This Hydroponic Hop Farm Wants to Offer Fresh Hops for Beer All Year Long
Every year around hop harvest season, beer lovers are treated to a special kind of brew: wet hop beers. Hops are typically dried before being transported, but as the name implies, for wet hop beers, brewers have hops sent from being picked on the field directly to the brewery to harness the unique characteristics found in these uber-fresh hop cones. Sadly, as a perennial plant, hops are only harvested once a year (twice if you count the Southern Hemisphere), typically towards the end of August, and only in certain climates. But a forward-thinking farmer is trying to subvert Mother Nature’s plan and offer wet hops all year round in the desert of Arizona.
Greg Stelzer and his son Kyle run 24 Hour Hops, a hydroponic farm in a rented space at the University of Arizona Maricopa Agricultural Center. According to the Arizona Republic, which recently reported on their venture, the idea came to Greg after falling in love with a wet-hopped beer three years ago. Pondering the possibility of offering wet hops more often, he began growing bines in his garage under artificial lights.
“We are the only guys doing it,” he told the Republic. “We haven't found anyone in the world who does this year-round.”
Stelzer’s setup is a bit more advanced from his early trials both at home and at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Operating from its current greenhouse for about a year, 24 Hour Hops is already working on its second harvest this month. “If it’s a cloudy day then all [a farmer] can really do is complain about it, whereas we can turn on the lights more,” he said in a video interview. “We control all the water since everything is hydroponic. And so our system is a recirculating system, and what we do that’s pretty unique is we change out the nutrients every single day. So we give the plants what they need when they need it…. Every day we change out the water and provide them just exactly what they need in order to grow and to produce super high-quality hop cones.”
At this point, 24 Hour Hops is specifically targeting homebrewers who only need small amounts of hops for small-batch brews. Trying to artificially grow enough hops for a major brewery probably doesn’t make a ton of sense at this point. Still, in an era where brewers are always on the lookout for the next big development, the idea of year-round wet hops is certainly intriguing.