May is a busy time in the hopyard as we get all the groundwork complete and install many thousands of coir strings. Each plant gets two strings, and when the young bines are around 3 feet tall they get trained clockwise by hand to follow the sun around the strings. The timing of this training is important for later growth and plant yield. Hops need lots of nitrogen and water, especially. We spread pelletized chicken manure after training for a boost of nitrogen, and then fertigate through our irrigation system all season with small, steady doses of Chilean nitrate. It doesn’t take long for plants to reach the top of the 18 foot tall trellis… mid-July for most, and then all the plant’s effort goes into producing sidearms and cones. We carefully scout for diseases and pests all summer, especially downy mildew, spider mites, and potato leaf hoppers.
We generally harvest our hops from mid-August to mid-September. To ensure optimal aroma and brewing quality, we sample each hop variety when they appear to be ready and calculate their dry matter to determine the optimal window of time they should be harvested. With a decade of experience, we also have developed a good sense of peak texture and aroma. Each variety we grow has a different optimal harvest window. Hops that are harvested too early will not have alpha-acids sufficiently develop. Hops that are harvested too late can also lose aroma and are prone to cone breakage and storage issues.
Once fresh hops are harvested outside, they are quickly brought to the oast to be dried. The roll-in oast tray is constructed of a wooden frame and breathable mesh that allows for maximal air flow, but still provides enough support for the weight of the wet hops. The tray is rolled into the oast, sealed up, and a propane heater controlled by an electrical panel maintains a 110-120F temperature range. Multiple fans maintain air flow, and moisture is vented away. Throughout the 12-14 hour drying time, progress is checked periodically. When hops are sufficiently dried to 8-10% moisture, the whole tray is rolled out of the oast to cool and condition at room temperature for a minimum of 2-4 hours before pelletizing. Conditioned and dried hops are tested for moisture content using a moisture meter, with a target goal of ~9% moisture content for optimal pelletizing.
We produce our own hop pellets right here, using a PM810 hop pelletizing system from Buskirk Engineering. This machine is specialized for making hop pellets and maintains lower temperatures than many other machines on the market. Once our hops are perfectly dried and conditioned at ~9% moisture content, they are loaded into the top of the pelletizer where the hammer mill turns them into a coarse powder. This flows into the surge tank, where augers move the powder toward the pellet mill that compresses the powder into well-formed T-90 pellets. Temperatures during the pelletizing process do not exceed 120F. Finished pellets are immediately placed on mesh trays with air fanned from below to quickly cool and condition them prior to packaging.
Hop pellets are weighed and packaged into Mylar bags that are then oxygen-purged, nitrogen-flushed, and sealed with an electric-motor vacuum sealer into soft packs. Our product labels show information on variety, lot number, date, weight, and alpha acids.
"I have had such a wonderful experience working with Jason and Krista at Aroostook Hops. Beyond growing fantastic hops, it takes proper planning, expertise, and precise execution to pull off a good wet hopped beer. Jason and Krista have been the perfect partners for us year after year in our Aroostook Hop Harvest Ale. This beer has become a huge success for us, and the quality, fresh, local hops are a huge part of what makes this beer so special. We are looking forward to continuing this beer for years to come while also developing more brands that can utilize more of their hops all year round. It is exciting for me as a Maine brewer to know that we have partners in the hop world like Jason and Krista at Aroostook Hops who are forward-thinking, hard-working, and constantly improving their already fantastic products."
“Sourcing local ingredients has always been important to us at Allagash Brewing. Until recently, purchasing hops grown in Maine had not been possible, as the vast majority of US grown hops come from the Pacific Northwest. We started working with Jason and Krista at Aroostook hops several years ago, as soon as we heard about their efforts to produce Maine Grown hops. They have slowly grown their business over that last few years and have proven the ability to produce quality hops here in our home state. We look forward to continuing our relationship in the years to come.”
"At the Lubec Brewing Company our priorities include sourcing organic and sourcing local. With Aroostook Hops we not only found organic hops grown here in Maine, we also found a great selection of hops, excellent packaging and outstanding customer service. We have been so pleased with the freshness, quality, selection, and consistent availability of their hops that we have modified our recipes to use Aroostook Hops in virtually all of our beers and this has given us the confidence and ability to pursue organic certification."
“We’ve been happily and proudly working with Aroostook Hops for the past seven years. Since, at Throwback Brewery, our mission is to acquire our ingredients as close to our brewery as possible, we’ve been delighted to be able to buy sustainable, organic hops from Aroostook Hops. We’ve been even more delighted about buying these hops from such nice, hard working, and passionate people as Krista and Jason!”
“We here at Northern Maine Brewing Company love the hops we have received from Aroostook Hops. We have found the quality and consistency of the pellets to be excellent and work extremely well with our brewing system. Every recipe we have developed has been built around the five varieties they produced. We are proud that we can brew excellent beer from local hops grown right here in Aroostook County! We have the most locally brewed beer in the State of Maine, and it would not be possible without our partnership with Aroostook Hops.”
"Working with Aroostook hops has been a very positive experience. Dealing with local farmers who grow and sell their own hops means a lot to us as we like to support the locals. We can then ask our customers to do the same! We've gotten our orders in a timely fashion and the quality of the hops have been very good. The aroma, flavors, and alpha acid have all been awesome. We've already put in our order for this year and will do so for next year asap!"
Every year, we send a sample of each hop variety to the University of Vermont for Brewing Values (BV’s) analysis, which gives us information on alpha acids, beta acids, and hop storage Index (HSI). The UVM lab follows the American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC) Hops-6a methodology, which ensures accuracy for all values.
What got you started growing hops?
We both enjoyed gardening and Jason had homebrewed, and we first purchased a few plants for our own use. We had some land, enjoyed working on things together, and knew there were hardly any farms growing hops in the Northeast at that time. So, one winter Sunday afternoon we hatched a plan to grow hops on a commercial scale.
What challenges do you face in growing hops?
We’ve overcome many challenges related to investing in equipment and learning about producing a great quality product. Hops are expensive to invest in: trellising, rootstock, and equipment are all significant costs, and the plants do not produce fully until their third year. Finding temporary seasonal labor can be a challenge. There are always challenges to face in the hopyard, but we’ve been doing this for so long now that addressing the growing cycle has become somewhat routine. Timing is very important, whether it be stringing and training at the right time, irrigating, fertilizing, harvesting at optimal times. Downy mildew, a fungal disease, is a concern that we work to prevent each year. Sometimes an insect pest will crop up in large enough numbers to be a concern, depending on weather and other factors.
Are you going to expand your acreage/varieties?
We have lots of land to expand on, but it depends on what time of the year you ask us!