If you want to understand just how popular hops are, you typically don’t have to look very far down the beer list. Granted, big-name lagers still do far more sales, but in sheer variety, the hoppy IPA (and all of its offshoots) is clearly the heart of modern American beer culture. All those hoppy beers have been a boon for American hop growers, the world’s largest producer, and more states are trying to get into the hop growing game. That includes places you may not have even considered – like Virginia.
The top hop producing states are all in the Northwest: Washington, Oregon and Idaho, in that order. But as hoppy beer madness has grown, so has growing interest in other areas. “Hop production has expanded to the East solely because of craft beer,” Rob Sirrine, senior extension educator at Michigan State University, told the Washington Times in a recent piece on Virginia hops. New York, for instance, has seen a hop-growing renaissance. But New York is also much closer to the 45th parallel, the area Sirrine says is ideal for hop growth. Meanwhile, Virginia is closer to the 35th parallel down south. Still, Sirrine says farmers should be able to grow hops in Virginia; it’ll just take trial and error.
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That process has already begun. Both Virginia Tech and Virginia State University are working on hop research. “We’re trying to see what varieties might do well for growers in Virginia and extrapolating that to the mid-Atlantic region,” Holly Scoggins, a horticulture professor at Virginia Tech, told The Roanoke Times last year. Around the same time, VSU College of Agriculture spokeswoman Michelle Olgers suggested Virginia is at the dawn of a new era during a hop workshop. “There’s probably no other time in agricultural history that you’re at the beginning of an industry,” she was quoted as saying by The Progress-Index.
Still, those in the trenches admit it will be years before Virginia hops are actually lucrative… or even profitable. Jonathan Staples, who owns Black Hop Farm in Lucketts, told the Washington Times he doesn’t expect to hit a breakeven point for at least four years. And David Goode of Chesterfield’s Piedmont Hops flat out told the Roanoke Times that, as of last year, “it’s not really a cash crop.” That said, at least one local brewer believes in the Virginia hop trend. “I personally think hop farming is going to continue to grow,” said Craig Nargi, owner of Waynesboro’s Stable Craft Brewing. “Someone’s going to come up with a better way to do it.”
They’d better find a way fast, as the mid-Atlantic states are about to benefit from a whole slew of West Coast brewery expansions.