In the craft-beer industry, the majority of hops — the flowers used in production that add bitterness and aroma to the product — come from the Pacific Northwest region.
Could Maryland, too, be a fertile region for hops?
That's what Frederick's Flying Dog Brewery and the University of Maryland's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources hope to answer with a new partnership focused on studying the potential for high-quality hops grown here, said Matt Brophy, chief operating officer.
"It's really giving us a professional, academic approach to determining what the future is for Maryland hop cultivation, and if it's something that can be a sustainable crop," Brophy said.
The partnership will use a trial of 24 varieties of hops planted at the Western Maryland Research and Education Center in Keedysville in Washington County. The trial will collect data on how the state's climate affects the hops' growth and potential for scalability, he said.
Some Maryland farmers — including Black Locust Hops in northern Baltimore County and Rohrersville's Pleasant Valley Hops — have seen good results in recent years, so Brophy is optimistic.
"There's a very strong indication that it is a viable possibility for farmers, but we haven't quite gotten to the yields that you would see in somewhere like Yakima, Washington," Brophy said.
Certain varieties of hops, like Chinook and Cascade, respond well to Maryland's climate. The partnership aims to find out if there are more, which are crucial for production of increasingly popular types of India Pale Ales with juicy and citrusy characteristics, he said.
"When you're a craft brewer, you're looking for a whole array of different hops because they all have their different types of profiles," Brophy said.
Flying Dog plans to release a limited-edition pack of beer called the East Coast Hop Project in spring 2018, with three different styles highlighting hops grown in the region.
Brophy described the partnership as a "three-to-five-year endeavor" that is still early in the process.
The initiative's ultimate goal, he said, is "to be able to provide some resources for the growers, to be able to expand their operations … and then connect the brewers to the growers."
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