Beer Guide: Hop To It
Could Florida become a growing haven for the beer basic? Stay tuned.
We hear about hops all the time on the beer scene, but almost none of us really knows what that “hoppy” taste is, or what a hop might be.
The flower of the Humulus lupulus vine, hops in their natural state are beautiful, fragile buds, grasshopper green and intensely fragrant—smelling a bit like cannabis, of which they are a cousin.
Hops primarily exist in beer for their antimicrobial properties. The taste depends on when these buds are added, what variety of hop (there are 45 grown in the U.S. alone, with another 80+ around the world) and the amount. Flavors and aromas of citrus, pine, perfume, coconut, chocolate and berries, flowers and spice, bitter and sweet, can and do occur.
Hops are grown across the United States (we are the second largest producer in the world, behind Germany), but not in Florida. Until now.
University of Florida researchers in Apopka and Hillsborough County have been experimenting on growing hops in the hot and humid Florida climate. Last year, the first products of the Apopka hop yard hit glasses in Gainesville and at Redlight Redlight, brews that have already been given the “Fresh From Florida” designation.
Ty Strode of Agri-Starts, Inc. is a propagation master of the hops. “If you try to grow hops from plants in this climate,” he says, “you’re probably going to fail. We propagate from tissue culture, so we know exactly the quality of the plants.” Because of the long sunshine season in Florida, two or three harvests of hops a year are possible. “Are hops a viable crop? Who knows yet?” says Strode.
Kelly Greer, a residential horticulturalist at the Orange County UF/IFAS Extension, grew and harvested the local hops at the extension office on South Conway Road. The hops were planted in February 2017, the harvest of the 13-foot vines was in August, and the beer was brewed by Brent Hernandez at Redlight Redlight in November. Greer, who was wearing green hops earrings at the tasting night, says, “It’s just been fun. I’m excited about it because I like beer.”
Richard Smith, the founder of Florida Hops, LLC, and a University of Florida biological scientist, wrote the first scientific publication on Florida hops production.
“I provide experience to growers, “ the master gardener says. “I have a quarter-acre in Zellwood where I practice the craft.” His hops have been used to make beers by Wicked Barley Brewing Co. and First Magnitude in Gainesville.
Florida Wet Hopped Ale, a beer served at Redlight Redlight, used Apopka-grown Southern Brewer hops, for a very drinkable ale with a soft bitterness and almost grapefruit smell.
“Florida hops, from the ground to the water, is a new signature style,” Smith says. “A different aroma, oil content and terroir. I think it makes a better beer.”
The first commercial hops farm in Central Florida started growing in Apopka last year. Brewers in Fort Lauderdale are experimenting with hop yards in South Florida, and Burts Farm in Dunnellon actually sells hop plants for backyard growers. Like inroads in olive production, hops, not citrus, could be the new Florida cash crop