Becoming a Farmer Brewer

Recently I had the pleasure of attending the Farmer Brewer Winter Weekend put on by one of the first commercial maltsters in the Northeast in a generation, Valley Malt in Amherst Massachusetts.

This was a weekend for brewers to meet grain and hop farmers, maltsters and other brewing professionals in an informal educational setting. I had an amazing time, learned a lot, met some great people, and of course had some delicious beer.

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Grain farmers, malt houses, and hop yards are really starting to take off in New York. That's good news for brewers looking to take advantage of the New York crop and we hope to see even more growth in the availability of fresh, local ingredients as demand increases.

There were about 175 acres of hops grown in New York in 2013 with the possibility of increasing to almost 250 acres in 2014. And most of these are 1-acre farms and yards. According to Steve Miller from the Cornell Cooperative Extension, the acreage for hop farms grows every year and he see no signs of it abating. But of course, a 100-year halt on production has left a sizable gap in the knowledge base of hop farmers and all these new growers, from Farm To Pint and Condzella in Long Island, Climbing Bines in the Finger Lakes and Dutchess Hops in the Hudson Valley, are having to re-learn the art of growing hops. It's an exciting time!

The grain and malt houses are also growing in the Northeast. While there are only a handful of malt houses using New York-grown grain, five in New York and Valley Malt in Massachusetts, more farmers and entrepreneurs are starting to take on the challenge of providing grain and malt for New York and the Northeast. Thor Oechsner of Oechsner Farms has been growing an amazing and hearty red winter wheat variety (Warthog Wheat) for malting at Valley Malt, and has recently tested some winter barley varieties to expand his crop portfolio to mixed success. But he is undeterred and will continue to work on his barley crop.

Like the new hop farmers, the grain farmers and malt houses are coming back to New York after a long dormancy and as a result much experimentation and trial and error is occurring to master the techniques. But they cannot do this in a vacuum, they need the brewers to take a chance on these products. This is precisely what Strong Rope is doing on a home-brew scale and will continue to do as we transition to our commercial brewery. Until that day, I was thankfully able to try some amazing beers from High Horse Brewing, Wormtown Brewery, Stoneman Brewery as well as others all utilizing local grain and hops during the weekend.

It was a great experience and very inspirational as I work to get Strong Rope off the ground and helped continue my education in the local varieties of grain and hops while meeting the amazing farmers and maltsters that I hope to partner with.

Cheers and drink local!
Jason