Article in the Burlington Free Press

article below is from the Burlington Free Press Issue October 5, 2012

Hip to local hops

October 5, 2012
JERICHO — If you grow it, Joe Lemnah will try to turn it into beer. "Next week I'll probably brew a squash ale," Lemnah said from the makeshift brewery he's set up inside his parents' defunct horse barn in Jericho. "I just found this wicked cool local blue Hubbard squash, which are these absurd, gargantuan squash that have that whole orange flesh. You know, because pumpkin ales are so passĂ©. It's been done to death. Like, there's other orange fruit out there. Let's use them. "
An Essex High School grad, Lemnah, 30, has brewed beer professionally for six years and recently founded the Burlington Beer Company. He has a company website, business cards, stickers and bottled beer, just not a brewery in Burlington. It's coming, he said, within the year.
The brewery will produce some flagship beers, including an India Pale Ale that Lemnah has dubbed "Another IPA."
"So it's easy to order another, badum, tish!" he explained.
Lemnah said his larger objective, however, is to brew an evolving lineup of beers, changing with the seasons and the availability of ingredients.
"I want localization to be at the center of everything, and really be kind of, like, farmers market-inspired, seasonally-focused beers," he said.
Localization beginning with local hops, although "definitely not exclusively local hops," Lemnah said, because "there's too many fun hops from far away." He plans to use Vermont hops for a particular line of beer that would have a "sense of time and place."
Localizing the process lowers his carbon footprint by reducing the shipping distance of ingredients, Lemnah said.
"You're supporting the local economy, the whole 'buy Vermont first'... But like I said before, it really gives that sense of time and place. The hops are going to have a unique character."
East Coast hops
Lemnah gets his local hops from backyard growers like his buddy Zach Summerfield.
Summerfield, who has known Lemnah since high school, said hops have grown up the side of his mother's house in Jericho for nearly 10 years. The hops grow along a 30-foot span of wall to a height of about 25 feet.
"As far as what we've experienced, they've grown like wildfire," said Summerfield, 29, of Colchester. "They're fairly intrusive. They grow onto the deck and into the doors of the house."
Vermont's humid climate, however, isn't particularly conducive to large-scale hop production, according to Heather Darby, an agronomist at the University of Vermont.
"They (the hops) like it, but so does everything else," Darby said, specifically diseases and insects. "When you're in Oregon with dry summers, they don't get the same disease and insect pressure that we do."
Darby began studying hop production in Vermont three years ago when colleagues at Washington State University asked her to do so. They wanted to compare West Coast hops with East Coast hops.
"And simultaneously, there was this sort of new interest in growers and brewers to produce local hops," Darby said. That interest, she said, grew from the localvore movement and a spike in hop prices.
"A lot of brewers want to buy local," she said. "They want a product that is very high quality. It's understanding what that is, and then figuring out, how do we get there."
In studying the vitality of 19 strains of hops at UVM, Darby has found that some hops can and do thrive in Vermont, despite the climate. But she cautions that much work remains to be done if Vermonters want to grow their local hop market.
"Even if we can grow them, which we can, they're very labor intensive to harvest," Darby said. "It requires special equipment to do that, and special equipment to handle them after harvest."
Darby figures upwards of 50 Vermonters have taken to growing small quantities of hops in their yards or on their farms.
"We have a few one-acre hop yards, and then everyone else is under an acre," Darby said. Put together, they make up an estimated total of 5-10 acres. "Once you get above a quarter of an acre, you gotta think about how to mechanize the process."
During the summer, UVM Extension lent a mobile hop harvester, a "shared piece of infrastructure," to two farms, Darby said, in an attempt to push mechanization.
Without a mechanical harvester, the hops have to be picked by hand, which can take upwards of an hour per vine. Impractical for a large harvest, Darby said, even if a grower invites over friends for hop-picking "parties."
"You're gonna run out of friends," Darby said. "It's only gonna be fun once."
However you get them, Summerfield recommends harvesting local hops when you can to brew beer.
"I always find that stuff you grow yourself tends to taste better," Summerfield said. "The hops tend to be very strong. Very large flavor profiles."

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