Small-scale farming of hops—the flowering cones of the vining hop plant, used almost exclusively in beer making—is fast becoming a booming business. As Georgina Gustin reported for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,
The boom in small-scale hop farming stems in part from the all-things-local ethos in today’s food culture, and the continuing interest in craft brewing. But many growers say they’re attempting to decentralize a hops industry long dominated by growers in the Pacific Northwest and Europe, where, combined, farmers grow about 80 percent of the world’s 120,000 hop acres. “We were really interested in creating beers crafted from ingredients from our region,” said Marika Josephson, of Scratch Brewing Company in Ava, Ill., which harvested its first hop crop last year. “To a certain extent, it’s about control.” A turning point that launched many new growers came in 2007 when weather conditions in Europe and a warehouse fire in Washington’s Yakima Valley destroyed a huge chunk of the globe’s hops. The remaining hops went to fulfill contracts with giant international breweries, leaving craft brewers scrambling. “Smaller brewers started saying: ‘This is kind of crummy. We need a better source of hops,’” said Joel Mulder, a hop farmer and managing director of the Michigan Hop Alliance, which formed four years ago with five growers.
It’s a nice article, so check out the full piece here.
In Wisconsin, the biggest force behind the rise in small-scale hops farming has been Gorst Valley Hops. (They even score a mention in the St. Louis piece referenced above.) Wisconsin State Journal business reporter Gena Kittner has been writing about the outfit for years. Her first article, from 2009, reported that
In the 19th century, Wisconsin grew one-fifth of all the hops raised in the country until mildew and aphid problems resulting from overcrowded plantations forced growers to move the crop the Pacific Northwest. Now [Gorst Valley director and horticulturist James] Altwies said state farmers have more sustainable production practices and new hop varieties that are disease and pest resistant and much higher yielding. The state has the right growing conditions, including the right amount of sunlight, 120 frost free growing days, and very cold winters, which allow for the dormancy the hops require to flower properly and produce optimal yields, Altwies said.
Kittner’s second article on Gorst Valley described the evolving enterprise a few years ago:
For many of the Gorst Valley charter growers, this summer’s  harvest will be their “practice year.” Typically one acre will yield between 7 and 15 pounds of hops in its first year and by year four should yield between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds. While not usually profitable in the first year, an acre of hops could, within two years, generate $12,000 to $15,000 in crop revenue. “We’ll have hopefully a couple thousand pounds,” Altwies said of his third-year yield. Gorst Valley provides all its charter growers the technical and farming support in the hop growing process, which includes design work for the irrigation system, trellis system and pest management. After harvest, the hops are taken to a building to be dried and stored. Later, they are milled into powder, pelletized and sold to local breweries.
As detailed in Kittner’s most recent article, Gorst Valley has expanded from growing hops to developing and distributing hop-harvesting equipment.
This month, the company will ship its first 12 small-scale hop harvesters — the only machine of its kind, they say, made to mechanically harvest hops grown on 10 acres or less. Most farmers growing hops on less than 50 acres are forced to harvest by hand, said James Altwies, president of Gorst Valley, headquartered near Mazomanie. While it takes six workers an hour to harvest from two bines (the vines on which hops grow), Gorst Valley’s harvester, operated by three people, can harvest 30 to 60 bines an hour.
In addition, the hops keep rolling in:
The company has grown from seven growers farming 15 acres in 2009 to 32 growers farming 42 acres [in 2012]. That acreage is expected to increase to 60 in 2013. Gorst Valley produced 100 pounds of hops in 2009 and a few thousand in 2011. This fall, the company is expecting 10,000 pounds and it could be 30,000 by 2013. “We’ve kind of outpaced ourselves a little bit,” Altwies said. Now some of the growers farming one or two acres want to expand to up to 10 acres.
For details and photos, check out the articles linked above. Then stop by your local retailer of fine Wisconsin beers to enjoy a Gorst-Valley hopped brew, including the all-Wisconsin Weiss beer from Lakefront Brewery, called (what else?) Wisconsinite.
The Conscientious Omnivore is away. This is an encore presentation of a post that originally appeared in slightly edited form on July 13, 2012.
(Sorry for the pointless pun above; writing five headlines a week can be tough. I don’t know how the pros do it!)
This past weekend J and I treated ourselves to dinner at Brasserie V. J is a HUGE fan of mushrooms, so when friendly bartender Mike told us about the special morel starter, we had to say yes. They’d recently gotten their first batch of morels of the season and had been featuring them in entrées for a few days, but Saturday night’s special was a quarter pound of the savory delights, simply sautéed in butter with garlic. The price was steep for our pocketbooks ($15) but fair for morels out at a restaurant, so we took the plunge. We did NOT regret it! Thanks to Brasserie V’s Facebook page, I saw that this special reappeared earlier this week. So, keep your eyes peeled for the next few weeks at Wisconsin’s fine restaurants, produce vendors, and farmers’ markets.
For the uninitiated, what exactly are morels? As Samara Kalk Derby detailed in this week’s “In Season” feature in the Wisconsin State Journal,
These wild mushrooms have a sponge-like, honeycombed appearance and a smoky, earthy, nutty flavor. They can vary greatly in color and size. “Typically the early mushrooms are a darker color. Some call them black. And they are typically small in stature,” said Pat McCluskey, who farms with his two brothers as McCluskey Brothers at Shilelagh Glen Farms in Hillpoint….
Typically [morel season around here] lasts about a month, generally from the third week of April until the third week of May. ‘This season seems to be late in developing,’ McCluskey said.
For more, including a couple recipes, check out her full piece. Then watch this episode of Wisconsin Foodie, which features foraging for morels followed by some cookin’ and eatin’. If that doesn’t sate you, check out this 2009 article (still very relevant) by Karen Herzog for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: maybe next spring we’ll head to Muscoda for their Morel Mushroom Festival!
Chris Drosner, Wisonsin State Journal‘s “Beer Baron,” recently wrote a nice profile of Sheboygan’s 3 Sheeps Brewing Co. As he describes,
Last March [former homebrewer Grant] Pauly’s passion project was realized as 3 Sheeps Brewing Co. shipped its first kegs, and last month it took another big step forward, bottling its beer for the first time….
RateBeer recently named 3 Sheeps the best new brewery in Wisconsin in 2012, based on reviews from its members.
Even more people will have a chance to enjoy the beer now that it’s being sold in bottles. Along with the IPA, 3 Sheeps is packaging three other beers, each of them drinkable twists on regular styles.
During a beer run to Woodman’s this past weekend, I picked up their Really Cool Waterslides IPA and Baaad Boy Black Wheat Ale. Both are quite tasty and very much worth seeking out. Check out Drosner’s full piece for his review of the Baaad Boy (which earns 3½ stars out of 4), along with the inspiring story of how the brewery came to be and their IPA got its whimsical name.
Also be sure to check out Robin Shepard’s review of Baaad Boy for Isthmus; he gives it a full 4 out of 4 bottle openers, with praiseworthy comments like “medium-bodied and drinkable — if not seductive. It’s a beer, and a style, that I’m excited about seeing in six-packs.” Shepard also notes that, although Pauly had previously worked in the family concrete business, there are brewers in his family tree as well:
His great-grandfather, grandfather, and two uncles were owners of Kingsbury Breweries in Sheboygan, and his great uncle Felix was brewmaster at the company’s facility in Manitowoc. Starting out with a soda business, the family purchased the Kingsbury brands during Prohibition in 1926, started brewing in 1933, and remained in production until 1962, when G. Heilmann Brewing of La Crosse bought them out.
For a really wonderful video profile of Pauly and 3 Sheeps, check out this piece (embedded below) from MidwestMicroBrews. It’s got a little something for both general beer lovers and hardcore brew geeks. (If you watch the video, take note that, as Drosner points out, Enkel Biter has since been renamed Rebel Kent the First, since folks had a tendency to misread “biter” as “bitter”.)
I’ve said many times before (most recently here) what a big fan I am of fair-trade, mostly organic, small-batch–roasted Kickapoo Coffee. But you know what, they’re so great, I think I’ll say it again:
Kickapoo Coffee kicks butt!
For some charming photos of the crew and roastery, which is housed in the old train depot in Viroqua, Wisconsin, check out the Kickapoo Coffee “Artist Story” recently posted at the lovely Ray + Kelly blog.
With sub-zero wind chills expected to return to Madison by week’s end, I thought I’d share a post that I recently came across (thanks to Heavy Table) from Greg at the More Than Curds blog. He highlights three classic Wisconsin drinks to warm a winter-weary body: cherry bounce, Tom and Jerry, and Glühwein (or, if you prefer the Nordic version, gløgg, which warmed me up two years ago at the charming Fish Creek Winter Festival in Door County, Wisconsin). Head to More Than Curds for details on all three beverages.
If beer is more your thing, check out Robin Shepard’s review of New Glarus Winter Warmer Scotch Ale. In addition to finding it around town in bottled 4-packs, look for it on tap: J just had a pint at Roast Public House last weekend. (It’s very light compared to the Scotch Ale to which you’re likely accustomed, so focus more on the Winter Warmer part of the name.) As Shepard writes,
The smooth caramel tones and mild spicy-alcoholic warmth give legitimacy to its winter warmer title. It’s not the boldest example of the style, but there’s enough seductive sweetness and strength to appeal to those who enjoy the smooth caramel flavors in a malt-focused beer.
Get the full scoop here.
Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz’s cover story in the November issue of Madison Magazine profiles the publication’s 2012 Person of the Year, the dairy farmer. She focuses on a few area farms in her piece, including Berry Ridge Farms in Waunakee, a family enterprise run by fifth-generation farmers Jeff Endres and his brothers, Steve and Randy.
Like most Wisconsin dairy farmers in the 1950s, Endres’s parents milked a barn full of about sixty cows. Endres, now forty-seven, joined them straight out of high school. When the brothers decided to band together to run the family farm they expanded steadily over the years, first to a hundred cows, then 220, and now 350. Another 350 or so young stock are housed in the old barn waiting their turn, and a sleek new free-stall barn and milking parlor with an upstairs office sit just up the driveway on the hill above it. Between the three men they’ve got nine kids; eight of them girls, all of them “very interested” in farming and two now old enough to study dairy science, one at UW–Madison and one at UW–Platteville. The brothers employ about four people on the farm, splitting the operation in three parts: Randy is in charge of the feeding, a process that takes four hours on a good day. Steve supervises the milking, now three times a day instead of two, just as in many modern dairies, since they built the parlor. Jeff is in charge of the crops.
As Ginsberg-Schutz continues,
The number of dairy farms in Wisconsin has shrunk dramatically in recent decades, from 30,000–40,000 statewide to fewer than 11,000 today. Many smaller farms have closed or consolidated into larger operations but, despite public perception, remain family owned and operated. In fact, almost ninety-nine percent of dairy farms in Dane County are family owned. Some of them have just gotten really, really big.
Luckily—or, more accurately, deliberately—Wisconsin’s agricultural infrastructure, a thick web of independent farmers, agribusiness, governmental agencies, cooperatives, producer groups and a land-grant university system with a farming mandate, is built to withstand change and support a steady evolution. And guys like Endres are at the forefront of innovative practices credited with cleaning up the county for everybody, including restoring Madison’s lakes—most of the time at great personal expense—all the while running complex, locally owned businesses in a multibillion-dollar industry that’s helping keep Wisconsin afloat through an ugly economic time.
It’s quite a nice (and lengthy) piece that touches on everything from the economic strain posed by the weather this past year to (as the quote above suggests) efforts by some farmers to be active stewards of our area waterways . Find the full article on newsstands now or online.
This weather earlier this year was tough on some Wisconsin crops. As Robin Shepard detailed in his Beer Here column last week for Isthmus (which I was delighted to stumble across since it alerted me to the availability of Serendipity, a new beer from New Glarus Brewing Company),
Rapid temperature swings and the prolonged drought made for tough growing conditions in Door County this past spring and summer, resulting in a poor cherry harvest around the region. This left New Glarus short of the locally grown Montmorency Cherries that are an essential part of its Wisconsin Belgian Red, a year-round release for the brewery and one of its most widely celebrated creations.
Given this shortage, brewmaster Dan Carey improvised by combining what cherries he could acquire with apples and cranberries to create a beer he calls Serendipity, a “Happy Accident Fruit Ale.”
But not only was this a bleak year for Door County cherries, it was also a poor year for Wisconsin apples, so Carey turned to Gala apples from Washington state for his new recipe. Meanwhile, the cranberries are a blend of Wisconsin-grown and western U.S. harvests.
So, how’s Serendipity taste? In a word, fantastic. Shepard gives it the highest rating (four bottle openers, out of four), and I agree. For Shepard’s spot-on tasting notes, check out his full review, and for more high praise, check out Andy’s take at BeerFM.
I picked up several bottles at Woodman’s where the beer is competitively priced (as usual) at $8.99 for a 750 mL bottle. I only wish it were sold in 12 oz. 4-packs like Wisconsin Cran-bic was and other specialty brews from New Glarus are. Oh well, I guess I can drink an entire big bottle by myself if I have to! That said, I do plan to take a bottle or two to Thanksgiving dinner to share; as Shepard suggests, “Serendipity is a beer you could put out on the Thanksgiving holiday table. It will make for a very inviting drink to toast making the most of a harvest and set up the big meal ahead.”
The last couple days brought big news for lovers of high-end, specialty Wisconsin cheese. Yesterday Jane Burns reported at 77 Square that Rush Creek Reserve from Uplands Cheese Company is hitting shelves early this year:
The soft, French-inspired cheese is made of raw milk from cows on the Uplands farm and aged for 60 days. It is made in small wheels that are surrounded in spruce bark, a wrapping that serves as a container once the cheese is opened from the top to then spread on bread or other things….
The cheese debuted to much fanfare in 2010, and has been featured in The New York Times, Bon Appetit and Culture, a national cheese magazine as well as being sold in the top cheese shops throughout the U.S….
The good news for fans of the cheese is that there will be more of it around; the bad news for Uplands is the jump on Rush Creek had everything to do with a potentially devastating drought.
Head here for the full story, and a brief video of cheesemaker Andy Hatch cutting into a wheel of Rush Creek Reserve.
In other news, Hook’s Cheese Company is releasing a 15-year cheddar again. As Nick Brown reports for MadTable, “The small company will be selling the $50-per-pound cheese at its Mineral Point factory on Friday, Nov. 2, and at the Dane County Farmers Market the following day.” For a list of Madison-area retailers that will be stocking the cheese, and news of an even-longer-aged Hook’s cheddar in the works, head to Brown’s post. Finally, for a preview of what you might experience if you splurge on a bit on this crystalline teenage cheddar, check out Kyle Nabilcy’s nice piece in Isthmus from 2009 when Hook’s first released a 15-year.
Last week André Darlington of Isthmus reviewed Paoli Cafe, the latest venture from the Ruegsegger family, proprietors of Ruegsegger Farms Natural Meats, Paoli Local Foods store, and more. As Darlington writes,
[A]t Paoli Cafe, Ken Ruegsegger grows your food (or gets it from friends), takes your order, helps prepare dishes, and then brings them out. It may be the only restaurant quite like it in the country. If it weren’t so honest and endearing, and the food so good, the premise could be a Portlandia sketch.
While Darlington doesn’t have much praise for the decor (“Don’t expect much when you walk in”) or presentation (“Food here sometimes lacks visual appeal”), most of the food gets high marks for flavor:
The trout and eggs, a delightful way to wake up, are straightforward. Both the eggs and the fish are of the highest quality, with flavors and texture at peak. Another star is the PLF’s Own Benedict: housemade bread, house-cured beef, fresh eggs and tomato hollandaise sauce. The wheaty bread is thick-cut and crispy, yet pliable; the big poached eggs have impossibly rich, golden yolks; the toothsome beef is an umami bomb; and the tomato hollandaise is simply extraordinary. More a golden tomato confit than a hollandaise, it is memorably succulent, as though it had bubbled on the back of a stove for hours.
In the end, Darlington suggests it’s a true locavore delight worth seeking out. I can’t wait to try it myself! In the meantime, head here for the full review.
J was craving some no-cooking-required meat over the weekend, so we stopped by Metcalfe’s at Hilldale while we were in the neighborhood. They were out of Willow Creek ham slices, but we discovered something we hadn’t tried before: summer sausage from Cates Family Farm. We’d purchased and enjoyed their ground beef and steaks before, but the summer sausage was a real treat to find. We’ve been eating it with Hook’s one-year cheddar and some nice crackers. Soooooo good!
As the Cates website describes,
Our farm, in the Cates Family for over 40 years, has produced beef on its pastures for over 100 years. Our Angus and Jersey steers are raised “free range” and without growth hormones or antibiotics. Steers are 100% grass-fed and grass-finished spring through autumn. Flavor and tenderness are enhanced through the “aging” process prior to packaging. Our beef has less excess fat than conventional feedlot-finished beef, and research is now showing that grass-fed beef and dairy products are significantly higher in naturally occurring compounds which help the body to prevent cancer and heart disease. Our beef is a delicious and healthy product. It is available as steaks, roasts, lean ground beef, summer sausage, beef sticks or jerky.
Proprietors Kim and Dick Cates were profiled by Fran O’Leary in a cover story earlier this year for Wisconsin Agriculturist. (You can find O’Leary’s reporting online in three separate PDFs.) O’Leary quotes Dick Cates describing managed grazing:
Although we don’t have natural fire anymore, by moving livestock to fresh pasture every day or so, we’re mimicking the natural grazing habits of the buffalo and elk that were here historically before the land was settled. We’ve replaced the wolves that were natural predators with the land managers, Kim and I, and we replaced wildfire with a mowing machine so we keep woody brush from growing up.
Check out the links above for more info. Also, although the video quality is low, it’s worth checking out the YouTube video below to see some photos of the farm and hear Kim and Dick talk about their farming practices and philosophy. Lastly, to get yourself some Cates Family Farm products, stop by Metcalfe’s or the Willy Street Co-op, or visit the Cates Family Farm website to place an order.