idea of the Urban Hops Project?

It was really the meshing of two goals: source local ingredients and give back. Tough as it is in an urban area, we wanted to source some raw materials locally and were pleasantly surprised by the number of gardens around and gardeners that were up for the challenge of growing a completely new species. Alongside that, we were looking for a way to give back to the community. We are committed to donating a portion of our company profits to local causes, but as a new business we weren’t profitable yet. We saw the Urban Hops Project as a great opportunity—all proceeds from this batch will go back to the community gardens that grew the hops. As the program grows year after year, we hope this amount increases.

You’ve planted 125 hops plants. How much, realistically, will you be able to harvest this year and what quantity of beer to you expect to get from these plants?

Good question. We’re not entirely certain. What we’ve understood from Steve Miller (the Cornell hop expert helping us out) is that hop yields tend to be much lower in the first year than subsequent years. Commercial yield averages on a per-acre are not really applicable, so hopefully we’ll have enough to utilize as either kettle, dry or wet (fresh) hop additions for a specialty batch of beer. If this year’s harvest is not enough we’ll supplement with other New York grown hops.

NY State has a long history of growing hops. Are you hoping that your efforts – along with those of other local hops growers – will bring the crop back to the state?

Yes definitely! NY State is ideal for growing hops. We’d love to see the local hop acreage grow and be able to source more materials closer to home.

It’s been an extremely hot summer with sporadic heavy rains. How does this affect your hops?

Direct sunlight and long day length (15 hours or more) is needed for optimum growth, so the sunny, hot weather shouldn’t adversely affect the hops, provided that it is given sufficient water.  Heavy rains can cause damage to the plant, but the bines aren’t yet high enough that too much damage would have occurred. The hot, dry weather also reduces the change of infection by downy mildew, a common hop disease.

You’re planning on opening a brewery of your own very soon. Will you be growing your own hops/grains at the new facility?

Yes! It is planned for late 2013. What we grow completely depends on the location we settle upon and what sort of available space we have. But yes, there will be some on-site growing—most likely hops for specialty beers.

How did you coordinate with local community gardeners for the Urban Hops Project and what would you to say to others who would like to grow hops at community gardens in the city?

We worked with the NY Botanical Garden’s “Bronx Green Up” program. They introduced us to local community gardeners that might be interested. My suggestion to other breweries would be see what’s already out there. There are vibrant gardens all around—you just need to connect with them! Most are very excited about the idea.

Anything else you want to add?

Keep an eye out for the new Bronx beer featuring local hops this fall!