MORRIS, Conn. (WTNH) – An old crop is making a comeback in Connecticut, just in time to help out craft beer makers facing concerns over supply. You may know what it tastes like, but you might not know what hops looks like growing on a farm. News8 took a trip to the Pioneer Hops Farm in Morris, Connecticut to for ourselves.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that Connecticut was the number one hop growing region in the world in the late 1700s,” said Jeff Browning. Sr., the Brewmaster of restaurant and brewery Brewport in Bridgeport.
A lot of people also do not realize the hop business is brewing again. All those local craft beer makers in Connecticut want a secure supply chain.
“Local beer, local farms, eat local, drink local, be local stay local,” said Sam Wilson, owner of Hop Culture Farms. “What’s really important to us is that we start to move our industry to 100% local.”
The big concern is, about a year ago, Anheuser-Busch Inbev bought SABMiller. That meant the biggest beer producer in the world bought the second-biggest. That combined company now controls a huge piece of the world’s beer market, and a lot of its supply of hops.
“This company will have the potential power to buy supplies of hops and thereby strangle the market,” said U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, (D) Connecticut as he toured Pioneer Hops Farm and talked to hops farmers and beer makers.
Blumenthal is looking for the federal Government to enforce the conditions of the merger meant to protect smaller growers and brewers. New England Brewing Company has locked in its hop contract for five years, because hops are crucial to the very popular IPAs
“Back in the late ’90s, a lot of people, ‘What’s an IPA?’ They don’t understand, then you explain the story like, ‘Oh I get it,'” explained New England Brewing’s Rob Leonard. “But now, IPA is the number one style.”
Local brews are going to be fresher than anything from a national company. Now, the hope is to get a national profile for Connecticut beers and hops.
“Once people start making beer and ‘Oh, it’s a Connecticut grown hop,'” said Barry Labendz, head brewer at Kent Falls Brewing Company. “Hopefully you see people all across the country, or wherever it might be, go ‘How do I make that beer?’ and ‘You need to get that hop.'”
Once that happens, Connecticut might be a major producer of hops once more.