Hops, breweries go hand in hand

Nestled in Midtown, Motor City Brewing Works brews draft beer using the Mackinac Hops from Ribbon Farm Hops. PHOTO/ERIC SOKOL

OU News Bureau

Your Michigan craft beer might be more local than you think — hop farms are sprouting up all over the state.

Michigan’s geographical location combined with a growing craft beer industry has positioned it as an up-and-coming state for hop farms.

Hops are sold by the ounce to home brewers. An ornament filled with hops is sold during the holidays. PHOTO/ERIC SOKOL

Hops are used in the brewing process to give the many different types of craft beer their distinct taste.

One of just a few hop farms within the city of Detroit is Ribbon Farm Hops, which is headquartered in the Green Garage on 2nd Avenue in Midtown and operates its farm near Fort Wayne on the city’s southwest side.

“I wanted to do something in Detroit, and when we started in 2013 the interest in urban agriculture was really flourishing,” said Susan J. McCabe, director and head farmer of Ribbon Farm Hops. “I wanted to do something where I could take some unproductive land and make it productive.”


Hops history

Hops have a deep-rooted history in America, being grown here since the very beginning.

Susan J. McCabe

“Hop production in this country started pretty much in the colonial days because beer was used as an alternative to water when water was bad in an area,” McCabe said.

“In the 19th century as Michigan agriculture developed, hops were grown here,” McCabe said. “Once Prohibition hit, hop production in our area never came back.

“So it really wasn’t until a decade ago that with the rise in craft brewing and interest in locally sourced ingredients and sort of renewed interest in small farming, did hop production take off again in Michigan.”

Production of hops

Growing hops is not an overnight endeavor. It takes several years to yield a much more sizable crop.

“Hops are a perennial plant that grow on a vine. It’s the cone part that gets used,” McCabe said. “You need a structure because they are a vine. They can grow up to 25 feet high.”

Different varieties of hops come from all over the world, and some have also started here. Michigan’s latitudinal position is what sets it apart from other states for growing hops.

“Forty-five degree latitude is the best area to grow hops in, and that’s both in the northern and southern hemisphere,” McCabe said.

Hops in Michigan begin to grow in late April to early May and are harvested in September.

Ribbon Farm Hops grows a species of hop named Mackinac. They acquired this crossbreed from Great Lakes Hops in 2013.

Brewing with local hops

The first new brewery in Detroit since Prohibition, called Motor City Brewing Works, is next door to the Green Garage in Midtown.

Daniel W. Scarsella has served as brewmaster at Motor City Brewing Works for over 12 years. PHOTO/ERIC SOKOL

“We’ve been here 23 years. I’ve been here for 12 years now, so I’ve brewed at a lot of different places, but I always wanted to have my own brewery,” said Daniel W. Scarsella, co-owner and brewmaster of Motor City Brewing Works.

The growing Michigan hops industry is an opportunity for craft breweries to find locally grown hops that work with their longstanding recipes.

“The Ghettoblaster, which is our biggest seller, has Michigan hops in it. The Pale Ale we switched over to Michigan hops,” Scarsella said. “So as all these new hops come online, we’ve been slowly switching all of our products.”

“I have to say they’re like 100 percent better. There’s nothing like having something fresh,” Scarsella said. “And then with the idea that it’s growing in your backdoor, you know the farmer and you’ve walked her farm. It’s pretty amazing.”

Local farms such as Ribbon Farm Hops with their proprietary Mackinac hops allow for new types of craft beer.

“It was very promising,” Scarsella said. “It had some really unique flavors and aromas.”

“We got six pounds this year and made 10 gallons of beer, so I’ve actually doubled the size,” Scarsella said. “We used it in the wet form, so literally she picked it off the vine and within a few days we had brewed a batch of beer with it.”

Motor City Brewing Works will test its new beer made from Mackinac hops grown by Ribbon Farm Hops during the Detroit Beer Festival in Eastern Market the last weekend in October.

The Downey Brewing Company in Dearborn has made a pale ale called Three One Third using the Mackinac hops.

The community

With hops being a newly reintroduced plant in Michigan, the need for new regulating committees and associations has been a focal point in the last few years.

“In 2014, the Hop Growers of Michigan Association was established, and I’m active in that group, as well,” McCabe said.

“Last fall, we [Michigan Hop Growers Association] received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish food safety and processing standards,” McCabe said.

The increase in community and support for local startups is not just limited to the technology industry.

“One of the things about being in Detroit right now, there is so much out there to help entrepreneurs, to have spaces like this, resources of people who are willing to share information to workshops, to networking opportunities, other fundraising, angel loans,” McCabe said. “It’s an amazing time to start a business here.”



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Posted by on Oct 25 2017. Filed under Featured article, Wayne C.. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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