Flight Crew Samples Experimental Home Brews, Tours Hop Farm

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By Jim Cyphert, Mahoning Valley Flight Crew

Whenever the Mahoning Valley Flight Crew gets a chance to mingle with folks whose mission is to encourage continued growth of the craft beer industry in Ohio, we hop on it.

A unique opportunity surfaced recently when we were invited to sample some home brews with Ohio-grown experimental hops, and take a tour of Barn Talk Hops, a hop farm in Wadsworth.

Bob Bero, owner of B-Hoppy, the original hop candy, reached out to the Flight Crew. He wanted us to sample his home brews containing experimental hops he’d been growing. That would have been a special day in and of itself.

But, when Bob said we’d be sampling at Barn Talk Hops and that we’d get a tour, the experience went to another level. While the Flight Crew has sampled more than 1,200 craft beers over the years, none of us had ever been lucky enough to visit a hop farm.

Then, when we learned we’d also be rubbing elbows with some well-respected Ohio craft brewers, the day couldn’t come soon enough. Interestingly enough, it just so happened that none of us had been to any of the breweries represented, so we were anxious to meet the brewers.

Here’s the line-up we fortunate enough to be a part of:

Bob Bero, owner of B-Hoppy and home brewer

Lee Gidley, head brewer of Hoppin’ Frog Brewery in Akron

Ernie Joy, owner of Wadsworth Brewing Co., who has purchased some hop pellets from Barn Talk Hops

Mike and Jenny Napier, owners of Barn Talk Hops

Aaron Wirtz, brew master of the Jolly Scholar Brewing Co. on the campus of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland

Jim Cyphert, Roger Gillespie, Jason Jugenheimer and Joe Sanfilippo represented the Flight Crew.

The Flight Crew’s mission is to find and share delicious craft beers for our followers. But, we’re certainly open to learning more about the products and processes behind the tasty brews. Our visit to Barn Talk Hops was certainly an education about the challenges of growing hops in Ohio.

Ohio is not yet known as a center of hop production in the United States. But places like Barn Talk Hops are working to change that.

Bob explained that anybody can grow hops, but not just anyone can grow hops the right way. It takes the right combination of soil, fertilizer, climate and care. It’s a matter of experimentation. Plant health is the biggest factor. It can take more than 10 years to perfect a new hop variety.

The Napiers have been working hard to develop the right combination of these elements. Bob has been doing his fair share of experimentation as well.

Barn Talk Hops offers nearly 30 varieties of hop plants for purchase by other hop farms as well as hop growing and hop processing services for Ohio breweries.

Barn Talk Hops products have been featured in beers from Ohio breweries including Birdfish Brewing Co. in Columbiana, The Butcher and the Brewer in Cleveland, Canton Brewing Co. in Canton, Market Garden Brewing in Cleveland and Wadsworth Brewing Co., Wadsworth.

Mike and Jenny are looking to expand. The hop farm will be utilizing three acres of hops in 2017, compared to one acre in its first few years of operation.

Bob, Mike and Jenny are all part of the Ohio Hop Growers Guild, an organization dedicated to strengthening the hop growing industry here in Ohio. The goal is to put Ohio on the map as being an excellent hop growing state.

Ohio hop growers want to become a reliable source of hops for Ohio craft brewers, an important part of the buy local theme.

Another objective is to create a variety of hops that’s native to Ohio. It can’t just be any variety — it’s got to provide a unique, quality taste to a beer. Bob, Mike and Jenny are all doing their part to make this reality.

While we all enjoyed the educational portion of our tour, the Flight Crew was more than ready to taste some beers brewed with Bob’s Ohio-grown experimental hops. Each beer had a growing intensity of hop aroma and flavor.

We can’t disclose the secret ingredients in Bob’s beers, but we can tell you that Bob’s hops released unique floral, citrus and pine notes that made for outstanding beer experiences. When asked if we would want to purchase more beer with these characteristics, the answer was, “absolutely.”

Based on the four beers we sampled brewed from Bob’s experimental hops, The Flight Crew definitely thinks developing a native Ohio hop is a mission possible. Whether that happens tomorrow or in 10 years remains to be seen.

In the meantime, continued support is needed for the Ohio hop-growing endeavor, including research and testing. From the university level to individual investors, Ohio’s hop industry is in need of an infusion of support and capital.

If you or someone you know can help, contact the Ohio Hop Growers Guild, Mike and Jenny at Barn Talk Hops or Bob at B-Hoppy.

And, next time you’re at an Ohio craft brewery, ask the brew master if there is Ohio-grown hops in your beer. If not, ask why. If nothing else, you’ll learn something new and perhaps plant a new Ohio-grown hop seed.

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