Why it’s so hard to get a beer with NJ-born hops
The beer you're tasting inside a New Jersey craft brewery is, obviously, made right here in the Garden State. But nearly 100 percent of the time, the hops used to give each beer its unique flavor and aroma come from the other side of the country.
As the craft beer scene continues to expand, some brewers would love to give their concoctions an additional Jersey boost through the use of NJ-born hops.
Hop plant production in New Jersey, however, has always been scarce due to climate restrictions in the Northeast.
"We wish there were more New Jersey-grown hops because we would definitely buy them," Ryan Krill, co-founder of Cape May Brewery said. "And then we'd have a lot more Jersey pride with what we're doing."
Krill's brewery does use New Jersey hop plants for a seasonal batch known as Three Plows, which features only ingredients produced in the Garden State.
But getting enough hops for a year-round brew would be nearly impossible.
According to the latest agricultural census, which surveys farmers on their crops, there is just one acre of hops growing in the state.
The actual acreage is likely higher; some New Jersey hop-growers likely didn't include hops in their survey because production is so small.
"It'd be really cool having Jersey fresh products," said Barry Holsten, brewmaster for Flying Fish Brewing in Somerdale. "It would be really great to see farms change from the monoculture ... and having something really unique, agriculturally diversified in New Jersey."
Washington state produced 75 percent of the United States hop crop in 2017, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Idaho accounted for 13 percent and Oregon counted for 11 percent.
New Jersey is not an ideal location for hop production due to the humid climate and insect and disease pressures, said Megan Muehlbauer, a county agent for Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station.
Muehlbauer is part of research efforts aimed at determining the best way to grow hops in New Jersey. Beyond environmental concerns, growing hops comes with a steep learning curve, she said.
"These plants will grow 20 feet up in the air and (farmers) have to reach that 20 feet in order for them to be able to maximize their yield," she said. "To harvest them, that's another huge obstacle — getting those plants and the cones out of the field on time."
Muehlbauer said New Jersey has the potential to become a more prominent producer of hops. The "right pieces" aren't in place yet, though.
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