One of the more popular beers brewed by Columbus-based Actual Brewing Company and sold to about 200 bars, restaurants and markets across Ohio is made with locally grown hops.
Called Elektron, the American amber ale is brewed using Ohio-grown Cascade hops. It is 6.2 percent alcohol by volume and has 27 International Bitterness Units, a measurement of a beer’s bitterness, which comes from the hops used during the brewing process.
If Fred Lee, the company’s founder and president, had his way, he’d brew even more beer varieties with hops grown in Ohio. Hops are the main ingredient beer manufacturers use to balance the sweetness of malt sugars in their product.
“Freshness is key when it comes to hops, and anything grown locally would by nature be fresher,” Lee said. “In fact, I’d love to buy more locally grown hops — but we’d need them to be more exotic hops, hops that you can’t find anywhere else.”
Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and Ohio State University Extension horticulturist Brad Bergefurd is working to make that happen. Hops were historically produced in Ohio until prohibition. Disease and insect pressure caused production to shift to the Pacific Northwest by the 1920s, but now hops are making their way back to Ohio farm fields. Thanks to researchers from the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University, Ohio is poised to reclaim this high-value crop.
With Ohio-grown hops in high demand from Ohio microbrewers, the economic potential for growers and the state’s economy is significant. Ohio growers are in a prime position to capture some of the $30 million in hops sales and related jobs currently sourced out of state by Ohio’s growing craft brewing industry, Bergefurd said.
To meet the increased demand for locally grown and more exotic varieties, CFAES researchers have been testing some 40 varieties of hops. The trials, which are funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Block Grant administered by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, are focused on how well the specialty hops can be grown in Ohio.
“In order to meet the demand for more locally grown hops, an estimated 6,000 acres of hops are required by Ohio craft brewers at current-use rates,” Bergefurd said. “Today, some 100 acres are planted with hops in the state, so the potential for growth is enormous.”
CFAES’ hops research trials are helping growers identify new hops varieties for Ohio, effective pest and disease management techniques, successful fertility and irrigation management methods, and mechanical harvesting tools, Bergefurd said.
In 2012, an estimated 10 commercial growers were managing hop yards. In 2015 that increased to 60 commercial growers. In 2012, Ohio had 15 acres of commercial production — in 2015, that increased to 120 acres.
“We’re working to help Ohio growers grow what brewers want,” he said. “We’re encouraging our growers to adopt more exotic hops like Centennial and Columbus — two hops varieties that aren’t really common in West Coast markets, but ones we can grow here very well.”
Other hops varieties being tested for growth potential in Ohio include Brewers Gold, Chinook and Willamette, Bergefurd said.
“It’s what the industry wants, both in Ohio and other states,” he said.