Local farm meets growing demand
The number of craft breweries in the United States just keeps growing, as does demand for hoppy ales and lagers. As of 2018, more than 6,000 breweries produce the beer enjoyed throughout the country. This doesn’t account for the individual hobbyists producing their own beers for smaller levels of consumption. Although you may not know it, local growers at St. Croix Valley Hops are meeting the demand for a key step in the beer crafting process: the hops.
Husband and wife team Eric and Tammy Anderson own Deer Lake Gardens, where they have grown and cut flowers for the Twin Cities wholesale market for about 20 years. When they started getting requests for hops six years ago, they took on the challenge and founded St. Croix Valley Hops. Here the Andersons have a sprawling three and a half acres dedicated entirely to the growth and propagation of the crop as well as a research garden where they tweak and perfect their product.
Hops are the flowers produced by humulus lupulus, a herbaceous perennial that grows on vines. These vines vigorously spread themselves on trellises 16-20 feet in height. Only females produce viable flowers, and plants can be cloned to maximize production. The plants are introduced to strings on the ground in mid-May when they are bines, flexible stems that will curl around their support trellises as they grow. By mid-August the hops are ready to harvest. Flowers are plucked from the vines and dried, with the process varying between growers. At a facility such as St. Croix Valley Hops, the smaller sized harvests can be air-dried at around 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit to draw out the essential oils that give beer the rich flavor it has. Larger facilities will commonly be outfitted with an entire heat-powered drying house where hops are laid out in a single layer and dried at temperatures up to 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
St. Croix Valley Hops is home to over 20 different strains of hops used in brewing a plethora of different beers. Selection of varieties to grow is dependent on climate and in some cases even rights—certain strains require special permission to grow. Of the varieties grown, the Andersons find imported pale ale strains such as Chinook and Centennial are most popular among customers. The local climate allows these plants to flourish. The strain often preferred by those just getting their hands dirty with hop growth is Cascade, due to its willingness to grow and hardy resistance to disease.
Although not currently selling hops to home brewers, the Andersons have a processing center in the works so that they can begin using the hops that they grow. The hops market is currently considered to be a startup, with middlemen taking care of the processing between brewers and growers; there generally aren’t facilities prepared to take care of each step of the procedure. However, the local area is looking well-prepared for the serving end with breweries slated to open in St. Croix Falls, Chisago, and Taylors Falls in the coming year. Soon delicious craft beer that has been locally sourced every step of the way will be able to be enjoyed right in the St. Croix Valley.