Dickinson College Farm will Produce Different Types of Organic Hops
By Rebecca Jones
May 6, 2012
The Dickinson College Farm planted its first crop of organic hops this spring, a crop that when harvested can benefit local home brewers and pubs.
Hops, a major ingredient in beer, are flowers from a fairly hardy and aggressive vine. When harvested, the flowers can either be dried or used freshly picked, an ingredient variety called “wet hops.”
Most home brewers use hop pellets, dried and compressed hops that look similar to rabbit food. These are commonly available in brew shops and can be stored for prolonged periods.
Hops serve as a bittering agent to the beers, helping to balance the sweetness of barley. When dried and placed in a sachet in a pillowcase, they can serve as a sleep aid, and when made into a tea, can be sprayed on a bee hive to help control disease.
On March 31, a group of students and alumni planted 12 rhizomes, a part of the root that spawns new vines. In about two years, the hops will be mature and ready to harvest, but in the meantime, each rhizome will sprout above ground and work its way toward and around a tunnel-like trellis the farm members built to support the crop.
The students were led by two alumni who are the hops consultants to the farm. Kingsley Green, class of 1971, and George Crassle, class of 1974, grow hops commercially in New York.
The Dickinson farm will offer two hops varieties: six vines of cascade hops and six vines of sterling hops. Each variety produces a different flavored beer.
This year’s endeavor is a trial, said Matt Steiman, assistant director of the farm. The team has to keep an eye on mildew, which is common to the area and can endanger vulnerable young hop plants.
“This is new for us. We started small in case it turns out to be really challenging,” Steiman said.
While the first harvest will be small for major area breweries, Steiman said it’s the perfect amount to split among local home brewers or even Carlisle pubs interested in a one-batch brew. Brewing students, who are of age, of course, could even receive some of the bounty.
Dickinson College senior Anthony Silverman of Brielle, N.J., said that although he won’t be on campus at the time of harvest, he’s interested in seeing the new crop succeed.
He and a few friends from home are looking to start a microbrewery called Courage House Brewery, either in New Jersey or central Pennsylvania.
“We’re looking into growing and locally sourcing our ingredients,” he said. “Microbreweries tend to be really supportive of local communities.”
Silverman and his friends have been brewing for about two years and have already come up with interesting flavor combinations: a coconut chocolate vanilla stout with a hint of coffee, and a summer ale wheat beer flavored with blood orange and hibiscus. They’re participating in a few microbrew contests as well.
“We really want it to be a center of the community, wherever we end up,” he said. “And if the hops are growing well here, we’ll try to make a donation to invest and keep the program going.”
Silverman will graduate in May with a self-developed major, “innovation, entrepreneurship and the green economy.”
Steiman said he hopes the hops will help bolster the Carlisle economy.
“If we can supply a product that a local business is already buying from somewhere else, that would keep the money in our local economy, and we can reinvest that in the farm and the community,” he said.
The new crop also will expand and diversify the farm’s offerings.
“It’s always good to learn a new crop and expand. You never know what’s going to be the next big thing. We’re not a for-profit farm, but we do depend on our sales to meet our budget, so if we can diversify with something useful, that’s great,” he said.
He also hopes the trellis will serve as a hangout spot for students, and he’s going to add picnic tables in the center, where hops aren’t planted. When the hops fill in, they’ll have a canopy of green to chat under.
“We try to think about long-term enjoyment, so we’re building an outdoor space where students can rest at the end of the day and enjoy the sunset and a meal,” Steiman said.
“For now, we just have to give them some tender loving care, and hopefully have a good harvest,” he said.
- In a good year, one hops plant can produce up to 2 pounds of hops at harvest.
- Indian Pale Ale, or IPA beers, known for their high hops content, contain 2 or 3 pounds of hops per barrel.
- One barrel is 31 gallons of beer.
- With 12 vines, or up to 24 pounds of hops, brewers benefiting from Dickinson’s hops could make up to 12 barrels of IPA beer.
- That’s up to 372 gallons, or almost 3,000 pints, of some of the most hops-heavy beers.