by Sanne Kure-Jensen
Ocean State Hops has brought hop farming back to Rhode Island. Brother-in-laws and co-owners, Matt Richardson and Joel Littlefield liked brewing hoppy homebrews and started growing their own hops in 2007. Since 2010, their ever-expanding hop yard allowed the team to offer excess hops to home brewers.
Since 2012 the Coastal Extreme Brewery, brewer of Newport Storm Beers, has been purchasing all of Ocean State Hops’ Chinook hops.
Ocean State Hops is the only hop farm in Rhode Island, growing on a quarter acre in Exeter. The hop yard expands each year and now has over 400 American hop plants in three varieties: Cascade, Chinook and Newport hops.
Besides flavoring beer, hops are used in herbal teas and herbal medicine as a relaxant and sleep aid. Hop-filled pillows are a common folk remedy for sleeplessness. Teas made with hops improve digestion. Hops are used in other beverages like ‘Julmust’ — a Swedish non-alcoholic beer sold before Christmas in December, Malta — a Latin American non-alcoholic, nutritious soft drink and Kvass — a fermented beverage made from black or regular rye bread.
“Hops are amazing, hardy plants,” said Richardson. Hops are vigorous perennials and can grow up to a foot per week. For peak yields, hop bines should be trained up sturdy strings or trellises.
Hops like full sun, well-drained soils with high organic matter and consistent moisture. Heavy feeders benefit from annual mulching and compost. Soils tests should help growers ensure adequate macro and micronutrients, especially boron. Plants are easy to grow and benefit from good air circulation to reduce fungal disease pressure.
In late August and September, Ocean State Hops invites volunteer pickers and homebrewers to help harvest hops. Richardson and Littlefield cut the 15 ft.-high jute strings wrapped in hops bines from overhead trellis wires. They cut the bines into 2 ft. sections for easy handling. Volunteers pluck off the cone-like hops flowers.
Bines and leaves will be composted at Ocean State Hops to supplement farm soils.
The University of Vermont Hops Project includes design tests for a site-built mechanical hops harvester. Richardson said it would cost $15,000 to build, so Ocean State Hops utilizes volunteers who pick by hand.
Dry hops are weighed into in one-pound packages, vacuum packed and frozen for later sale or use.
Richardson and his wife Kara recently launched a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo (to help pay for a barn conversion into a farm brewery and tasting room tentatively called “Tilted Barn Brewery.” The couple recently announced progress toward their dreams of opening brewery. They acquired a brewing system from another local brewery that upgraded to larger equipment.
Learn more about Ocean State Hops at www.oceanstatehops.com or contact Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org or Joel at email@example.com.
Learn about the UVM Hops Trials from Dr. Heather Darby, associate professor of agronomy, via email Heather.Darby@uvm.edu or call 802-524-6501.