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HomeLifestyleBusinessBrewing Success: Michigan's Hop & Craft Beer Industry

Brewing Success: Michigan’s Hop & Craft Beer Industry

Explore the fusion of Michigan’s Craft Beer and Hop Cultivation Community

In Michigan, nestled within the Great Lakes region, a harmonious relationship between the hop and beer industries is flourishing. Our state, sharing the same latitude as notable hop-growing regions like Washington, Idaho, and Oregon, has risen to become the fourth-largest hop producer in the United States. Michigan’s fertile land and climatic conditions have transformed it into a veritable goldmine for brewers, supplying a rich variety of hops essential for beer production.

The economic impact of Michigan’s brewing sector is substantial, contributing over $144 million in wages and generating an economic influence exceeding $600 million. Beyond its impressive production capabilities, Michigan is renowned for its commitment to local sourcing and maintaining high-quality standards.

It’s this impressive growth and commitment to quality that prompted Governor Gretchen Whitmer to honor the industry, signifying its statewide importance.

Recognizing the significant role of the craft beverage industry in Michigan’s economy and community life, Governor Gretchen Whitmer proclaimed November as Michigan Craft Beverage Month. “Our craft beverage industry brings communities across America together and supports tens of thousands of good-paying jobs,” Governor Whitmer stated. Emphasizing her dedication to the sector, she committed to furthering economic growth, workforce development, and agricultural advancement, ensuring the ongoing expansion of Michigan’s craft beverage businesses. Throughout this special month, she invites Michiganders to join her in celebrating and supporting the state’s craft beverage makers.

Echoing Governor Whitmer’s sentiment, Brian Tennis, founder of the Hop Alliance says,  

 “There’s something special about having a beer that’s 100 percent Michigan-grown. With the growth of the malting industry in Michigan, there’s now enough malt, hops, and, to a lesser extent, yeast to make a beer with 100 percent Michigan ingredients without any problems.”

“The diversity and versatility of Michigan’s agriculture is on full display when it comes to our thriving craft beverage industry,” said Tim Boring, Director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and chair of the Michigan Craft Beverage Council. 

To truly understand the heart of Michigan’s hop industry, I wanted a closer look at the hands-on harvesting process. This brought me to the welcoming fields of Mr. Wizard’s Hops Farm. We visited Rose and John Stahl’s farm, known as Mr. Wizard’s Hops Farm. Their roadside cart, brimming with tomatoes and beans, caught my eye, and I made a mental note to stop later. Upon reaching the barns, the dogs greeted us with enthusiastic barks as a tractor lumbered by with a trailer of hops in tow. 

“How are you?” I asked Rose Stahl, to which she laughed, “Tired, it’s harvest time.”

Her eyes then fell to my feet, and she inquired, “Do you need boots?”

Glancing at my own feet, clad in cute, yellow, strappy sandals, I realized I hadn’t planned on getting dirty. What had I gotten myself into? Soon enough, my feet were snug in muck boots, and I was ready for my first hop harvest.

I quickly learned that harvesting hops is a world apart from harvesting tomatoes. It’s not a simple stroll to the garden to pick a red tomato, wash it, slice it, and enjoy it in a BLT sandwich for dinner.

The Hop Harvest Season in Michigan kicks off in early to mid-August, with each variety ripening at different times. A hop harvest is a harmonious display of diligent attention and collective effort. Hops are meticulously detached from the wires, and strung between the poles. Soon, the field is barren with just a few stragglers left dangling like forgotten Christmas tree tinsel. 

The hop vines are fed into harvesters that strip away stems and foliage. These hops are then expertly dried, poised for prompt conversion into pellets, or carefully packed for temporary cold storage before pelletizing. Not all hop growers have the specialized equipment for this complex process. Those lacking such resources often collaborate with established operations such as Hop Alliance or Mr. Wizard’s Hop Farm for assistance.

At the end of August, Top Hops Farm posted, “It’s wet hop season! A magical time of year when breweries visit the farm for hops strait off the picking line for a special, once a year “wet hopped” or “harvest” ale!” Bryan Wiggs the Director of Operations from North Peak Beer personally made the trip to pick up a bunch of fresh-cut Cascade hops. Mark Trowbridge said, “It’s great when our good customers like North Peak come and visit the hop farm for some fresh local hops at harvest time. It’s a special time for Hop Lovers.” 

You can find those Michigan Hops in North Peak’s Diabolical, Fresh Hop IPA. “North Peak Diabolical wouldn’t be what it is without having Michigan hops in every batch. The annual hop harvest reminds us how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to work with such world-class hop farmers.” 

During the Michigan Brewers Guild Detroit Fall Beer Festival, fresh-hopped beers were tagged in the program so beer enthusiasts could quickly identify them. For those unfamiliar, a fresh-hopped beer is when fresh, whole-cone hops are added for a more aromatic beer.  

The fresh hopped beers we tried:

  • Heronmark – Harvest Ale: Heronmark is a new brewery in Allegan. Their harvest ale was a mild amber ale. The hops were subtle but lent it a farm freshness.
  • Batch Brewing – Harvest Ale: This amber, almost brown beer was delicious, with the malt and hops balanced in a seductive tango on the tongue.
  • The Livery – Heady Harvest: A pale ale with fresh Cascade hops. The hoppy nose invited visions of verdant hop fields kissed by the sun. A magical brew.

Tennis notes the growing recognition of Michigan hops, particularly the state’s unique Chinook variety, attributing its distinct character to the local terroir. He expresses pride in the state’s industry, confidently stating that Michigan is producing some of the finest hops in the nation. This legacy is not only built on the passion and innovation of the brewers but also on the fertile soil and favorable climate that make Michigan’s hop harvest a success story. Michigan’s hop and beer industries are not just thriving independently but are intertwined in a mutually beneficial relationship. This partnership is a shining example of how local resources when leveraged with care and expertise, can lead to national prominence and create a product that is uniquely representative of its origin.

Hop Harvest – Top Hops Farm in Goodrich

During our visit for the hop harvest, Stahl highlighted the active pursuit of the distinctive flavor and aroma profiles of Michigan Chinook by brewers. Similarly, they are discovering that Michigan Cascade offers brewers a unique character for this specific variety of hops. This emphasis on the unique qualities of Michigan hops echoes the sentiments expressed by Tennis, further underlining the significance of Michigan’s hop industry and its appeal to brewers seeking exceptional ingredients for their craft beers.

It’s a taste of Michigan in every sip, a celebration of a state that’s crafting a legacy one pint at a time. This legacy is not only built on the passion and innovation of the brewers but also on the fertile soil and favorable climate that make Michigan’s hop craft beer industries a success story. 

Photos by Chuck Marshall. Main profile photo by North Peak Brewery.

Brenda & Chuck Marshall
Brenda & Chuck Marshallhttp://lifeinmichigan.com
Brenda and Chuck Marshall have been chronicling the beauty and culture of Michigan for over ten years. Their stories, filled with local insights and experiences, are published on LifeInMichigan.com. In addition to his writing, Chuck is passionate about photography and has become a prominent documenter of Michigan's vibrant music and craft beer scenes. Together, they promote Michigan one story at a time.
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