UF and local brewery team up to produce “Fresh from Florida” beer
HDate: March 14, 2017
By: Mary Anne Sanders, 352-273-3487, firstname.lastname@example.org
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- On April 6, North Central Florida’s craft beer connoisseurs can experience the first brew with the newly developed “Fresh from Florida: Made with Florida Hops” label at First Magnitude Brewing Company.
Brian Pearson, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) assistant professor of environmental horticulture, has been experimenting with growing hops in Florida for five years – first as a hobby and then incorporating it into his research program.
Hops are perennial plants, which produce seed “cones” that provide unique bittering, flavoring and aromatic qualities to finished beer products. The location in which hops are cultivated contributes to flavors and aromas found in hops, Pearson said. This phenomenon, known as “terroir,” can be utilized to craft unique local beers that truly represent the influence of Florida’s agricultural production environments, he said.
In addition to terroir, fresh hops that are used within 24 to 48 hours of harvest and are not dried for storage or processing can create fresher and more robust flavored beer, Pearson said. But, brewery owners will have to pay more to use “wet hops,” which have not been dried, he said.
Pearson completed his first successful trial in 2012, and since the public caught wind of his research early last year, he receives two to three phone calls a day from citrus growers. “They want more information on the possibility of diversifying their crops with hops, and want to tour my production facility,” Pearson said. His EDIS document introducing hops as a new specialty crop in Florida has received more than 7,600 downloads, and 115,000 people viewed the online material his team shared last year on Facebook and Twitter.
“We’ve lit a fire of curiosity in these growers because of our successful trials,” Pearson said. “But until we can determine that local hops production is profitable, I’m not encouraging producers to jump on board in any large capacity.”
Although Pearson’s team has investigated production potential of various hop types utilizing both traditional and non-traditional production systems, consumer willingness to pay more for local, “Fresh from Florida: Made with Local Hops” beer is unknown. He has begun collaborations with UF/IFAS economists, entomologists, agronomists, controlled-environment specialists, sensory experts, chemists and others in an interdisciplinary effort to determine if Florida-grown hops can become a viable and profitable industry.
While he sees success, Pearson said issues remain. “The biggest production challenge we’ve faced is low yield,” he said.
In the most successful hops-growing regions, producing 3 to 4 pounds wet weight per plant at harvest is ideal, Pearson said. In the U.S., the Mid-Atlantic region produces 2 to 3 pounds wet weight per plant at harvest. Until recently, Pearson’s team was producing only half that volume or less, he said.
But, through exploratory horticultural techniques, the UF/IFAS team has significantly increased yield, bridging the gap towards competitive volume, Pearson said. Large-scale research efforts will explore the efficacy of these production techniques throughout the next year, he said.
In most areas, hops go dormant during the winter months, but Florida’s climate means hops can be produced year-round in protected agricultural environments, Pearson said. Although long-term effects of continual cultivation are unknown, Pearson has prevented a large number of healthy and thriving hops plants from entering dormancy for more than two years.
“I’m excited about the possibilities, because we finally have a hops flavor that is unique to Florida, and we can produce it at times when nobody else can,” Pearson said.
His research team received a two-year, $158,000 grant from the USDA that expires at the end of 2017, so they are pursuing additional funding sources.“Getting research dollars to expeditiously continue this effort is the missing piece right now,” he said.
images by:Richard M. Smith