Thursday, July 29, 2010

Great Story on local hop grower Scott Grahl.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010 14:25
Haywood hops farmer sets the bar highWritten by Giles Morris

Haywood County hops farmer Scott Grahl is a dreamer with his feet planted firmly on the ground.
“One day a buddy of mine called and said ‘Did you know there is a worldwide hops shortage?’” Grahl said. “From then on, I’ve spent the last three years learning about this plant.”
Grahl still works 12-hour shifts in shipping at the Evergreen Packaging plant in Canton, but he spends the rest of his waking hours on his one-acre hops plantation, the seed project for a dream that one day could evolve into a regional beer festival and the transformation of local agriculture.
Hops plants are essential for making beer, providing the essential acids that deepen its flavor profile and act as a bittering agent. North Carolina brewers mainly rely on hops produced in Washington and Oregon, but agriculture specialists believe hops could one day become a viable cash crop that could replace tobacco on small farms across the state.
Grahl and his girlfriend Stephanie Willis both come from families that farmed tobacco in Haywood County. With the help of a Tobacco Trust Fund grant aimed at converting historic tobacco farms into other means of sustainable agriculture, Grahl started Winding River Hops on one-acre of pine scrub off Thickety Road, within spitting distance of I-40.
After burning the land, Grahl added three truckloads of horse compost, two of mushroom compost and a whopping three tons of lime to bring the pH in line with what hops need to grow.
“We wanted to see how quickly we could take poor soil and turn it around,” Grahl said.
Grahl’s project isn’t the only one in Western North Carolina. He has joined experimental farmers in Madison and Buncombe counties to form the Southern Appalachian Hops Guild.
That group is relying on scientific expertise from the N.C. State Soil Science and Horticulture Departments, which have initiated their own statewide project to improve the market opportunities for North Carolina hops farmers by bettering yields and quality. Their work is funded with a grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation.
Rob Austin, one of the N.C. State scientists involved in the study, said it’s the first time anyone in North Carolina has systematically studied hops production. Austin’s crew has created its own hops yard in Raleigh as a way to try out 10 varieties of plants, but in the meantime, they are also taking regular soil and tissue samples for startup growers around the state.
If there has been a big surprise for the scientists and growers alike, it’s the amount of work required to cultivate hops.
“The amount of labor that’s involved is insane,” Austin said.
“It’s a lifestyle change,” Grahl agreed. “It really is.”
Austin has nothing but admiration for Grahl and his magic acre. The hop plants at Winding River started as rhizomes in May 2009, and now there are three varieties of hops growing in 20 rows on 18.5-foot trellises. That’s 1,320 plants now producing lupulin, the yellow grains that give hops its quality as a bittering agent.
“He’s a true pioneer,” Austin said. “Scott is leading the way in Western North Carolina.”
Grahl has plans to move his operation just down the road to a 30-acre field in Clyde. In preparation for that effort, he’s started exploring the region’s craft beer scene.
“I’ve started drinking micro brews because I like to taste the essence now,” Grahl said, who used to be a Coors Light man.
Asheville was recently named Beer City USA, and the burgeoning brew business in WNC is one impetus for the new hop growing initiative.
“Every brewery from Asheville has said, ‘If you guys will grow it, we’ll buy it,’” Grahl said.
Currently, local breweries have to buy hops from the Pacific Northwest, which has long-dominated the market.
But hops production isn’t just labor intensive in the field; it’s also expensive during processing. In the Pacific Northwest and Germany, hops producers often rely on growing collectives that pitch in to cover the costs of huge industrial dryers and the equipment to convert the dry hops into pellets, which most large-scale brewers use to make beer.
None of the growers in Western North Carolina can afford to make that kind of investment up front.
Grahl believes his immediate future as a grower relies on his ability to market his product as a locally-grown additive for wet-hopped beer, which is a seasonal item that uses recently harvested hop cones.
“I expect from the wet-hopping scene, you’ll one day have a festival in Asheville that the whole Southeast could be a part of,” Grahl said.
In the meantime, he’s working on a project close to his heart: preserving historic farmland by using it.
“We want to maintain land in agriculture that would otherwise be split up for development,” Grahl said. “We can’t stop progress but maybe we can slow down some of the negative aspects and keep what green we still have around here.”

Hoppy Trails
• Winding River Hops farm is participating in a collaborative hops farm tour on July 31. The event includes two farm tours and a tour of the French Broad Brewery. $10. 828.255.5522• To learn more about Winding River or the Southern Appalachian Hops Guild visit• For information about the science of hops growing, email and

Friday, June 4, 2010

Southern Appalachian Hops Guild Growers

The EchoView Hops yard is now three years old. We have about 1800 bines on 1.75 acres. The area we use to grow the bines was formerly in tobacco.We have improved the soil and installed our trellis system over the that period. We are learning as we grow but we remain very excited about our hops and we will have our first marketable crop of ultra high quality hops this harvest. The varieties we grow are the following: Centennial, Chinook, Magnum, Brewers gold, Sterling, Haltauer, Tetnang,Perle and Mt hood. We are in the process of building an oast and are developing a processing plan which will allow us to take the hops from the bine to the brewery.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Southern Appalachian Hops Guild Growers

Winding River Hops is a 1 acre hops yard located in Clyde, N.C. The yard is operated and owned by Scott Grahl and Stephanie Willis.
Scott has contributed to over three year’s research into hops by planting an acre in 2009. In the many hats he wears, Scott’s duties have included: researcher, planner, organizer, sales, consultant, mentor, student, and physical laborer. Scott is certified as an Advanced Manager of Environmental Safety and Health through N.C State University. Through this program, he has learned many different “Green” methods that he utilizes in a field environment. He has business experience, overseeing several projects from start to completion for his employer, Evergreen Packaging.
Stephanie has also been involved in hop research for the past three years, growing an acre in 2009. Stephanie completed the Rural Entrepreneurship Through Action Learning (REAL) small business course at Haywood Community College. Stephanie’s knowledge has enabled us to complete a very good business plan and to meet all legal requirements for the farm. Until 2009, where a shift to hops production was made, Stephanie farmed her land in livestock, breeding Boer goats and Red Heller dogs. Stephanie currently works in Patient Financial Services at Haywood County Hospital.
In the hops yard, we grow three varieties: Nugget, Sterling, and Glacier. We will be providing fresh picked, whole hops to local micro-breweries to use in seasonal “wet” hop brews. Wet hopping is an increasingly popular way to brew beer, and offers the impeccable beer connoisseur a uniquely tasting bottle of brew. Wet hopping brings out the bouquet and full flavorful essence of the hops found in no other form of brewing.

Southern Appalachian Hops Guild Growers

Blue Ridge Hops

from our view -- to your brew

Nestled in the mountains of Madison County, North Carolina, Blue Ridge Hops began producing top quality organic hops in 2008. We are a USDA certified organic farm and we take pride in the attention we give our plants.

Unlike the large hops producers of the Pacific Northwest who grow hundreds of acres of hops and harvest them with machines all at once, we harvest our cones by hand over several days, selecting cones at their peak maturity. We dry the cones on site, on the same day of harvest, to assure no reduction in quality. For brewers interested in "wet hopping" we can arrange for delivery of cones within hours of harvest. We anticipate this year's harvest will begin in late July and run through mid-August. Our hops are available to local microbreweries as well as home brewers.

We grow both aroma and bittering varieties, including:
Cascade Willamette Nugget Fuggle Magnum

John Wright and Rita Pelczar
Marshall, North Carolina
(301) 602-0722

Southern Appalachian Hops Guild Growers

The Hop’n Blueberry Farm, located just under the 6000 foot Craggy Range in Buncombe County , takes great pride in alternative sustainable farming. They are currently doing extensive research and cultivation of hops, and native blueberries, medicinal herbs, and common milkweed, and new for 2010, a butterfly flight house.

We are currently growing 4 varieties of hops. Cascades, a lower alpha acid hop popular with home brewers, and Nuggets, Centennial, and Chinook hops which have a higher percentage of alpha acids. All are grown naturally and chemical free. Tours are available upon request.

Hop’n Blueberry Farm