Modern Living: A first... growing hops on the Gulf Coast

Fairhope Hops

Local breweries take pride in brewing local beers, but they've never been fully local. The flavor component, the hops, have never been grown on the Gulf Coast, until now.

Hops on the coast

"Nobody grows hops where hops experience such heat indexes or humidities or high temperatures."

At Auburn's Gulf Coast Research farm in Fairhope professor Steven Schultze is tackling a crop nobody has ever tried in the deep south before. He's growing hops. The buds of the vertically growing vines provide the flavor to your favorite beer.

"Just pick it off and put it in your hand and mash it really hard," Schultze said as he broke apart a hop bud. "So it breaks and then it just should smell a little grassy. It should smell very similar to an IPA."

A cool weather crop

Commercially, hops are grown in the cooler climates of the Pacific northwest and Michigan, nobody is sure how they'll fair in Fairhope. What Schultze does know is that hops are very diverse. They can be anywhere from bitter to flowery, but growing them in Fairhope's hot and humid environment creates many unknowns. They have no idea exactly how the different varieties they're growing will turn out. It's all a big experiment.

But if it works, it could pay off. Hops can go for $30 a pound.

"Thirty dollars a pound and lets just pretend one vine puts out one pound and you see how they grow vertically, you can get a lot into a very small area," Schultze said.

Hopping to the future

This is the second year for the experimental crop. The first year was a lot of trial and error, mostly error, but they learned a lot, and now their hops are thriving.

"Next year I have ideas of basically tripling production and introducing more species and then maybe writing a book or some kind of instruction manual so we might be able to take that to the public and they'd be able to produce this even on their own back yard," Schultze told us.

So you may soon have a sip of a local beer with true local flavor.

Meteorologist

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