A TASTE FOR HOPS

To some, it’s a cool crisp with a sweet bite at the end. To others, it’s thick and frothy with a bitter finish.

Regardless of the drinker’s preference, all beer has at least one thing in common — hops — and the operators of one local farming operation hope to become the local go-to company for brewers in the region.

Aaron Harden with Eight One Two Farms recently stood in a field he and business partner Joe Oliphant have planted with hops and talked about their dreams.

With the early season’s mud still sticking to his shoe, Harden talked about the sprouts of the hops plants barely reaching the string that they will eventually follow skyward.

“We hope in the next five to 10 years to have five acres (planted in hops) … that will make us probably the largest or close to largest in the state,” said Harden, a Brown County native.

Oliphant agreed.

“I hope this would become the hub for all Indiana brewers,” Oliphant said of the farm northwest of Jonesville at 1705 W. County Road 550S.

But for now, the two are not looking much past the immediate future — growing hops for this season. The rain in the spring slowed the growth of the hops, but once the rain relents, Harden said the plants would shoot up.

“Hops are a bine, like a vine, but with a B,” said Harden talking about the plants’ growth.

The plants are “trained” to climb a string attached to an overhead wire network by wrapping the head, or tip, of the hops bine around the string. The plant will continue to grow up the string in a wrapping style, producing cones similar to a pine cone but smaller, explained Harden.

Elizabeth Eaken, brewer with Twisted Crew Brewing Co. in Seymour, said hops are added to beer primarily as a preservative.

But hops also add flavor and aroma to the beer and affect beer on the most basic of levels by balancing bitterness and sweetness of the malted barley used to produce the beverage.

There are many different varieties of hops, each with its own unique aroma and flavor, Eaken said.

“I was just reading about a variety of hops the other day that had a pineapple-strawberry aroma,” she said. “I would love to try working with a hop like that.”

These different hops are part of the drive for unique and new flavors that fuel the more than 108 Indiana breweries, Josh Lakins, co-owner of Twisted Crew, said.

“If you brew it, they will come,” he said.

“People love beer,” Eaken said. “To be able to create what you love … what’s better than that?”

And the need for hops to produce the unique and original beers is there, too, Eaken agreed, citing an estimated 100 small breweries within 100 miles of Jackson County.

The brewer said the combination of enthusiasm to seek out and try better quality and more interesting beers, paired with consumer demand, will fuel the brewing market for some time and that means the need for hops will continue to rise.

“The hops shortage is real,” she said. “We’ve had to hold off on brewing certain styles at times because the hops were just not available.”

Harden said the area is still experiencing a hops shortage, not one as bad as past years.

“We’ve talked to over 50 breweries, and they all seem excited about home-grown Indiana hops,” Harden said.

Currently, Eight One Two Farms produces six different strands of hops — Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Brewers Gold, Nugget and Fuggle. Harden, however, said he is not opposed to growing new varieties to fill holes left by suppliers for brewers.

Lakins said he enjoyed the darker end of beers; the stout, lager and ales, which use Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Columbus, Nugget and Sterling typically to help produce their flavors, while Eaken said she prefers the earthy spicy hops, such as Herrbrucker and Saaz, to produce an Oktoberfest beer.

Eaken said she thinks Willamette is fairly common variety with a “mild, pleasant and spicy profile.”

Oliphant said there is a lot more to the variety of hops than many people think.

“A lot of hops variety are proprietary,” said Oliphant, meaning that an individual or producer owns the rights to that specific variety.

“We hope to have our own soon, something a little like wild hop bred with local blends to produce a hop that flourishes in the Hoosier climate,” he said.

Oliphant, who works and lives full time on the farm, added that is still a little ways away. The current hops need to be grown and harvested, yielding roughly 500 pounds, but the harvest wouldn’t hit its maximum yield for several years.

The farm operation began a little over a year ago as banter between the two friends.

“Aaron and I were talking one night and kicked around the idea of doing a hops farm, and the next day, I got to researching, and I told him, ‘It’s feasible,’” Oliphant said.

Oliphant said he didn’t specifically have any background in farming but was more the construction person in the job.

“I always hear about farmers working hard, and I’m not afraid of work,” Oliphant said.

Harden, by contrast, had a little more experience in the field, growing up in a family that grew corn and soy. His fiancée’s family also had a background in agriculture, both of which allowed him opportunities to discuss farming.

“We’re starting with a crop Indiana knows relatively nothing about,” Harden said.

Harden said this year’s crop was planted and will be harvested primarily by hand, though there is equipment that can be used. The equipment is generally found in farms of more than 5 acres and in the mass production operations in Europe.

There are less than 20 hops farms in Indiana, and with two acres, Eight One Two Farms is one of the largest, Harden said.

“Hops farms are popping up, but it is an acre at a time or less,” Lakins said.

Eight One Two Farms is a member of the Indiana Hops Growers Association.

The farm’s name takes its name from the 812 telephone area code.

Besides the hops production, Eight One Two Farms plans to expand organic produce grown in an indoor hydroponic system to provide produce all year round.

On the Web

For information about purchasing hops from Eight One Two Farms, send a message through its Facebook page, facebook.com/eightonetwofarmsllc.

Author photo
Aaron Piper is a photographer and reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at apiper@tribtown.com or 812-523-7057.