ST. JAMES, MO — While small, craft breweries pride themselves on being hyper local and producing high-quality beers, there is an essential ingredient — hops — they can’t get locally.
That could soon change.
Hops are a flower used in beer making, with different quantities of different varieties shaping the flavor and aroma. They grow best in arid climates with short days. The long days and high humidity of the Midwest make it difficult to grow them in Missouri and other parts of the midwest.
Difficult, but not impossible, according to Patrick Byers, a horticulturist with the University of Missouri Extension. He recently finished a three-year pilot program to assess the feasibility of widespread hop production in Missouri.
The results were mixed.
Patrick said the limited varieties that could grow in Missouri, combined with the expense, make it unlikely a craft brewer would get all of its hops from local growers, but it still could use some.
“If a craft brewer is interested in making a unique, seasonal-type brew that really reflects local conditions, then they may be interested in sourcing Missouri hops,” Byers said. “Recognizing that each year is going to be a somewhat unique experience, such as a vintage would be on a wine.”
The weather in Missouri would make hops more inconsistent from year to year, making it much harder for brewers to have a consistent flavor with each harvest.
But a brewery like Public House Brewing Company, which has locations in St. James and Rolla, might still welcome local hops. While Missouri hops won’t replace the hops in the flavors in its standard repertoire, it could be useful for limited runs of special brews.
“I think that would be the thing that would be interesting about this idea,” said Public House owner Josh Stacy. “Maybe it’s just an anniversary-type thing, where we are going to bring in the load that year and potentially try something with it.”
Stacy said the majority of the hops he buys are from the Pacific Northwest.
“Washington and Oregon have the right climate to grow hops. And in terms of buying in the U.S., it’s really the best option for the highest quality and the most consistency,” Stacy said.
But he said he is considering growing hops on land the company owns behind the brewery, or maybe working with local farmers.
Even if that happens, it will still be a while before local hops end up in his beer. It can take hops three years of cultivation to produce a usable crop.
Widespread interest in local hops among the state’s 140 craft brewers would result in the crop making up a tiny slice of Missouri’s agricultural output.
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