Craft Malt with a Conscience

By: Erik Lars Myers

Sebastian Wolfrum, the German-born owner of Durham, North Carolina’s Epiphany Malt, wants to do the right thing.

  Wolfrum’s epiphany came in 2012, while he and his wife attended a meeting for local farmers about how they could get involved with North Carolina’s burgeoning craft beer industry. The problem, however, was that at the time, there were very few options for farmers to sell the crops they might grow. North Carolina’s one malt house at the time, Asheville’s Riverbend Malting, was still nascent and small. Wolfrum, drawing on his background in brewing and malting education at Ayinger Brewing near his hometown of Munich, and his experience at Natty Greene’s Brewing Company in Greensboro, North Carolina, started Epiphany Craft Malt in 2015.

  Epiphany has a lot of disadvantages to cope with, like any other small manufacturer, primarily driven by scale. They are tiny compared to national and international malt providers like Rahr, Briess or Weyermann, and they lack the economy of scale that allows them to produce high-quality malt at competitive prices. It is a trade-off that brewers must be willing to make when using a local maltster. You will pay more for the product—in some cases a lot more—but that money goes to support the local economy, and you are potentially buying a product with more of a local “terroir” or “maltoire.” In some cases, like Epiphany, it means supporting even more than just a local economy.

  Wolfrum says that evening out the environmental impact of the business is considerably more difficult at a small scale. Large maltsters have the personnel and resources to dedicate toward reducing a carbon footprint, but a three-person operation like his must find another way.

  Enter Indigo Agriculture, a company that provides farmers financial incentives to practice regenerative agriculture—a method of farming that improves soil health, builds ecosystem biodiversity and closes the “carbon cycle.” Wolfrum was first made aware of regenerative agriculture in his Ayinger days while working on their Regional Impact Study back in 2002.

  He describes farming as having essentially three modes:  The first he considers “the old way,” what he deems “exploitative.” In short, it involves farming a piece of land until all of the available nutrients are gone and extracted, then moving on to a new plot and beginning again.

  The second he deems “contemporary” or “conventional.” It is farming land and using additives or practices that maintain soil health, allowing the farmer to continue using the same plot each year without degeneration. Those practices may involve crop rotation or artificial soil additives to maintain soil health and keep it at the base level that the farmer needs. It might also take the form of supplemental fertilizers and nitrogen additives that take energy—and thus carbon—to produce and disseminate.

  The third is regenerative, an ethos that encourages building and improving soil health, increasing water retention and biodiversity and significantly reducing carbon emissions during farming and cleansing the atmosphere of CO2. Regenerative practices include implementing crop rotation and cover crops, no-till farming, reducing fertilizer and pesticide use and increasing soil biodiversity through compost additions and well-managed livestock grazing practices—ideally, many of those tactics working together in concert.

  It’s not really reinventing the farming wheel. These practices have been around for decades or longer, but using them together is the goal. Unfortunately, a commercial farmer doesn’t always have the financial incentive to invest in natural soil additions, plant a non-harvested cover crop in a field that could generate income or take the short-term risk of not using pesticides.

  Wolfrum was put in touch with Indigo Agriculture through Dogfish Head Brewery in Rehoboth, Delaware. A chance meeting at the Brewers’ Association Craft Brewers Conference had him talking with the lead brewer at Dogfish Head’s small-batch/brewpub facility, and they found their interests aligned. Together, they worked on a project released in September 2020, Dogfish Head’s “Re-Gen-Ale, the first traceably sourced beer to address climate change.” With the help of Indigo Agriculture’s grain marketplace, Dogfish Head purchased raw regeneratively farmed wheat, hops from several local farms on the East Coat and barley from Epiphany. In doing so, they created a traceably sourced beer with a small carbon footprint. Dogfish Head also committed to purchasing carbon credits to offset the production of brewing the beer.

  When Wolfrum learned about Indigo’s regenerative programs, he immediately got in touch with his local growers. In 2020, three of Epiphany’s farm sources began working with Indigo Agriculture, farming regeneratively to provide a carbon-neutral, or even carbon negative, source of barley for Epiphany’s malting operation. It hasn’t been a difficult sell. “Talking to these farmers, no matter where they are—in eastern North Carolina or Virginia—you don’t need to explain it to them. They live it. They know that it’s not going to get easier to grow anything without some work,” he says.

  Other farms they work with provide heirloom corn and rice as well. So far, it’s a small sliver of Epiphany’s output—in 2021, the entire crop of regeneratively farmed malt is spoken for by just two of his customers—but his plans do not end there.

  Wolfrum has started to build financial incentives for farmers into his own business plan, paying more per pound of grain to incentivize his farmers to add at least one regenerative practice into their operation. As Epiphany grows, he plans to create a contract with each grower that requires them to add regenerative farming practices into their operation but also ensures that they’re compensated for doing so. “We will pay for it,” he says, “We’re going to pay a little bit more because we expect you to do the right thing.”

  He hopes that he can also convince brewery and distillery partners to do their part to reduce their carbon footprint in freight and their day-to-day operations as well.

  According to Epiphany’s Three-Year Resilience Plan, in 2020, “each pound of malt produced by Epiphany produced 0.93 lbs of CO2,” so the company bought carbon credits to offset all 421 metric tons of CO2 produced, officially making Epiphany Craft Malt a carbon-neutral craft maltster.

  Epiphany’s virtuous cycle doesn’t end at carbon credits, however. In 2020, they started working with two farmers who grow heirloom and ancient grains—both corn and rice. Wolfrum recognizes, however, that some of these grains have complicated pasts.

  The origin of the heirloom corn that Epiphany sources can be traced back to Native American tribes of Virginia, and the heirloom rice was first brought to the Americas and flourished as part of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. “If we want to help create beers that incorporate these grains,” Wolfrum says, “we have to turn our attention toward understanding the injustice at their roots.”

  Because of that, Epiphany donates a portion of the sales of each of these grains to appropriate organizations. For the corn, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, which helps to increase the representation of Native Americans in STEM. For the rice, Epiphany donates to a local charity, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

  “At the moment, it’s really small scale, and we’re not a very big player,” Wolfrum says. “Could I use those couple thousand dollars we spend on [incentives, carbon credits, and donations] for something else? Sure. But you have to start somewhere. That’s my perspective. It’s not perfect, but it’s the right thing to do.”

  Learn more about Epiphany Malting, the grain and malt they offer and read their Three-Year Resilience Plan at

  Learn more about Indigo Agriculture and its grain marketplace at

  Erik Lars Myers is an entrepreneur, author, professional brewer, and lover of beer. He currently works as an independent consultant in the brewing industry in Durham, NC where he strives toward innovation in fermentation through a wide variety of projects.

The Evolution of Craft Beer

By: Erik Lars Myers

When the “craft beer revolution” began, there was a purpose. The craft beer industry was built by people who had been to the promised land and seen the light. That promised land was usually somewhere in Europe, and the light was not all that light. It was a revelatory moment in which a drinker found themselves confronted with beers that were not the light, bland, American-style macro lager they knew at home, but rather beers that were dark, moody, and hoppy. They were beers bursting with flavor and individuality, something that those American beers lacked. Those people returned from their promised land as evangelists, priests of a new order built to spread the gospel of those beers to a new, insulated, naïve market. Craft beer was born.

  The roots of what we learned to see as normal craft beer offerings came through the lens of one book. It is so ubiquitous in the craft beer industry that some older beer veterans have referred to it as “the Bible”. The reverence with which Charlie Papazian’s book The Complete Joy of Homebrewing has been treated, as well as Papazian himself, who recently retired from the Brewers Association, makes it easy to draw a direct line from that book to the development of the modern beer industry.

  Ignore, for a moment, that many professional brewers still brew with the dated knowledge presented in that book: knowledge that still makes great homebrew but is fairly basic for a professional brewery. The recipes presented in the book in the 1970s are the harbingers of the industry’s path to maturation some 15 to 20 years later.

  By the 1990s, in the first big boom of the craft brewing industry, every brewery in the country worth its salt was putting out the same simple lineup: Golden Ales, Brown Ales, Pale Ales, IPAs, and Porters or Stouts. All the flavors of beer. Breweries with extra tank space might have thrown in the occasional lager, but since money and space were often limited, lagers sometimes fell by the wayside. Invention and innovation in the brewing industry leapt directly from Charlie’s books. He published what was probably the first pumpkin beer recipe. He let us know that honey was a great addition to brown ales, that fruit belonged in dark beers, and that historic styles that no longer existed were cool.

  At the same time, the beer industry itself was working as hard as it possibly could to lower the barrier of entry to open a brewery. As startup brewers were treated like royalty by eager homebrewers, those brewing pioneers began to release books regaling fans with the tales of opening a brewery and all of their mistakes, so that you – the eager reader – would not be doomed to repeat them. It seemed like writing a business book was a prerequisite for owning a nationally-distributed brewery for a decade or so. Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada), Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head), Jim Koch (Sam Adams), Tony Magee (Lagunitas), Steve Hindy (Brooklyn), Tom Schlafly (Schlafly), and James Watt (Brew Dog) among others have all written books about starting their breweries that, to some degree or other – mostly blatantly – encourage the reader to believe the idea that starting a brewery is an achievable task, even if you don’t know what you’re doing.

  The Brewers’ Association itself followed suit by releasing a book plainly titled “Starting Your Own Brewery”. The first edition was a loosely tied together collection of academic articles and essays that acted as a dry review of boilers and floor sealants of the 1990s, but the second edition was transformed into an easy manual to start a brewery by Dick Cantwell (Elysian, Magnolia). The Siebel Institute of Brewing Technology even went so far as to hold a “How to Start a Brewery” course using that book as a rough textbook. The course did not teach people to make beer or run a business. It taught people how to start a brewery.

  And so, the barrier to entry became the notion that “It’s just so crazy it might work” and the finances to afford the most minimal amount of equipment. Buoyed by an industry (and industry association) that boasted double digit growth numbers for 20+ years, banks were eager to throw loans at anybody who could write a passionate business plan.

  But when those breweries started, they were different than the earlier ones. They were not built by the originators and inventors, the people that had traveled abroad and found new ideas to bring home. They were started by their fans. They were started by eager homebrewers who wanted to do the same thing their heroes did, and when they started breweries, they started homebreweries instead.

  Over the past decade and more, homebrew took a natural step from Charlie Papazian’s creative recipe starts into the concept of Extreme Brewing. You can thank Beer Advocate for it. Though their tame definition, “A beer that pushes the boundaries of brewing” is an easy definition to apply to even, say, the latest trends of non-alcoholic beers and low-cal IPAs, their intent was made clear in their preference for high alcohol offerings and rare, outlandish ingredients that was showcased on their website, and at Beer Advocate’s Extreme Beer Fest.

  In breweries at the time, these extreme beers were fairly uncommon. Dogfish Head’s brewers stood out among their peers as the people who were most likely to throw lobster in the boil kettle, or have their entire staff chew corn to make a traditional chicha, but in homebrew it was an easy step. Ingredients that are off-limits to commercial brewers due to cost, scale, or regulatory reasons pose no impediment to a homebrewer.

  The only thing stopping any homebrewer from making a beer out of 10 lbs of Snickers bars is the cost of 10 lbs of Snickers bars.

  For years, the Brewers’ Association had a mantra based on fear: Quality is the most important thing. The fear was that a potential customer would try craft beer for the first time and it would be terrible and they would never try any craft beer ever again. The idea that a macro American lager drinker would walk into a craft brewery, drink a sub-par IPA, and then give up forever is a myth. Instead, that drinker tried beer again, maybe not that day, but at some point. Everybody drinks craft beer now, macro American lager drinkers.

  For years, craft breweries were not at the mercy of their customer’s tastes, they defined them. Now, the educational period is over.

  When thousands of homebreweries started throughout the country, they brought their recipes with them and taught millions of craft beer fans to love what they made: chock full of lactose, breakfast cereal, candy bars, fruit, and all kinds of sugars. More and more brewers experimented with more and more ways to get hops into beer, because they had been trained by those giant hopheads of yesteryear, and they found the gold mine in New England IPAs.

  Today, our most successful small breweries flourish on a small variation of hazy IPAs, fruited sours, and dessert stouts. Our most successful large breweries cling to the waning popularity of their flagships in a broken distribution system.

  Now, most craft beer fans value alcohol, adjuncts, and adjectives over quality and classic styles.

  And they should. We taught them to.  The only way back to classics is forward through education and inspiration of a whole new set of craft beer fans.

Erik Lars Myers is an author, brewer, and lover of beer. He currently works as the Director of Brewing Operations at Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, NC where he strives toward innovation every day while supporting the Southern Beer Economy by using brewing ingredients sourced and grown across the American South.

Post-harvest Tips for Hop Growers

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

Hop growers spend much of the year planning and preparing for harvest, which is typically a busy time in the late summer through early fall. But once harvest season has wrapped up, there is still plenty of work to be done on a hop farm.

Hops by the Season

  Running a hop farm is a four-season endeavor because there is something unique and important to do every time of the year.

  In the winter, it’s time for trellis construction, planting cover crops and transferring potted plants to greenhouses.

  Springtime is ideal for applying fertilizer, pruning primary shoots to prevent early disease, and tying twine to the trellis. Spring is also the time to establish training dates and install drip irrigation tubing.

  When summer rolls around, hop farmers see the blooms occurring, monitor the crops to prevent loss to disease and pests, and plan for harvest between August and October.

  In fall, it’s time to inspect the quality of the harvested crop, have brewers visit the farm to select hops, and plan for the first frost when plants go into dormancy.

  While sometimes overlooked and not given the attention it deserves, the post-harvest season is crucial for hop growers as part of a year-around maintenance schedule. The tasks relevant to this time prevent pests and disease for the next season and help growers get their orders in well in advance, so they’re not rushing at the last minute. Meanwhile, post-harvest provides an opportunity to set up the next season for success by recalling lessons learned from the past growing season.

Soil Considerations

  Soil maintenance should be at the top of the priority list for any hop grower’s post-harvest season. After harvesting the hops, growers can spend their time wisely by draining irrigation systems, cleaning filters, tilling the hop yard and planting winter crops or perennial cover crops. This time is also when growers can run harvested bines through a chipper to create mulch or add to a compost pile and fertilize the area to replace nutrients in the soil. Typically, applications of nitrogen—80 pounds per acre or less—are most effective. Fertilizer should be applied along rows, not on top, to prevent rot and disease.

  Consider changing the irrigation frequency after harvest, and only irrigate if the area is experiencing a drought to prevent downy mildew and other diseases. To restore nutrients and increase the health of next year’s hops, add lime, potassium or gypsum. It is often best to apply sulfur to the field soil after harvest in small applications to lower the soil pH. It’s also a good idea to dig up a selection of plants to inspect the roots and assess the soil compaction, decay and lesions before simply replanting the crowns.

Pest and Disease Control Considerations

  Hop growers can get ahead of pests and disease problems by paying more attention to these issues right after harvest. To fight downy mildew, a common problem on hops at this time of year, try using systemic fungicides and developing a protectant treatment program for next spring.

  Other common insects to watch for in fall are two-spotted spider mites, damson hop aphids and potato leafhoppers. When high populations of these pests exist, it may be beneficial to apply insecticide in the post-harvest period. It may also be required to obtain a burning permit if burning pest-infested plant debris is allowed in the area.

Post-harvest Hop Drying

  Also important is the post-harvest drying of hops to prevent mold and mildew, while allowing for proper storage to maintain high crop quality. This task is timely and relevant because harvested hops are rarely needed for immediate use. Right after harvesting, hops have high moisture content, often greater than 75% moisture contained within the fruit, leaves and flowers. Moisture content between 10 and 15% is ideal for preservation, but this may vary slightly based on hop varietal. Timely drying of hops will help preserve their flavors and aromas while keeping them fresh.

  Growers can dry hops in ambient air with no heat added or use an oast to dry hops with temperature and air controls in a dedicated building or cabinet. Oasts can be convenient for large-scale hop producers but are often not practical or affordable for smaller hop growers with more modest crop yields. Alternatively, food dehydrators, ovens and microwaves are used by hop growers to aid the heated drying process. A drying rig can be used for the small-scale, low-cost drying of hop cones and other plant material where low-temperature drying is preferred.

Packaging the Hops

  After hops are dried, it is time to store them in airtight packaging in a cool, dark, dry place. The hops should remain there until they are ready to be used.

  Preserve hop cones and pellets in tightly sealed bags, while getting as much air out of the packaging as possible through manual pressing, vacuum removal, or nitrogen gas-assisted removal. Nitrogen purging is most effective but requires specialized equipment. Many medium-sized hop producers rely upon a food-grade vacuum sealing machine to package and store their hops in either multi-layer plastic or mylar vacuum-sealed bags. Hops are generally best used within a year of harvesting; however, properly packaged hops can often enjoy an extended shelf-life of up to five years.

Pruning and Trimming Considerations

  Concerning maintaining the plants, this is the time to prune long stems off at the ground level. Top-dress hops with compost and mulch now too, which is especially important when winter temperatures drop below zero degrees Fahrenheit.

  For infected hops, trim the bines short after leaf drop and then remove the debris. Cut at about two inches above the new crown buds for bines that are still green and not killed off from the frost. Then cover the remaining crown buds lightly with soil or mulch before winter comes. It’s best to get rid of weeds promptly, so they don’t lead to higher disease infections.

Trellis Repair Considerations

  After harvest, but before winter is also an ideal time to inspect trellises and make any necessary repairs to the construction. If any trellis repairs are needed, stock up on supplies including anchor and interior pole materials, cable, anchor pins, clamps, staples, nails and wires. Tools and machinery potentially needed for the job include a tractor, shovels, cable pullers, hammers, sockets, tampers and a flatbed trailer.

Hop Stock Considerations

  To prepare for the growing season ahead, start browsing different hops and the pricing from several competitors. This way, hop growers can learn about new varieties, the care they require and their general characteristics and benefits.

Contract Review Considerations

  On the administrative side, early fall is an ideal time to review current contract options with trusted suppliers to secure high-quality hops for many years to come. Work on establishing good long-term relationships with suppliers and other relevant companies while reevaluating hop needs and plans for the future. Compare the cost options, and look into getting a private pesticide license if needed. Such a permit may be required in some areas for any use of general or organic pesticide on a crop for sale.

Other Post-harvest Tasks

  Around this time of the year, make sure that trickle and drip lines and tape are drained and don’t have water pockets that could freeze in the winter. Cover lines that will remain in the field with plastic or mulch to prevent rodent damage. Growers with animals on their property can allow chickens or sheep back into the area to finish the cleanup process in the fall. Some hop growers even use hop bines as materials for winter wreaths as a side hobby or small business, so think creatively during any downtime after harvest.

Reflect and Reassess Operations

  Post-harvest is also a valuable time to reflect upon the past season. Jot down a few notes about problem areas in the hop field or general operations to address anything related to nutrients, pests or other issues for next season.

  With the craft brewery scene continuing to expand worldwide, now is an exciting time to be a hop grower and be such an integral part of the craft beverage industry.

Local B Corp Collaboration Between Hopworks and Looptworks Turns 300+ Cases of Beer Into More Than 400 Masks for Central City Concern

After releasing a variety case of beer called the “Homebound Hero 24 Pack” on April 21, Hopworks Urban Brewery has raised more than $1,500 for the Looptworks Foundation. The case sold for $40 with $5 of each sale donated to the Looptworks Foundation; the donation allowed the foundation to produce over 400 face masks for Central City Concern, a non-profit organization providing housing, health care and employment services for people experiencing homelessness in Portland.

  “It was really awesome to be able to partner withLooptworks on this program,” said Christian Ettinger, founder and co-owner of Hopworks Urban Brewery. “Our whole industry, like many others, is going through a rough time right now, so being able to give back in a meaningful way to other sectors that are hurting is super important. We couldn’t have picked a better recipient with the Looptworks Foundation and Central City Concern!”

  With the collaboration concluded, the “Homebound Hero 24 Pack” has now become the “Core Four” case, complete with the same core four beers: Golden Hammer Organic Lager, Tree Frog Organic Pale Ale, Powell IPA, and Robot Panda Hazy IPA.

  Golden Hammer Organic Lager features organic Northwest and German ingredients in a new take on Germany’s most popular beer: the Munich-style Helles. Notes of honey malt aroma and flavor greet herbaceous and floral hops at the castle door. Tree Frog Organic Pale Ale is fueled by organic Fuggle, Citra, and Mosaic hops that jump from branch to branch with juicy, floral notes that deliver the perfect amount of dank hop aroma. Powell IPA is Hopworks’ flagship IPA that celebrates its Powell Blvd. brewery, brimming with melon, tropical fruit, and a perfectly balanced bitterness. Finally, Robot Panda Hazy IPA is fruity and juicy with a fluffy mouthfeel and notes of spruce, tangerine, and papaya derived from Denali, Lemondrop, and Cascade hops.

  Keep in the know by following Hopworks social channels (everything @hopworksbeer), newsletter, and for more details.

About Hopworks Urban Brewery

  Founded in Portland, Oregon, in 2008 by Christian and Brandie Ettinger, Hopworks Urban Brewery creates sustainable beer and food with sustainable business practices that protect the environment and support our community. Family-owned and operated, Hopworks sources thoughtfully, operates efficiently and minimizes waste in an effort to protect the planet. The company’s 20-barrel brewery produces 10,000 barrels of beer a year for Hopworks’ brewpubs and distribution throughout Cascadia. Hopworks is the first Certified B Corporation brewery in the Pacific Northwest and a proud member of 1% For The Planet.

Soul of the Beer

Origin Malt’s barley roots in Ohio fosters promising growth for the Midwestern malt market

By: Tracey L. Kelley

It’s taken nearly a century, but barley production for craft beverages in Ohio is making a comeback. Victor Thorne and Ryan Lang, the founders of Origin Malt in Marysville, just north of Columbus, are ready to fulfill brewers’ and distillers’ demand for local products. “From seed to sip” is not only the company’s motto but also a source of intention.

  “In 1900, there were over 4,000 breweries in North America. Four of the largest malt houses in the continent were in Ohio, and over 300,000 acres of malting barley were grown in the state,” Thorne told Beverage Master Magazine. “In 1978, there were fewer than 50 breweries, and no malting barley produced in our region. Now, with over 8,000 breweries in the country, and roughly half of the 27 million barrels produced within a day’s drive, we still have no industrial malting plant within 300 miles.”

  Barley was a viable crop in Ohio and throughout the Midwest before Prohibition. After repeal, beer and spirit makers disappeared, and regional farmers switched to more valuable commodities such as corn, wheat and soybeans, growing barley mostly as animal feed. While producers in the Great Northern Plains and the Pacific Northwest provide some access to quality malting barley, crafters in other regions have to look elsewhere.

  “Our craft brewers import the majority of their malt from Canada and Europe,” Thorne said. “Also, craft brewers require more than three times the amount of malt per barrel that they produce when compared to large industrial brewers, so as the craft segment grows, demand for malt exceeds domestic supply.”

  Thorne, a tech serial entrepreneur but no stranger to the foodservice industry, believes in building relationships from the ground up. One of his first ventures provided a solution for process automation software by partnering with titans such as Cargill, Sysco and Tyson. Origin Malt’s co-creator, Lang, is a fourth-generation distiller and co-founder of Middle West Spirits in Columbus. He understood a crafter’s desire for local products. The two opened the malt house in 2015.

  “I enjoy matching complex challenges with experts who can solve them. In the beer, spirits and specialty foods sectors that procure sprouted and malted grains, we require a range of expertise to tackle each of the delicate steps to provide the highest quality products at competitive prices,” Thorne said. “Before taking steps to build a malt house, Ryan and I spent several years forming trusted relationships with the agricultural community, from seed breeding, seed production, agronomists, university researchers, established global maltsters and the end customer—brewers and distillers. Our equity partners represent all of these key relationships.” 

More Than Malt

  “Malt is the foundation of beer—some people may say the ‘soul’ of craft beer. After working in the industry and learning so much about the brewing process—sensory, fermentation and quality—what struck me was that malt sets us up. It’s the canvas with which wort is created,” said Sara Hagerty, sales and marketing director for Origin Malt.

  “The question we want to answer is, ‘Why isn’t barley grown [in the area], and how can we bring it back to the region in a functional, sustainable and economically-impactful way?’” she said. “Victor and Ryan found a way to truly shorten the barley supply chain. For me personally, I could get behind that and feel confident that the groundwork was laid for a revolution in sourcing, procuring and bringing high-quality malt products for brewers and distillers to market.”

  From her passion as a dedicated homebrewer to her work for a leading liquid yeast provider, and later with a global malt provider, Hagerty’s experience helps her envision an integrated purpose for Origin Malt. “Suppliers should be more than salespeople with a price list and a catalog. Suppliers should be educators, listeners and visionaries. From our work with consumers, our customers, and our directly-contracted growers—every step of our supply chain is highly regarded and valued.”

  Supply starts with seed—in this case, that of LCS Puffin, a two-row winter malting barley. It’s derived from the heirloom variety Maris Otter—a popular grain grown in the United Kingdom and appreciated by brewers worldwide. Puffin was initially identified from 50,000 stock seeds by Eric Stockinger, a molecular biologist at Ohio State University, and now bred by the Miln Marsters Group.

  “In the Midwest/Great Lakes region, Puffin is planted in early fall and harvested in late spring/early summer. As a winter grain, the variety comes with some standard characteristics—a well-adhered husk, low protein and winter hardiness. These attributes and more play a part in how we malt it and the flavors it creates,” Hagerty said.

  Base and specialty malts include Pilsen, Brewers, Light Munich, C40, C60 and C90. “Some of the flavors and appeal that Puffin has can be identified in its classic nutty characteristic, and as more pronounced roasted almond flavor in some of our specialty malts,” she said.

  “How we decide on the base and specialty malts we bring to market is based on the general needs of our customers, and also the ability to provide a solid lineup of products that are versatile. Meaning, you could utilize all of them across a set of recipes or pull in one or two for a specific recipe,” Hagerty said. “While our established products exist with industry specifications in mind, we’re always keeping our eye on the opportunity to produce limited-edition specialty and custom products for customers.”

  The company currently uses a partner malting facility, but plans to establish one of its own in central Ohio so, as Thorne puts it, the supply chain shortens to “300 miles from seed-to-sip.”

  At press time, Origin Malt’s products are used in more than 50 beers and spirits, as well as health foods, baked goods and other items. To help producers explore the possibilities, the team frequently hosts beer dinners and “Seed-to-Sip Malt Schools” with brewing and distilling partners using a Hot Steep method to evaluate aroma and flavor.

A Boom for Midwest Agriconomy

  Puffin is sourced from directly-contracted family farms in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. Growers in New York are interested, too. Producers in search of a reliable winter cover cash crop have an advantage with Puffin not only because of its cold heartiness and disease resistance, but also its ability to help reduce soil erosion and runoff, improve terroir and water quality, and provide wildlife habitat.

  “By growing winter malting barley in combination with double-cropping soybeans, farms can reduce soil erosion and phosphorous runoff by as much as 80%. This is significant since we’re growing in the Great Lakes region, and phosphorous is the primary feed for algae blooms,” Thorne said. “I didn’t anticipate this being a major discovery that reinforces our commitment to conservation and sustainability.”

Origin Malt expects a 2019–2020 harvest of 10,000 acres, but the five-year projection is 75,000.

  “Puffin has a rich European heritage, and has had amazing results since we began producing and testing the variety—initially a cup of seed—nearly a decade ago,” Thorne said. “Our process and demonstrated commitment to bringing malting barley varieties to large has inspired more interest in our region from seed breeders who have been more focused on developing varieties suited to grow in other regions around the world.” 

  Reintroducing an integral ingredient in a multi-level supply line isn’t without risk, but Hagerty thinks Origin Malt’s best practices are factors growers and crafters can trust.

  “Every crop year can yield slightly different results, and it’s up to us—the maltster—to manage how we adapt and uphold our specifications and adjust our malting protocols. I’m a big believer in that it comes down to how you’re educating and keeping your customer informed—as that relationship needs to be lock-step to make sure that everyone can do their best,” she said.

  “We’re very focused on risk management, which is why we’re strategic in where we grow and how we develop and diversify our growing region,” Hagerty told Beverage Master Magazine. “That being said, if barley volumes or quality were low, there’s an established global market for high-quality malting barley that Origin Malt could procure. Maintaining those secondary-sourcing relationships is something we already have in place in case of a North American shortage or crop failure.”

  Thorne said weather is the challenge he worries about most, but cannot control. “To mitigate the risk of weather damaging our crops, we’re committed to spreading our seed across a several-hundred-mile range from Illinois to the Atlantic coast.”

  The company’s agriconomy roots will filter even deeper in the coming years. “When our plant is at capacity, we’ll be ‘reshoring’ tens of millions of dollars every year from the local researchers, seed sales, malting barley production, agronomists, local storage and transportation, and our malting facility,” said Thorne. “Total economic impact will exceed $2 billion from seed-to-sip.”

  He said he loves all the people Origin Malt works with, “aligning every day to make this a success. I’m driven by the potential to make a sustaining impact on an important supply chain.”

  Hagerty is always excited by the “amazing products made with our malt and watching consumers learn about our supply chain and the processes and products that come as a collaborative effort between Origin Malt, barley growers and our brewing and distilling customers.”

  “The value that our malt house has is in the ability for our future facility and the agricultural economy to tie in more deeply with the craft beverage movement, and most critically with craft beverage consumers,” she said. “Sustainability isn’t just an outlook for the short term, but a long-term goal that will continue to be challenged and achieved with the efforts of our team, our growers, our brewing and distilling customers, and, most importantly, consumers who seek to support American agriculture.”


Virgil Gamache Farms, Inc. is a leading organic hop farm in the heart of the Yakima Valley. The Gamache family began farming in here in the Yakima Valley in 1913. They called their first farm “the Sunshine Ranch.” Here the company’s founder, Virgil W. Gamache spent his formative years. The family raised alfalfa, wheat, corn, potatoes, apples and grapes.

  With the end of Prohibition in 1932, the Gamaches lost no time in planting hops. In the mid 1940’s Virgil and his brother Francis took over the farm. Virgil eventually became sole proprietor. Not long after, Mr. Gamache incorporated the family business as Virgil Gamache Farms, Inc.  The family worked hard over the years to bring this thriving organic hop farm to its ninth decade of production. The growth at the farm and the industry as a whole today, would no doubt astound even Mr. Gamache.


  Mr. Gamache himself witnessed the beginning of a new chapter for the farm. In 1997 the Gamaches discovered a brand new hop variety. The family designated this intriguing hop variety as “VGXP01,” in honor of Mr. Gamache.

  So with this new discovery, the family began to market the carefully cultivated, organically grown VGXP01 hops as “Amarillo® brand.”  Amarillo® hops are hugely popular with craft brewers. Brewers apreciate Amarillo® hops for their complex and delightful aromatic characteristics, including citrus, floral, tropical fruit and spice tones.

   Thus, Virgil Gamache Farms and its Amarillo® brand launched a period of tremendous growth, paralleling that of the booming craft brewing industry. With that, the operation has grown from a small 15 acre ranch in 1932 to an organic hop farm of over 1,000 acres today. In addition, VGF, Inc.’s auxiliary production program produces under license an additionally significant volume of Amarillo® brand hops. VGF partner farmers grow Amarillo® hops all across the Pacific Northwest–in Washington, Oregon and Idaho–as well as multiple regions in Germany.


  VGF’s operations have not only grown in scale and geographic area, but also in creativity and in use of new technology. Originally hops were all cultivated and gathered by hand, with help from industrious native Americans and other neighbors. Today, the operation is highly mechanized and automated. In addition, VGF’s lab monitors hop quality to assure ideal harvest time. Thus, today’s VGF continues its relentless pursuit of producing great hops for great brewers, in a growing craft brewing community.

  In summary, while embracing the future we also honor our past. Our founder Virgil W. Gamache’s life-long love of farming empowered him to celebrate his 100th birthday. Though Virgil is no longer with us, his spirit of hard work and innovation lives on. You see it in his sons and grandchildren who continue the tradition. It is a tradition of excellence that defines Virgil Gamache Farms to this day.



  The Gamache family have a love for the Pacific Northwest. It began when great grandfather Albert Gamache first settled in the Yakima Valley in 1880’s. That love of the land is demonstrated in the sense of stewardship that guides the everyday work at Virgil Gamache Farms.

  An important way to respect the land is through organic farming. As a certified, organic hop farm, our best practices include composting and returning all vines and organic farm matter to the earth. We plant triticale, a natural grain ground cover, between the hop rows to protect the soil from erosion. The triticale crop returns organic matter to the soil as workers till it back at the end of the growing season.  It also support organic hop farming by reducing the soil temperature and reducing the spread of wind and dust-borne pests.


  Finally, the Gamache family knows that water is a precious resource. VGF makes the most efficient use of water with drip irrigation. Wireless controlled water valves direct the limited water resources specifically where needed and in just the right amounts. VGF takes care to recycle everything, including motor oils and discarded metals.  All these practices work to ensure the legacy of founder Virgil Gamache and protects our beautiful Yakima Valley. 

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HOP SENSORY: Benefit to Growers & Brewers

Just because something is fun to do, doesn’t mean there isn’t a robust science involved. Case in point: beer sensory. My relatives like to joke that they also studied beer sensory in college, but I think the readers will be aware of the difference between running a carefully randomized tetrad test and doing a keg stand on a football player’s front porch. To properly conduct the science of beer sensory, you start by finding 16-or-so willing participants (shouldn’t be difficult) to undergo rigorous beer flavor training and validation. Through this training and validation, you ensure that everyone is speaking the same flavor language, describing specific flavor-active compounds in agreed-upon terms.

  While technology has come a long way in helping us describe the chemical reactions taking place on brew day, quantitative data from analytical equipment falls short in describing the sensory experience of drinking a given beer – good news for your 16-or-so panelists. The human nose is capable of detecting millions of aromas, and more importantly, humans are capable of linking these aromas to incredibly specific real-world objects like guavas or jasmine flowers. It’s an impressive feat, and in this particular battle of Human vs Machine, we’re winning. 

Beer Sensory in a Hop Context

  Beer sensory is important to the industry, but it’s far too time consuming and resource intensive to assess every lot of hops during harvest this way. Enter: hop sensory. The process of gathering and training panelists is similar to that of beer sensory, but the results are produced a lot faster; thousands of samples can be assessed within a harvest period. This allows for ruined harvest lots to be eliminated from the get-go before expensive resources go into processing them. Hop sensory produces a clear snapshot of different varieties from different growers, harvested on different days, so that brewers participating in hop selection can get exactly the product they’re looking for each crop year. Using this data, we can reveal how the sensory characteristics of each variety are evolving over time.

  However, due to thousands of reactions that take place during brewing, the key aromatic compounds identified in hops have undergone many changes by the time they make it into the final product, if they even make it at all. When brewing, hop compounds are modified by thermal reactions, yeast biotransformation, chemical conversions such as oxidation/reduction, hydrolysis, isomerization, ester exchange, and even evaporation. During fermentation, for example, yeast metabolic activity will biotransform geraniol (a bed of roses) into β-citronellol (zesty lemon), completely changing the aroma characteristics of the beer. So, it’s not only necessary to apply sensory to hop aroma, it’s vital to also focus on the aroma compounds present in the end product – the beer brewed with these hops, to fully understand which hop characteristics are of the greatest importance to brewers. 

  To complicate matters further, brewing components like malt and yeast contribute to flavor in varying degrees depending on the beer style, and hops contribute non-aroma characteristics to beer such as bitterness, mouthfeel, and haze, all of which are important to monitor and assess in order to fully understand a hop’s full contribution to beer.

Benefit to Growers

  Hop growers are beginning to identify the specific genes responsible for producing certain flavor compounds and can use beer sensory data to zero in on the ones that actually make it into the final product.

Beer sensory assessment acts as a helpful stage in filtering through the thousands of experimental varieties that breeders develop to determine the lucky few that will be planted on a large scale and eventually released to the public. The whole process of new varietal development takes upwards of 12 years, with only one in every 10,000 new hop varieties ever making it to market. This lengthy, arduous, and resource heavy process relies on sound assurances that beer drinkers will embrace a new hop, in turn giving brewers a reason to welcome it onto their brewing schedule.

  At the other end, when growers wish to tweak production to increase efficiency, beer sensory can make sure that any changes have not negatively impacted sensory attributes of the final product. From optimizing harvest windows to dialing in the perfect kiln temperature, growers use beer sensory feedback to guide the decision-making process.

Benefit to Brewers

  Brewers ask a lot of questions. How do I get my beer to taste like starfruit? When in the process should I add hops to achieve a perfect balance between fruity and bitter? How will dry-hopped beer behave over time in different storage conditions? Answers to such questions are critical for success, but not all commercial brewers have the luxury of committing precious resources to pilot brews in order to find them. Beer sensory scientists can glean important information from brewing the exact same beer multiple times, tweaking only single aspects (like hop variety, hop addition timing, or storage conditions). The results of sensory analysis on these experiments can be passed to brewers, saving them time and capital, and optimizing the quality of their outputs. 

  The results of beer sensory studies also help brewers by guiding hop blend development to meet specific market demands. For example, an additive effect has been found to exist whereby the coexistence of linalool, geraniol, and β-citronellol creates a strong flavor impression of lime – crucial information in a time where citrus flavors in beer are fervidly sought, making access to hop products developed using this information incredibly valuable.

  To put it simply, brewers just want to make good beer that people like, and sensory assessment is one weapon in the arsenal that can be used towards that goal.

The Circle of Sensory

  Hops growers, brewers, and the beer market are linked in a never-ending feedback cycle. Growers develop and produce a hop variety, brewers use it to make the best beer they can, and the market lets us know what they think with their dollars. That information gets passed back to growers, who can adjust according to what the people want.

  And the stitches linking this whole process together? You guessed it. Beer sensory.

  Written by Tessa Schilaty, Sensory Coordinator at Yakima Chief Hops

  At Yakima Chief Hops, we have invested in a robust hop and beer sensory program, dedicating time and resources to gathering this valuable information in-house that we then share with our industry partners. Trained YCH staff members from all areas of the company meet regularly to taste, sniff and evaluate various beers and hop varieties with the guidance of our own Technical and Brewing Innovations teams. Drinking beer is a tough job, but our employees are happy to take one for the team!

Post-Harvest on the Hop Farm: Jobs Change, But Work Continues

By: Gerald Dlubala

After all the time and energy spent on vine training, pest-free growth and meticulous care that hop farmers put into raising the best possible crop, the harvest can feel like a whirlwind that’s over in a flash. Depending on the types of hops grown and the climate in which they are farmed, hop harvest can run anywhere from early August to late September. But the actual timeframe to get hops picked during peak ripeness and quality is a short, week to 10-day span.

  Hop ripeness and quality are directly related to the moisture content and alpha acid levels of the hop cones. Hops too high in moisture aren’t considered at peak alpha acid content. Hops harvested too late can degrade quickly in storage, be more susceptible to oxidation, and become more vulnerable to disease and pest contamination. Timing is everything, and sampling is critical to make sure hops are at peak ripeness.

  “It’s not that you can’t harvest and get good hops after that peak ripening period,” said Sean Trowbridge, co-owner of Top Hops Farm, LLC in Goodrich, Michigan. “It’s just that after peak ripening, the hop integrity comes into question and can result in product shatter during the picking process. Then you’re talking about the potential of considerable product loss.”

  Even when the harvest is completed, there’s little time to relax. When not evaluating the year in general, focus switches to working on sales and starting the farm tasks involving post-harvest sanitation, soil care, weed eradication and addressing any pest and disease issues that need attention. Since hops aren’t generally considered a pick and pack crop, there are several drying techniques to bring the moisture down so they can be stored safely without damaging the qualities that they bring to craft beer.

  “Immediately after harvest, it’s drying and baling time for the hops,” said Trowbridge. “Then we move 100% of the harvest to our pelletizers to have a fresh crop of current year hop pellets for the breweries.”

Fall is Spent on Cleaning and Maintenance

  “Cleaning, repairing and readying our equipment for next year is usually done in the fall. Just by their nature, hop cones can be pretty sticky, so after harvest, our equipment and work areas can get gummed up just with all of the contact with the hops,” said Trowbridge. “We take the time right after harvest to thoroughly clean the pickers, conveyors, belts, totes, wagons and anything else that gets used during harvest. Equipment like sprayers, whether boom or air blast type, need to be winterized. You know, it’s initially just a lot of manual work, cleaning and maintaining our equipment and getting our barns ready now for the next growing season.”

  Trowbridge told Beverage Master Magazine that after the equipment and buildings have been taken care of, late fall is generally spent in the hop fields on end-of-season responsibilities and plant management issues. Hopyard sanitation and cleanup is a critical function to get done right after harvest because it decreases the chances of disease and deters pest infestation for the next growing season. This also includes some type of weed suppression, usually by laying down a pre-emergent herbicide. 

  “As far as our hop yards here, we let our vines go into dormancy and apply a pre-emergent in spring. There’s no specific reason for that other than it seems to work better for us, and just like in farming in general, each farmer has his way of doing things that may not be the norm but have shown success in the past,” he said. “You still have to monitor moisture levels, because even after harvest, the hop vines need moisture for optimum winter survival. But once temperatures dictate action, we have to blow out our suspended drip lines and irrigation systems to prevent freezing and damage. Fall is the best time to get soil samples analyzed for pH to see what’s left in the soil and what needs to be replenished. Hops thrive in soil with a pH between 6.2 and 6.5, so fall is the time to make corrections if needed. Liming is common, but takes time to become widely incorporated into the soil.”

  Hop scrap can be a subject of contention. Some farmers take the hop scrap and compost it for use elsewhere. Others return the composted scrap right back onto the fields, while others take the scrap that’s not composted and spread it onto the fields. Every farmer has their opinion on the matter. The decision on what to do with the hop scrap is largely based on its condition. Were the hop vines healthy? Were there any signs of downy mildew or other diseases that can overwinter in clippings and on the ground?

  “Late fall is also when we switch our tractor to a mowing head and weed badger to cut all the remaining parts of the hop vines down. There’s usually about 1½ feet left of the vines after harvest, so we cut them and leave them be,” said Trowbridge. “Then, in spring, we go back over the rows with a brush head to remove all of the debris off of the plants and leave only clean rows for new growth. We won’t typically tear out or replace any vines that are healthy and productive. Good healthy rootstock can last fifteen years easy.

Some of the European heritage farms may have fifty to a sixty-year-old rootstock. Sometimes after about ten years, the Western-based hop farms will replace a portion of their hops with a more vigorous growing stock or different variety, but it’s not common. We’ve only done it once, and that was based purely on economics, replacing a portion of very low-income generating hops with a higher income-generating variety.”

Winter Involves Building Relationships And Business

  Trowbridge told Beverage Master Magazine that winter activities differ depending on where the hop is grown. West Coast farms can just keep growing, putting their harvest into the hands of brokers while they get back to producing more. In Michigan, Trowbridge first focuses on wrapping up sales for any product that remains unsold. Much of the harvest might already be spoken for, but any unsold product will be made readily available for anyone interested.

  In addition to sales duties, Trowbridge said that winter is typically the time to refresh and renew business contacts and associations and try to get more exposure for his farm. He uses the winter months to attend any conferences or expos put on by hop farmers associations or by the Craft Brewer’s Guild. He especially likes those that allow him to set up a vendor tent or booth so he can personally get his hop farm more exposure, make new contacts, refresh older ones and reach potential customers on a personal basis.

Growing Organic: Norton’s Hop Farm

  On the other side of the hop growing spectrum, smaller, organic hop farms have a different view of the post-harvest season.

  Don and Tina Norton maintain and operate Norton’s Hop Farms in Springfield, Oregon. Since 2008, they have grown Cascade and Nugget varietals on their family-run, certified organic hop farm. Because they’re organic growers, their post-harvest routine is a little different than others.

  “Well, we obviously don’t have to spend the time applying the herbicides or pre-emergent weed killers,” said Don Norton. “Most of my days are spent doing a lot of grass cutting and weeding out in the fields. We don’t chemically treat for unwanted growth, so it has to be continually weeded and mowed. We get a lot of blackberry growth in this area in addition to the grass and weeds, so it all has to be kept up with regularity. I do get basic soil testing done to see if we need to add lime and adjust pH levels in our fields. We don’t fertilize until just before we expect the new growth to appear, and that can happen in early January.”

  In between weeding and cutting, Norton spends time in the off-season on equipment maintenance as well as checking and winterizing his water and irrigation lines. He doesn’t have the same sales and marketing push that some larger volume farmers do because one of the benefits of being a smaller volume, organic farm, is that his product is generally sought after and already spoken for by regular customers.

  “We’ve sold to our local craft breweries in the past, but as of late, our harvest is sold to a locally well-known organic herb company—Mountain Rose Herbs in Eugene, Oregon. They need the whole flower of the hop, so we supply that to them. There’s also an emerging market for our hop cuttings and vines for use in-store or in other decorative displays, and also by local florists that like to use them in their creations.”

  “One thing that makes us different than a regular hop farm is that we don’t plant any cover crops or use any mulches in between rows,” said Norton. “Instead, we lay a ground cloth with holes cut out over the growing area for our hop plants to grow through. Doing it this way helps keep our weeds and grasses to a manageable level so we can remain organic.”

Kombucha with a Kick

By: Nan McCreary

Hard Kombucha is one of the latest drinks to make a splash in the “better-for-you” alcoholic beverage market. But what is hard kombucha, you ask? Wait, what is kombucha?

  Kombucha traces its roots to China’s Qin Dynasty (221 BC), where it was known as the “The Tea of Immortality” for its medicinal properties. The drink is made by mixing sweetened black or green tea with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast called SCOBY and allowing it to ferment. The result is a tart and sour, lightly-carbonated drink that’s naturally gluten-free, low in sugar and chocked full of probiotics. With health-conscious millennials driving today’s beverage industry, it’s no wonder that kombucha is experiencing a revival, and is one of the fastest-growing beverages on the market today.

  Kombucha first went mainstream in the U.S. in 1995 when GT Dave, the man behind GT’s Kombucha, established the first and largest kombucha brand in the industry. Promotion for the drink touted the health benefits of both tea and probiotics, and sales immediately exploded in supermarkets throughout the country.

With an ABV of less than 0.5%, kombucha could be sold legally as an alcohol-free beverage. In 2010, however, a Department of Agriculture inspector discovered a kombucha at a Maine Whole Foods that contained alcohol levels well above 0.5%. It was pulled off the shelves nationwide, and producers were left with three options: keep their kombuchas under 0.5% and follow strict labeling laws, sell them in the beer section at their current ABV, or create an intentionally higher ABV beverage. For those who chose the latter — a “hard” kombucha — the crisis presented a golden opportunity. The low-alcohol beverage with a healthy dose of probiotics caught on quickly, and in just a few short years, became the hot new kid on the beverage-industry block. According to Nielsen, sales of hard kombucha spiked 247% in the 52 weeks leading up to April 20, 2019.

  One of the first to create high-alcohol kombucha was Dr. Hops, based in San Francisco. “I was working in Berkley with the fitness and yoga community, and craft beer was exploding and doing amazing things,” said CEO and founder Joshua Rood. “Non-alcoholic kombucha was also growing rapidly. I’ve always been a food and beverage guy. When I saw this happening, I realized you could make a high-alcohol kombucha that would be authentic to both categories, offering the benefits from the health properties of straight kombucha, and the flavor, complexity and pleasure of a really good craft beer.”

  With only one hard kombucha on the market at the time—Unity Vibration in Ypsilanti, Michigan—Rood approached a brewer who was making both beer and kombucha and asked him to make a prototype that offered the best of both beverage worlds. “The prototype was awesome,” he said.  “At the same time, my wife had an adorable rabbit named Dr. Hops, and I thought, ‘what a perfect name for a health-conscious kombucha that’s all hopped up.’ So that’s why we named our product Dr. Hops.”

  While Rood was developing his product in 2016, another hard kombucha hit the market: Boochcraft, California’s first high-alcohol kombucha, and today’s market leader in sales.

  To make hard kombucha, producers start with a mixture of sugar, tea and water. For his base, Rood selects the highest organic quality and fair trade tea he can obtain. Next, he adds SCOBY—a combination of bacteria and yeast that he’s developed in-house—and adds it to the tea mixture. The concoction ferments for a week, allowing the SCOBY to work and make kombucha what it is: a probiotic, sour and flavorful drink. To raise the alcohol level beyond the 0.5% from the initial fermentation, Rood adds a Belgian Ale yeast that creates a slight beer quality and lets that mixture ferment for another week. This step raises the alcohol level to 0.7 to 1%.  Finally, after the second fermentation is complete, Rood adds hops, fruit, herbs or spices and “lets it rest” to let the flavors develop. 

“This is a very mellow waiting period,” Rood told Beverage Master Magazine. “We gently stir the mixture and let the particulate matter sink to the bottom. Then we add a bit of sugar, which gives the kombucha a touch of sweetness, and finally, we package it.”

  Dr. Hops makes four standard products: the IPK, similar to a juicy IPA; the Lop, a tart, refreshing pomegranate chai with prominent grapefruit notes; the Jackalope, with prominent ginger, lime and mint flavors; and the Blinky, with hints of basil and lemongrass. All are dry-hopped with hops sourced from the Pacific Northwest. Sugars vary from 4-6%, and ABV runs from 5-9%. Flavors come from fresh, organic fruits rather than flavoring compounds.

  In terms of legal classification, hard kombucha is typically classified as a beer rather than a wine product. The Dr. Hops production facility is similar to a brewery, with stainless steel tanks and temperature, pressure and oxygen controls. To produce optimum results, brewers have to be very meticulous, Rood explained. “The process goes through many different phases, and each phase has the potential to create benefits as well as off-flavors. It’s really an art. We have to check fermentation constantly, as it’s a living process and not an exact formula, although we’re getting pretty good at it.”

  Ultimately, Rood’s goal is to create a product that is “good for your belly” and “good for your buzz.”  Hard kombuchas have less sugar than anything in the alcohol world, he said, except for pure vodka. “As Americans, sugar is one of the worst things we consume, so we keep ours as low as possible.”

  Rood also uses a kombucha strain that’s rich with alcohol-resistant lactobacillus, a health-enhancing probiotic. Because Dr. Hops’ products are unfiltered and unpasteurized (heating from pasteurization destroys enzymes, organics and flavors), the probiotics stay in the beverage, helping the body process not just food, but also alcohol. Another health benefit: Dr. Hops uses only organic fruits, roots and herbs, which provide additional nutrients.

  “Essentially, we’re trying to eliminate the junk people put in their bodies while drinking alcohol,” Rood said. “When you take all of our ingredients together, you have a beverage that’s remarkably distinct and much healthier.”

  As more and more health-conscious imbibers turn to beer/kombucha blends, Dr. Hops is enjoying great success. Currently, the company produces 1,000 barrels a year, with plans to triple—or even quadruple—production within the next year.  Right now, they package their kombucha in bottles, but Rood intends to switch to cans soon. Dr. Hops is available in liquor stores and independent food stores and markets in Northern California and is on tap in several bars in the Oakland, California area. Rood’s goal is to increase distribution to the western third of the country and Florida. 

  “Sales have been amazing,” he said.  “It’s something people want, but most don’t know it until they discover it, and then they get very excited about it.”

  Within the past couple of years, many up-and-coming hard kombucha brands have emerged within the growing industry, including Flying Embers, KYLA, JuneShine and Lambrucha. Established kombucha producers are also getting in on the action. Wild Tonic, originally a regular kombucha brand, created two hard kombucha products: one with 5.6% ABV and one with 7.6% ABV. Kombrewcha, one of the country’s pioneering hard kombucha brands, received backing from AB InBev’s investment arm, ZX Ventures, to produce a new line of hard kombuchas.

  It’s not only AB InBev getting in on the action, however. Craft breweries have also extended their product portfolio to include hard kombucha. For example, New Holland Brewing, a Holland, Michigan craft beer brand that’s been around for over 20 years, now produces a seasonal offering that combines the flavors of an IPA with Kombucha. Boston Beer, maker of Samuel Adams, recently launched Tura Hard Kombucha. And Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon collaborated with Humm Kombucha to create Humm Zinger, “a beer that blends together Humm’s tangy grapefruit kombucha with Cascade hops and Pilsner malt for big citrus flavor with a profound dry hop character.”

  Clearly, hard kombucha is hitting the mainstream. After all, what’s not to like? It’s all-natural, gluten-free, organic and vegan, low in sugar and calories yet contains enough alcohol to be fun. As part of the low-alcohol trend, which includes hard seltzers, hard ciders and low-alcohol spirits, hard kombucha has a lot of opportunities to grow. If you think you might be one of those who want it but don’t know it yet, hustle off to your favorite vegan restaurant, grocery or liquor store and check it out.

Assessing the Growth of Cider Apples in the Pacific Northwest

By: Becky Garrison

In 2016, the Northwest Cider Association received a specialty crop grant from the Oregon Department of Agriculture. This grant enabled them to launch a signifi-cant initiative encouraging farmers to plant cider apple trees in the Pacific North-west. The Northwest Cider Association chose to focus these planting efforts in Oregon in two areas: Willamette Valley and Hood River.

  While there has always been a small selection of heirloom cider apples available for small-batch releases, this initiative marks the first time post-prohibition that a sizable number of cider apples will be available to cider makers. Will these ap-ples bear fruit in the burgeoning cider market?

  Currently, there is no available national data on the breakdown of cider made with cider apples versus dessert apples. Michelle McGrath, Executive Director of the United States Association of Cider Makers, attributes this lack of statistics to the fact that the U.S. cider market consists primarily of many very small cideries. As such, their sales are not reflected in any of the scan-based data found in trade reports.

  Even though a majority of ciders available in grocery stores, bars and restaurants are made with dessert apples, a large percentage of the cideries in the U.S. uti-lize cider apples. In McGrath’s estimation, “Fifty percent of our paying members grow their own apples, and 50% of our paying members are using cider apples to make cider.”

  Furthermore, regional brands continue to absorb more of the cider market share, and these brands offer a greater variety of ciders to consumers. McGrath says that in 2012, regional brands represented about 8% of the cider retail market, a number that has risen to 34% today. Also, regional brands of cider sales have grown 16% in the last year, while national brands declined 9%. Because national brands represent more of the total market share, the net result is an overall de-cline of 2% in domestic retail cider sales in 2018. 

  At first glance, this appreciation for small regional craft ciders seems to indicate consumers will be interested in paying a premium for heirloom ciders made with cider apples. Crystie Kisler, co-founder of Finnriver Farm & Cidery, observes how the consumer’s palate has evolved since 2008 when she founded an 80-acre farm situated in Chimacum Valley, Washington.

  “We have appreciated seeing how the sensibilities and palate of folks in the cider-drinking community have evolved over the years,” Kisler says. “We get a lot of interest in our homegrown ‘estate’ ciders—featuring those traditional cider apple varieties with greater complexity—and enjoy seeing people discover the nuances and possibilities in cider fruit.”

  Kisler’s partner at Finnriver, Eric Jorgensen, says that the higher price point of cider made from cider apples does not appear to deter customers who travel to their tasting room. “I’d say that despite their higher price point, when we have them available, they are just as popular as our ciders made from dessert fruit. That preference runs the full range of consumers—we get a very broad spectrum of people coming to visit us.”

  According to Jorgensen, this consumer interest in cider apples can be attributed to several factors: flavor profiles that are nuanced, interesting and complex; gen-eral values around tradition and the rediscovery of these apple varieties; and in-terest in products made with ingredients farmed locally and on a smaller scale.

  From the cidermaker’s perspective, Andrew Byers, Head Cidermaker & Produc-tion Manager at Finnriver, says the advantage of producing cider apples is based in complexity. “Making cider from dessert fruit—be it antique varietals or more modern releases—is making cider from fruit that was conceptualized for a differ-ent purpose, such as eating a fresh apple, or saucing, or baking a pie. Cider fruit has been selected for the qualities they bring to the cider. Body, phenolics, aro-matics—all that cannot be found in a dessert-fruit-based ferment.”

  Byers describes how these apples can transport drinkers to another level. “[Cider apples] waltz you across the room with ease to a place of wonderment where you didn’t know ‘apples could do that.’ [They bring you to] that lovely platform of hav-ing your horizons broadened—a place to realize you just discovered a previously unknown potential. Cider fruit, each year, is an opportunity to waltz with the pub-lic and show them the best we can be.”

  Some logistical challenges are inherent in growing cider apples not necessarily found when producing dessert apples. Tim Larsen, owner and cidermaker at Snowdrift Cider Company in East Wenatchee, Washington, says, “These apples were never cultivated because they grew in an orchard so well, or because they yielded so many tons to an acre. They are grown because of their flavor and aroma. Furthermore, fermentation and aging of cider apples is a fair bit different than working with modern eating apples.” Larsen designed his new operation, Sunred Cider, to manage these challenges for cidermakers and streamline the process between growers and producers.

  Adding to the cost of producing cider fruit is the U.S. law prohibiting farmers from harvesting apples that fall to the ground. Hence, farmers cannot mechanically harvest these apples on a large scale, unlike in the U.K., where apples can be harvested after they’ve fallen off the trees.

  Larsen points to the need for consumer education. In his estimation, “most peo-ple see cider as a sort of holistic Mike’s Hard Lemonade.” He attributes this per-ception to the fact that most large scale cider operations are forced to rely on a very restricted supply of apple juice that, at its best, is pretty uninteresting. They spice up their product, adding flavorings, sweeteners and colors. “This is great if you want something that tastes like alcoholic watermelon juice with hibiscus or some other flavor combination, but it’s not great if you want to experience real cider,” he said.

  Ryal Schallenberger of Northwest Mobile Juicing says that cidermakers try to distance themselves from the apples when they are using bulk juice. “They make comments on their labels that are generic like ‘fresh northwest juice.’ Folks that are using traditional cider apples say so on their labels, for the most part.” This distinction may be apparent to cider connoisseurs; however, this differentiation does not seem to be conveyed to the general public.

  The question, though, is how many consumers crave “real cider” given the popu-larity of ciders made with added pineapple, hops, botanicals or spices? In 2018, apple cider without added fruits, spices or botanicals constituted 63% of national retail sales. Even though over half of all sales in 2018 were ciders made with ap-ples, the trend toward producing non-apple ciders appears to be on the rise. For example, Jeff Parrish, co-owner of Portland Cider Company, notes that consumer demand continues to increase for ciders made with pineapples, pears, and other non-apple fruit.

  In his analysis, Parrish does not view large-scale production of cider apples tak-ing off unless enough cider apples are grown and harvested to bring the cost down to the same price point as craft beer. Simply put, not enough consumers are willing to pay $10 to $12 for a bottle of cider made with premium Pacific Northwest cider apples to justify producing it on a large scale.

  Also, Jorgensen says the general cider distribution market trends towards cans, and thus towards higher production volumes. He’s not aware of anyone with ac-cess to enough “traditional” cider juice to be able to package and sell in large quantities, let alone at a price point comparable to the more contemporary ciders on the market.

  Emily Ritchie, Executive Director at Northwest Cider Association, acknowledges the difficulties faced by craft cideries like the Portland-based Cider Riot. They closed their doors in November 2019 as they found themselves unable to produce their award-winning heirloom ciders while also maintaining a viable cidery and pub. “Right now, it’s harder to keep a business open when you’re just using cider fruit, as your price points are higher,” Ritchie says.

  In assessing the future of cider apples, Parrish points to cider’s long history as a working man’s drink. “It’s never been seen as having a high intrinsic value, and will not be viewed by the mass market as having a high value similar to wine.” In his estimation, history has proven that cider apples will remain a niche market with a loyal following.

  Conversely, Ritchie compares the potential growth of Pacific Northwest cider ap-ples to the growth of the wine industry in Oregon over the last 30 years. Those who planted the first vineyards in Willamette Valley and other AVA’s began from a place where they had no name recognition into producing internationally re-nowned Pinot Noirs and other varietals.

  With the first harvest from these aforementioned cider trees slated for 2020, will cider apples join Pinot Noir grapes as a fruit that defines this region? Time and price point will tell.