There's been talk about a new frontier for craft brewers in Florida recently: locally grown hops. University of Florida researchers have started studying how well the crop can grow in-state, and now Bradenton's Motorworks Brewing has brewed a beer using Florida wet hops.
Approached by Matt Harper, whose Florida Urban Organics farm is 30 minutes up the road in Riverview, the brewery used the independent grower's pesticide-free Cascade hops in a three-and-a-half-barrel American pale ale.
Three pounds of these Bay area hops were collected from the organic farm's initial harvest of 72 plants, and Harper joined the Motorworks crew Wednesday morning to work with them throughout the process.
"The wet hops were added in the final whirlpool to maximize flavor," head brewer Bob Haa said. "This allows the wet hops to take center stage. Freshness is paramount when using wet hops, and these hops went from bine-to-brew in just 18 hours."
Unlike dried or pelletized varieties, wet hops (unprocessed hops fresh from the bine, or hop vine) retain more of their flavor and aroma. Harper — who's looking forward to feedback and operating directly with brewers and breweries — says he's excited about the future of hops in Florida.
"It's reassuring that we've already achieved a harvestable crop. There's not much data floating around, so it's exciting to know that we can now replicate this moving forward and expect higher yields as the plants mature," he said.
So what's next? The hops will need to be monitored throughout the seasons to see how they respond to the state's climate. But the problem is, hops, primarily grown in the Pacific Northwest for the U.S., are still under-explored territory for Florida.
As Harper puts it, there are a number of unknown factors.
"Other areas have established industries where a lot of people are pooling knowledge and have access to serious equipment," he said. "There's none of that here because it's a non-existent industry in Florida."
Aiming to highlight the one-of-a-kind flavors of state-grown wet hops, Motorworks and Harper invite the public to taste the new pale ale June 30 at the brewery's Bradenton headquarters. The beer will likely be on tap when the doors open at 11 a.m., and Motorworks also plans to serve between 24 and 28 of its other distinct brews.
"We believe Matt's found a way to grow hops fairly efficiently and this first crop is high quality," Haa said. "I think a lot of breweries are going to be very excited about the viability of a commercial crop in Florida."
Bine-to-brew might just be the next step toward growth for the region's thriving craft beer scene.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story said Motorworks Brewing was the first commercial brewery to use Florida-grown hops, which a comment to the Motorworks Facebook page contradicts:
"Backyard Barn Winery & Microbrewery showed up at Hunahpu's 2016 Beer Festival with our Big Ass Pale Ale brewed with Florida grown hops from our farm in Wildwood Florida. So that actually makes you the SECOND commercial brewery, not the first, to produce a commercial beer with Florida grown hops."
Motorworks marketing director Barry Elwonger sent this statement to CL:
"We weren’t aware of Backyard Barn Brewery or their operation, but we’re excited to see other Florida breweries pushing this industry forward and championing the viability of hops grown fresh in FL."