NJ-grown hops are the newest local beer trend — but it takes time
Those who follow the latest tastes and tendencies in craft beer, both in consuming and brewing it, might hope their local brewery can get its hands on, for instance, the hops used to make a "juicy" India pale ale.
In many cases, that's far easier said than done, according to Mike Kivowitz, founder and president of the New Jersey Craft Beer website, and advocate for the state's approximately 130 beermakers.
"Those (hops) are proprietary, and you can't even buy the rhizomes, to grow them and cultivate them, from the manufacturers," Kivowitz said.
One solution seems simple: breweries growing their own hops, as is now being done at Readington Brewery & Hop Farm in Hunterdon County, which just opened late last year.
And that might work well for a location that has the space to do it like Readington, or Screamin' Hill in Cream Ridge, but not every brewery is laid out in a conducive configuration, Kivowitz said.
The other major complication is that hop growing just is a time-consuming process, according to Kivowitz.
A brewer has to obtain lumber, situate it on their property, order the rhizomes, cultivate them — and then do a little bit of pest control, getting praying mantises to eat the "bad bugs" that gather.
"We are the Garden State, sure, but it takes maybe 10 years to get a good amount of hops growing that are going to come back year to year," Kivowitz said, adding that even when the hops do grow, they still take a while to make it into a batch of beer. "A lot of the hops that they're growing are fresh hops, they're whole-leaf hops. They're not being pelletized and crushed down into dehydrated, dried-out hops."
Kivowitz thinks that "Jersey Fresh" hops could increase over time, and could prove to be a financially sound decision for some breweries, but that patience is a virtue.
For any New Jerseyans who are especially curious about where their beer comes from, Kivowitz also mentioned Rabbit Hill Malt in Shiloh, which he said many Garden State breweries use exclusively for their malt supply.