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Farm to Tap and Hops Growing in the Rio Grande Valley

tom brewerWith a name like Brewer, he had to be involved in craft beer…at least somehow. In Tom Brewer’s case, the “how” was through production of a key ingredient of the beer making process, hops. I recently visited Tom’s test-plot of Neomexicanus and other standard varieties of hops and was intrigued.

Beer consists generally of three main ingredients, barley or other grain, yeast, and hops. And while local craft breweries have been creating wonderful varieties using interesting local ingredients, such as local honey (Marble’s Wildflower Wheat) and green chile (Sierra Blanca’s Rio Grande Pancho Verde Cerveza, Santa Fe Brewing Co. Green Chile, and Eske’s Taos Green Chile Beer), with few exceptions they not been using local hops.  

Hops grow primarily in cool climates. The Pacific Northwest, specifically the Yakima Valley in Washington State, produces hops varieties found in American IPAs; Germany and the Czech Republic produce hops for European ales and German lagers; and the UK produces hops that create English bitters. In fact, there are more than 200 varieties of hops now being cultivated all over the world—even in New Mexico.

tom brewerTom Brewer started his one-acre test plot in Albuquerque’s North Valley with four standard (European) varieties, and four varieties of Neomexicanus hops. The results were so good that he is now encouraging others to join him in the production of hops. He is currently developing a co-op of hops producers and cultivating relationships with craft breweries willing to experiment with local products. Next season he and partner farmers will have 10-12 acres in production.

What are his goals? In the short term he hopes to see more beer brewed with fresh, field picked hops or wet-hops, so called “Farm to Tap” beer. Down the road, perhaps, with enough success, he envisions equipment to dry and pelletize the hops for a more sustainable industry. For now, he is content to continue to grow and expand his test plot, enlist more growers, and promote New Mexico craft beer.

To sample an American lager made with local New Mexico hops see the opportunity here.

View this and other stories in the December 2017 issue of Local Food Connections.

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