Monday, August 4, 2014

Wisconsin Hops Then and Now

The August edition of the Oshkosh SCENE hits the streets this week. Inside you’ll find my Oshkosh Beer Garden column about Chris Holman and his hop growing operation at Nami Moon Farms in Custer. Holman helps tend a 1-acre hop yard there that’s fairly typical of the current approach to hop farming in Wisconsin. These small farms are reintroducing a plant that hasn’t been grown commercially in Wisconsin since the early 1900s.

Currently there are about 60 acres of hops being grown in Wisconsin with most growers tending less than 2 acres of hops. Compare that to 1877 when Wisconsin hop cultivation was at its peak with more than 11,000 acres dedicated to hops. On average, hop farms of that era were considerably larger. Hop yards of 10-20 acres were not unusual. At that time in Winnebago County alone there were more than 130 acres taken by hop farming. But there were also plenty of growers tending hops on smaller lots. In the late 1860s in Oshkosh, there were several hop growers operating on city-sized parcels that would have been comparable in scale to the hop yard at Nami Moon Farms.

That tradition of small-scale hop growing has returned to our area. These days, it’s the province of homebrewers who grow hops for their own use in the beer they make. Back in 2010, I blogged about the renewed interest in hop growing here. The revival continues to bloom. There are now dozens of homebrewers in and around Oshkosh growing hops. There’s no official tally, but it’s safe to say that we haven’t had this much hop cultivation in Winnebago County since the late 1880s.

Right now, we’re at the time when thriving hop plants are coming into their own. The plants are bushing out and cones are forming on the bines. Here’s a small sample of some of the local product. You might want to pull up an IPA for this...

Click the pictures below to enlarge them.

Here’s a good idea. An Oshkosh homebrewer frames his beer garden with a variety of hops.

A tangle of Cascade and Nugget hops in the city of Oshkosh.

In Pickett, there’s a unique hop trellis that’s filling in nicely.

The mighty Warrior hop climbs a roof line in Neenah.

In the City of Oshkosh, low-growing hops cover a fence.

Cascade hops growing on a telephone pole in Oshkosh.

A first-year Cluster plant beginning to bloom.

A massive stand of hops in the Town of Vinland.

Tettnanger cones ripening on the vine in Oshkosh.

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