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Off The Beaten Path: Alabama Is Investing In Hops & Barley For Local Craft Brewers

“We’re going to be able to provide hops in larger scales so that we can provide bigger batches to the Auburn brewery.” - Andre Da Silva

Foraging and Farming Hops

With over 50 craft breweries in Alabama and an economic impact of over $1B annually, the demand for sourcing hops and grains locally began back in the early 2000s. Each November, farmers such as Larkin Martin, co-owner of Martin Farms, and Kevin Olinger, owner of Triple O Farms, begin planting Barley in Northern Alabama in November, harvesting that following June.  Today, the demand for locally-grown Barley has been in demand for over 20 years in Alabama, and by 2026, farmers will be growing over 55M bushels annually.  

Braided River Brewing Company was one of the first breweries to use Alabama Barley in beer production. They brewed a fragrant and floral Pale Ale named Harvest Ale. In addition, they used Cascade Hops, which were grown and harvested at Mobile’s Ornamental Horticulture Research Center

Foraging and Farming Hops

Andre Da Silva Is Growing Hops In Alabama For Local Craft Brewers

Apart from growing Barley, local craft brewers are closely working with Assistant Professor Andre da Silva of Auburn University to grow and test local hops. His work focuses on breeding and growing Southeastern U.S. adapted hop varieties with Integrative Horticulture. He received $200,000 in research grants from the American Society for Horticultural Science and the USDA. Da Silva is researching the best varieties to grow in the Southeast while using soil-warming equipment and mulching systems to better retain water and heat the soils to grow a healthy crop. 

Da Silva’s results indicate that Cascade and Chinook may be well-suited for Alabama soils, climate, and sun exposure. Since the inception of his project, he has written 93 peer-reviewed articles, built collaborative relationships with every aspect of the beer-making business, and raised $2M in funding to move forward a local agricultural inputs platform. 

Foraging and Farming Beer

Hops Require 16 Hours Of Sunlight Each Day 

Hops need three things to flourish into good-quality aromatics and flavor profiles for beer. Most of U.S. hop production comes from the Pacific Northwest (PNW).  In fact, superior hops are cultivated with a good climate, well-drained soil, and a pH of 6.0 - 7.5. Third, hops need vertical and horizontal space, supporting each plant with a trellis and supporting the lateral branches to prevent tangling. Hop rows should be spaced at least 8 feet apart, and the plants should be staggered roughly 2-3 feet apart from one another. 

 Auburn University  Hops

The Benefit Of Alabama Farmers Growing Hops 

Hop growing requires long day lengths to flower and produce adequate cone yields. Da Silva’s goal is to promote efficiency when growing and harvesting hops. He is collaborating with the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, Alex Harkess, to separate males from females. With close to 100% females, hop farming could become more profitable in the future by avoiding male seeds, which unnecessarily take up resources that won’t yield female flowers (cones). 


Auburn Brewery’s Goals for 2024 

Each season, Da Silva meets with growers to share successes and challenges, with the hopes of stimulating a thriving hop growers community in Alabama. Taking the time to share “early adopter stories” and brewing up successful case studies, he is naturally creating an end-to-end marketplace for The State of Alabama’s beer community. To learn more about Alabama craft beer, hops, and other inputs, click the link to Foraging and Farming below! 

Foraging and Farming

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