Brewers test local varieties when crafting their brews

It's what gives beer its flavoring, imparts its aroma, and helps its shelf-life. Hops - once thought impossible to grow in the Sunshine state's hot, humid climate - is now shining brightly as a value-added alternative crop for local growers.

For a few years now, researchers at the University of Florida's Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm have been experimenting with different varieties of hops to see which would be most sustainable in Florida. Among the four varieties being extensively tested, so far Cascade shows the most promise. Comet, Nugget, and Zeus are the other options and are among more than 20 varieties tried.

This key beer-brewing ingredient is being given to local brewers to test. In limited trials, brewers and their customers give a thumbs-up to beers made with locally grown hops. Cascade hops grown in Florida have somewhat of a sweet, citrus flavor, compared to a piney citrus flavor in traditional growing areas. For now, it's just being tested in Florida.

Unlike Washington state, the largest hops producer in the U.S., Florida harvests hops twice a year - in spring and in the fall. The fall harvest was recently completed at the research center. The success of growing hops in Florida depends on adding several hours of artificial light to enable harvesting biannually. On a new front, hops is showing promise in medicinal uses.

The intent of the research is to determine if hops could be a new, alternative crop to citrus, which has been greatly reduced due to disease. Hops could help to keep growers growing and keep Florida farms in agriculture production rather than transition to non-agriculture uses.

Individuals who would like to support Florida hops research at UF/IFAS GCREC can make a tax-deductible donation here. The funding goes exclusively to hops research at GCREC in Hillsborough County, and helps to further and more rapidly make hops production in Florida a viable option.

Photo Information: Trellises are covered with hops before the fall harvest at the University of Florida's Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm.