Green beer may be a St. Patrick’s Day staple, but it all starts with the hops! The Minnesota Grown Directory currently has seven members who grow hops for brewing and sell to local breweries. We talked with member John Dotseth from Six Fingers Farms in Beaver Township to learn about growing hops.
Six Fingers Farm supplies hops to small breweries and home brewers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Texas and New York State. He could supply the hops to brew a ten-gallon batch or enough to supply a fifteen-barrel brew house! Since there is a smaller production in Minnesota, they supply brewers with fresh whole cone hops with a moisture of 68% as a seasonal harvest brew. Otherwise, they offer a 9% moisture, dried whole cone and pelletized hops for specialty brews.
The soil conditions to grow hops on their farm are a mixture of clay, sand and gravel. Different varieties need specific soil conditions such as loamy, wet, or dry soil. This year, Six Fingers Farm is running tests to identify the ideal soil for northern conditions, especially with the moisture coming from Lake Superior. “Hops love water, but they hate being wet,” Dotseth told Minnesota Grown. “We have to watch the humidity and fog.”
Minnesota hops farmers must protect their crop from Downy Mildew. Dotseth says that their farm uses organic practices. They also utilize cover crops to recycle the organic matter in the soil.
It takes four to five years for hops to fully mature. They are an annual and will produce for fifteen to twenty years with good production. The harvesting season for hops is August to September. Smaller farms pick the crop by hand. Inspired by German engineering, larger farms have a stripping wheel or machine to efficiently harvest the crop.
There are many hops varieties available and they all provide a different taste profile for beer. HopsYard 46 has operated a commercial hop yard in Moose Lake since 2013. They have the varieties Cascade, Chinook, Brewers Gold, Spalter Select, and Nugget.
“The culture for brewing has changed,” said Six Finger Farms. “Some want hoppy flavor with high alpha acid; others want a less bitter like the Saaz variety.” Analytics are available to determine the alpha and beta acids in the hops and are sent to the brewers so they can balance their brewing process.
Local breweries are a great way to support agriculture! Minnesota has such diversity in products available for consumers. “I love Minnesota Grown,” said Dotseth. “It is a great resource for consumers.” University of Minnesota and Minnesota Hops Growers Association also have some information about research in the Minnesota hops industry. Remember, St. Patrick’s Day is on March 17; enjoy your green beer at a local brewery!