Local brewers hoppy about more locally-grown ingredients

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The growth in craft beer brewing is driving a demand for more locally-grown ingredients.

In a story headlined, "How local is your beer? The rise of local ingredients," TheLineMedia reported that an increasing number of Minnesota breweries are seeking locally-sourced items, including local honey, fresh fruit, local “wet” (green) hops and barley.

The story noted that Summit Brewing has regularly used homegrown ingredients and has incorporated Minnesota-produced corn, wild rice, pumpkins and maple syrup in its specialty brews. Meanwhile, home brewers are tending a garden plot solely devoted to hops at the Longfellow Community Garden in Minneapolis.

“Beer is fundamentally a community beverage,” said Andrew Schmitt of the Minnesota Beer Activists, which initiated the hops plot. “Everyone is excited about brewing beer with hops this fall that are fresh, right off the plant.”

The Wisconsin State Journal had a story that said that more Wisconsin-grown barley is being grown as a cash crop for that state’s craft beer brewers. In 2013, state farmers harvested 784,000 bushels of barley, an increase of 19 percent from 2012.

Dan Carey, co-founder of New Glarus Brewing Co., the state’s largest craft brewery, said he would pay twice as much for locally-grown barley.

“Small family farms are the backbone of our country and it’s important to support small family farms and local agriculture. The goal is to try and talk farmers into putting barley into their rotations instead of putting oats or wheat into their rotation," he said.

Craft brewers use about 50 pounds of barley per barrel compared to about 16 pounds per barrel by larger beer companies that specialize in lighter beers, Carey said. In 2013, New Glarus used 5 million pounds of barley, with 5 percent of it grown in Wisconsin. Carey said he would ultimately like locally grown barley to account for 33 percent of what the brewery uses.

Barley research is being conducted by UW-Madison in collaboration with UW Extension and the University of Minnesota. In the last three years, trial plots have been planted in Buffalo and Chippewa counties in western Wisconsin.

Dean Volenberg, a UW Extension agent, said in a report that Wisconsin-grown barley offers breweries a distinctive taste.

“As with grapes, the geography, geology and climate where hops and barley are grown affect their flavor characteristics,” Volenberg wrote. “This means a product made from Wisconsin-grown barley and hops will have unique characteristics.”

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