Want fresh and local? As craft
beer booms, hop farms are
sprouting in the Garden State.
By Molly Petrilla
When thousands of bright green
cones snaked up Beau Byrtus’s trellises
late last summer, New Jersey’s hopheads were ready.
Kane Brewing Company claimed
most of his Cascade hops. Brewers from
Triumph Brewing Company drove off
with some Chinook hops that would be
used for a double IPA. The Bent Spoon,
Princeton’s beloved ice-cream parlor,
whipped up a lemon hop sorbet, and the
homebrewers in Byrtus’s community-supported agriculture group began plot-ting recipes for their annual shares.
Byrtus’s hopyard—Oast House Hop
Farm in Wrightstown—is just five years
old and an acre in size, but it is believed
to be the oldest and largest commercial
grower of hops in the Garden State. A
number of other farms have followed,
spurred by the expected demand from
the state’s growing lineup of craft breweries and home-brew clubs.
“The grain-to-glass movement is
similar to farm-to-table,” says Byrtus.
“There’s a ‘buy local’ vibe in the brewing
industry right now, just like there is with
restaurants and food.”
Hops are one of the main ingredients
in beer, along with grain, yeast and water.
Much like herbs in marinara sauce, hops
help brewers develop the flavors they
want in their beer. While a chef would
toss oregano and basil into a sauce, a
brewer might use Centennial and Cascade
hops to flavor an American-style pale ale.
Michael Kane, the founder and presi-
dent of Kane Brewing—and a home brew
veteran—is always keen to play with new
ingredients. That’s what brought him
to Oast House. Yes, he could have fresh
hops shipped to his Ocean Township
brewery, or rely on the dried hop pellets
used in most of his recipes. But he says
that like wine grapes, the flavors derived
from hops change depending on where
Take the fresh Cascade hops that Kane
buys from Byrtus and uses to make Deep
Rooted, a limited-release imperial pale
ale. Cascades usually have a citrusy aro-
ma, but Kane detects hints of strawberry
and watermelon in the Jersey version.
“As brewers, we generally all have ac-
cess to the same yeast and malt and hops
on a large scale,” says Kane. “So if you can
find some local ingredients that aren’t
available to other people, you might be
able to come up with some interesting
While hop plants once were common in the Northeast, a disease called
downy mildew—coupled with Prohibition and other factors—pushed the crop
Barley, Too, Taking Root in Jersey Soil
Behind the brewery on his farm
in Cream Ridge, with pumpkin
fields in the distance and an
a;able golden-lab mix beside
him, Brett Bullock is showing o;
his field of barley.
On this early winter day, it
looks an awful lot like grass—
green, about five inches high—
but get close to the blades
and it’s clear they’re growing
in defined rows. This, Bullock
explains, is Wintmalt barley, a
variety grown through the win-
ter. He’ll harvest 10 acres of it in
July, when it’s about two feet
tall and golden-yellow, with tiny
seeds and flu;y ends.
For the beer he makes at his
farm brewery, Screamin’ Hill,
Bullock tries to stay in his own
acreage. He has a small
hop plot. He uses his
own pumpkins to make
a pumpkin ale and
his own hot peppers
for a habanero beer.
But he says the barley
has been the toughest
ingredient to grow.
Bullock started with a
Midwest variety of barley
that just wasn’t right for
Jersey weather. “Hope-
fully this one works,” he says of
the new crop. “But I won’t really
know until I harvest and get it
malted.” In the malting process,
grains are soaked in water to
germinate, then dried.
When he harvests Wint-
malt this summer, Bullock
will send it to the closest
malt house for process-
ing: Double Eagle Malt
in Huntingdon Valley,
Pennsylvania. Malting will
turn it into the tan kernels
that brewers use to instill color
and flavor in their beer.
A sixth-generation farmer—
his family has tended Bullock
Farms since 1860—Bullock
suspects his is the only brewery
in New Jersey currently grow-
ing its own malt. He’s planning
to release a beer this year with
every ingredient grown on his
farm, including the hops.
“It’s a modern way of farming,” he says of growing hops
and malt barley together, “but
also an old way of brewing.
Back in the beginning of our
country, almost everyone was
a farmer, and they all brewed
beer with whatever they had
from their crop that year.”—MP
The Cra; Beer Boom
Hop rows at Oast
House Hop Farm in
hop plants use sti;
hairs to climb their