Blog : Giving Local Hops a Chance

By Clay | Jul 30, 2014 | in

When you think New England, the traditional family farm - red barn, hay bales, white Victorian house - probably comes to mind. It's the farm that for centuries, along with fishing, provided New Englanders with a stable economy. But times have changed and farmers are struggling. There is a growing movement amongst New England's farmers and the region's booming craft beer industry called the Hops Exchange. Designed to become the first processing and distributing hops company between farmers and brewers in the area, the Hops Exchange could jump start the local farming community. Currently, however, that community lacks the necessary infrastructure to support the effort.

Designed to be the first hops processing center, the Strafford, New Hampshire based facility at Isinglass River Farm will feature the most up to date technology including a pellet mill, packaging equipment, a walk in cooler. This will incentivize local farmers to grow hops, a niche crop that was once a prominent in New England and grow the Hops Exchange into the premiere hop grower in the northeast. Founded by Jameson Small, the goal of The Hops Exchange is to take locally grown hops from New England farmers and sell them to local craft breweries like Smuttynose Brewery, stimulating the farming economy and grow the local craft beer industry.

"This opportunity holds a lot of promise for two areas of great interest in the Seacoast right now, craft beer and local agriculture," said JT Thompson, Smuttynose's Minister of Propaganda. "We're excited to work with Isinglass River Farms."

If successful, The Hops Exchange believes they will be able to create jobs and keep millions of dollars in the local community.

In 2013 The Hops Exchange launched an in-depth study to look at the possibility of how much available land could be used for hop growth in Strafford. What they discovered was over 120 acres of land that could be dedicated to production, more than enough for the project to become a reality.

The project isn't without a hefty price tag, of course. To raise funding for The Hops Exchange, Small started an Indiegogo campaign in an effort to raise the needed $30,000 to fund a portion of their project and company. As of July 11, the campaign did not reach its goal. Had the money been raised from the Indiegogo campaign, it would've been broken down to finance the three major pillars of The Hops Exchange. $5,000 was to be given to the farmers to provide them with extra spending capital to purchase and plant more hops. Another $5,000 was for the local brewers to subsidize the cost of local ingredients. The remaining $20,000 was for The Hops Exchange to secure a loan for the purchase of equipment and help them get their business of the ground.

The Hops Exchange credits Smuttynose for providing a large amount of knowledge and success thus far.

"They have been critical in the creation of our quality guidelines for The Hops Exchange," said Small. "They have connected us with brewers throughout the region and have given us lots of insights of the expectations and needs that all brewer have while sourcing ingredients."

Smuttynose will also play a role larger than just guiding The Hops Exchange by purchasing hops from The Hops Exchange to be brewed into a variety of exclusive Smuttynose beers out of their new facility in Hampton.

"Smuttynose will buy wet hops from The Hops Exchange to brew a wet hop beer, if they crops produce enough. This type of beer is brewed with loads of fresh-from-the-vine hops that will go directly into the whirlpool at the end of the brew, a process which imparts a unique set of flavors and aromas that can't be had in kiln-dried hops." said Thompson.

He added that almost every beer currently on the market is brewed using kiln-dried hops, giving wet-hopped beers a limited window and a particular season. Wet-hops are often volatile and are only available during the harvest.

Smuttynose's local wet-hop beer will be a Smuttlabs release, brewed in conjunction with a second, near-identical beer featuring wet hops from long-established hop farms for a side-by-side comparison test to compare quality and taste. The exercise is meant to be constructive.

Smuttynose understands the importance using locally grown hops has on both the local economy and on the environment. To ensure a small carbon footprint, Smuttynose has done everything from donating spent grain from their mash tun to local pig farmers for feed to a host of other sustainability-minded features into their new brewery in Hampton, which is registered for LEED Gold . These ideals are the reason that Smuttynose joined The Green Alliance, a union of over 100 sustainability-minded businesses that offer discounts on goods and services to consumer Green Card Members.

While Smuttynose strives to remain as environmentally friendly as possible, they also have to meet their brewing standards with the hops they use.

"This opportunity holds a lot of promise for two areas of great interest in the Seacoast right now, craft beer and local agriculture. Smuttynose is excited to work with Isinglass River Farms," Thompson said.

Though The Hops Exchange is still trying to find the funding to get their business model off the ground, Smuttynose remains excited to see if the venture can stimulate the local economy, provide a second life for the region's farmers and help turn New Hampshire into a craft brew destination.