Alpha Beta Hops Farm: Imbibe the Local, Organic Goodness
Hops are one of the beer’s essential ingredients and provide its central flavor. Naturally, to ensure that we brew an exceptional craft beer, we start with the very best hops. Luckily, our favorite supplier, Alpha Beta Hops Farm,is right here in Ashland, OR. We use their hops in our Pale Ale and specialty microbrews.
Not only is their crop amazing, but they’re local, certified organic, and use wind power. That makes a delicious pint with positive power! We’re taking you on a virtual tour of this beautiful, fascinating place with Steve Pierce, co-owner and grower extraordinaire, who runs the family-owned farm with his his son and partner Spencer, his wife Rebecca and his son Morgan.
What hop varietals do you grow?
We presently grow only 100% organic Cascade hops, which we sell as whole flower hops. As we establish our local market, we hope to expand by adding 2-3 varieties based on brewer needs.
What breweries and beers feature your hops? Are they also available to homebrewers?
Hops from the 2010 harvest have been sold online, at homebrewer supply stores such as Grains, Beans and Things and Grange Co-op, and to Standing Stone Brewing Co and Wild River Brewing for local brews. Fresh hops from our 2009 harvest were used by Caldera and Standing Stone in wet hop brews. Wild River featured our organic hops in their Double Cross Ale, also using malt from Klamath barley. This year, as we increase our yield, we hope to add many additional customers in southern Oregon and northern California.
What led you to start growing hops?
In the 1980’s we lived in Munich for 4 years and travelled throughout Europe. It’s impossible to live in Munich, survive four Oktoberfests, four Starkbierfests, and innumerable Bavarian fests and not grow to love good beer. Just breathing in the malt-laden air and sitting in a bustling biergarten are enough to make anyone a lover of beer culture. I moved to Oregon 20 years ago, became a homebrewer and have been drinking my own homebrew for over 15 years. After raising cattle and growing hay for 17 years, we decided to try our hand at an organic crop. With my love of beer culture, hops was the first choice.
Hops were grown for many years in this area until the mid 1900’s, and the last harvest at the Grants Pass Lathrop yards was in 1989, so we knew hops would grow well here. After seeing our trial planting take off like crazy, we tracked down the materials to construct over a mile of 17-foot high trellis wire. As the only hop yard in an area of numerous craft brewers, we feel the future looks bright.
What’s spring like at your farm?
Spring is our busiest time. After whacking away all the leftover hop bines (Bines? Says Steve – “bines” have hairs, versus “vines,” which have tendrils) and winter groundcover, we string about 6,000 paper strings from the trellis wires. Then, it’s a week or so of wrapping the hop bines up the strings to start them on their way to the top. Then we get the irrigation system going to take over from spring rains. Hops are thirsty. As they start to grow we begin monitoring for aphids, spidermites, and downy mildew.
Thanks, Steve, for the hard work, fantastic hops, and sharing a bit of your story. We’ll definitely pay another virtual visit in the summer and fall, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy them in our Pale Ale and get some Alpha Beta Hops for your own home brew.