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Conference highlights growing hops industry

FREDERICK — Maryland’s first Northeast hops conference held in Frederick proved that the industry is rebounding.

More than 85 people recently attended the first University of Maryland Extension and Maryland Chapter of Northeast Hop Alliance Hops Conference at Flying Dog Brewery.

Four growers in Frederick County produce hops commercially, and about a dozen in Maryland with more coming online in the next couple of years, said Tom Barse, the new president of the Northeast Hop Alliance, who grows hops on Stillpoint Farm in Mount Airy.

Hops is a high-value crop for the farmer, said Terry E. Poole, University of Maryland Extension Principal Agent Emeritus, and a good supply of the grain allows the micro-breweries to produce a beer that is not only locally produced, but is made with locally grown ingredients.

History shows the public prefers to buy all-local products, Poole said.

The conference, sponsored by the University of Maryland Extension and Maryland Chapter of Northeast Hop Alliance, provided the latest information about growing hops in Maryland, and informed Maryland brewers about a growing resource for local ingredients for their beer, Barse said.

“What is unique about the hops enterprise is that the market already exists,” Poole said. “We do not have to create it. We have hops varieties that will grow here in this region, and we have the ability to produce an excellent product.”

The hop industry in the Northeast is growing, said Barse, who is credited with organizing the conference.

“We have gone from about 20 acres several years ago to well over 100 acres planted in the Northeast, which includes Maryland,” Barse said. Maryland growers have been able to develop great relationships with the Free State’s brewers, who are using local hops in a variety of beers, he said.

Barse has been selling hops to Maryland breweries for four years. He said Flying Dog Brewery and Heavy Seas Brewery, as well as many microbreweries, have been enthusiastic about using local hops.

Gary Brooks said he had to feed the conference attendees and could not attend the event. But the high point for the operations manager at Barley and Hops Grill & Microbrewery in Frederick was seeing an industry that has been lost on the East Coast for so many years starting to make a strong comeback, he said.

“Also, considering the hardships farmers are experiencing, it is great to see another avenue for them to be able to utilize their farms and not have to lose them to concrete development,” Brooks said, adding, he is looking forward to using Frederick-grown hops to produce award-winning beers.

Barse said the attendees were enthusiastic about the potential for a new agricultural enterprise in Maryland, and they enjoyed touring his farm and seeing the harvesting machinery he uses for hops.

“As the new president of the Northeast Hop Alliance, I am proud to be able to help get potential growers information about growing hops, and the harvesting, processing and marketing of local hops to brewers in Maryland,” Barse said.

Farmers navigating an evolving agricultural climate are showing a healthy interest in growing hops, Flying Dog Brewery Brewmaster Matt Brophy said.

“While the local hop renaissance is in its infancy, it is great to see so many passionate people working to make hops a sustainable agricultural product of Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic,” Brophy said.

Flying Dog is excited about the future of Mid-Atlantic hop cultivation and looks forward to working with our agricultural partners in the years to come, Brophy said.