There has been a lot of media attention regarding the possibility of a new alternative crop for Florida growers – hops. Hops are the buds or flowers of the hop plant. Used as a flavoring and stability agent in beer, hops can give this popular beverage a bitter, zesty, or citric flavor. Both Gulf Coast and Apopka Research Centers have embarked on research in an effort to create local hop production for the ever-increasing craft beer market. Gulf Coast was approached by Cigar City Brewing in the Ybor City to start a small project to determine if Florida is conducive to the cultivation of hops. And now we are in full swing with our hops yard. It’s exciting and huge project.
Hops are a climbing plant, similar to ivy or other vine-type plant. We were able to find old telephone poles to create our trellises and then added wires that will support the plants as they grow. Harvesting hops is quite an adventure. Once the harvest season begins, commercial operations pull the plants off the trellises to harvest mechanically. However, we’ll have a different approach. Our harvest will use either a long ladder or bucket truck. We hope to keep the plants intact after harvest for additional research.
However, let’s not get the beer mugs out just yet. Despite all the media attention, this research is still in the infancy stages. We’re not sure we can grow hops in the Florida climate or if we can breed a desirable hop that yields a unique flavor and is disease and pest resistant. But hey, that’s what science is all about. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. When you lose, you have a great platform of which to find success. So even those failed experiments can benefit research. If all goes well, Gator Beer might be in our future and more importantly, Florida growers will have yet another alternative crop to consider. Supporting the farm to table movement or in this case, farm to keg!