I have been meaning to blog about this for several days now. On our last Long run, I decided to gather up a small handful of Hops from a wild plant that is growing along the trail. The poor plant has to really struggle to compete with the native flora of Iowa….But the Idea that there are Hops Growing WILD here in Iowa…got me thinking.
First….What could I do with them? Well, Brew Beer! Of Course! But I have NO idea on how to brew beer…. Sure, I read up and watched several hours of You Tube Videos…but the Equipment and investment to make two cases worth of beer just seemed like a pain. You would have to have a Large Dose of Passion to justify the effort you would be making for that small of an outcome. True…You could say that beer you brewed yourself has a flavor like no other, but for the same amount of money…you could explore the endless number of craft beers that seem to come out every day lately. They all taste different…and many are simply wonderful!
Similar to Baking, there are “Secret Ingredients” that can be added to make things “interesting”, ( spices, ratios, brew times, etc.) but there is a learning curve….and a mess….and we live in a small Apartment in Wellman, Iowa…I have turned my entire Apartment into a Woodshop before…and we all know how well that went for us. ( look up Pre-2010 posts on this blog!)
So, What about Growing them? Wild varieties might offer something the larger commercial versions do not. So…I did a little more research. Turns out, Hops farms are exploding as the craft beer industry takes off. In fact, it appears the hops are behind in their efforts to meet the demand. And then I stumbled upon something interesting….
Michigan…remember Michigan? Good Ol’ Michigan….Financially disastrous, toxic wasteland for employment of College Graduates. Once the Auto Industry took a hit, the housing and everything else had a domino affect on the economy. ( And we had a “Governor”…but that is another story) Now that the Cars are gone, (and most of the college Graduates….) Michigan is trying to redesign itself into the Land of Craft Beer. ( Good Luck competing with Wisconsin!)
However, It appears to be bearing fruit, as they have had several success stories AFTER we left ( Did I mention this economic surge came after we basically fled/got kicked out of Michigan?) We have sampled a few of their beers and they are very Rich in flavors, colors, and textures. Many are award winning…and we even have several offerings here in Iowa. Nice to know that Alcohol can SAVE a STATE that is floundering.
In hind sight…it seems like a “AH HA! Why did we not think of this BEFORE????” moment. Michigan is surrounded by vast amounts of some of the best tasting water in the US. ( water being a key ingredient) Then there are the cereal producers that can grow the grains locally. Sugar from Beets, Yeast from the various fruit producers lining the coasts. The last ingredient…is the hops.
Hop farms are a wonder to watch ( check them out on You Tube) They grow as vines, and the farmers dangle them off lines up to 7 meters tall! I guess there is a “short” version of hops that grows lower to the ground, and this is what Michigan has invested in. They have a “unique” flavor of garlic, green onion, and oranges..that give them a golden niche market for small breweries trying to set themselves apart form the “Big Guys”. Farmers in Michigan had to Pool their resources to purchase the processing machinery from Germany so they could harvest the hops mechanically.
Another cool fact I learned is that Hops are Rhizomes! They grow not by seeds, but rather by digging up the root and cutting it into smaller sections. Then re-planting them in the desired location. I guess it is best to start them in a greenhouse before just transplanting them anywhere. Since I am not much of a “gardener”, I would probably leave this to someone else. But the thought of digging up those plants and moving them closer to our house does sound appealing.
So, I’m still not sure what I will do about my discovery of Wild Local Hops…most likely, nothing. It appears they may have gone past their harvest date for this year. ( brown tip on the cones) but it is amusing that Michigan discovered the financial gains of beer only after we figured it was a doomed state. Hats off to the guys who came up with the idea! Michigan already produces some awesome wines. Beer seems like just another logical step.
So..If anyone from Iowa is reading this and desires HOPS for their own private production of micro beer….Check out the Kewash trail 4 miles from the Keota Trail head. Chances are everyone already knows of them but simply ignores them since it is only 2 small plants growing in the wild.