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Indiana ag diversifies beyond hogs, cattle

Hannah Tucker, Purdue University ag communication hops growing at Crazy Horse farm
NEW CROP: Crazy Horse Hops farm near Knightstown, Ind., is growing hops for use in microbreweries sprouting up across the state.
Growing specialty crops for microbreweries is a niche, value-added enterprise.

By Charlaine Barth

There has been significant growth of breweries in Indiana. According to the Brewers Association, there were 127 breweries in Indiana in 2016, compared to 46 in 2011. Most are microbreweries.

Many consumers are focusing more on locally sourced, grown and processed food products. They are cognizant of what they put on their plate and what they drink.

Brewers are answering their demands and creating different beers, grown domestically and with interesting flavors that haven’t always been available to explore. This requires a hefty understanding of the brewing process and what components can be manipulated, insiders say.

A Hoosier’s perspective
Crazy Horse Hops established its business to become Indiana’s largest producer, processor and broker of hops. Its hops, along with those from many other growers, funnel into the growing craft and microbrewery industry in the U.S.

“The beer market definitely leans toward specialty beers, which opens the door for new varieties of hops,” says Ryan Hammer, chief executive officer of Crazy Horse Hops. “We were fortunate to enter the hop market when we did.”

The U.S. has seen significant growth in the industry, as well. In 1980, there were only 92 breweries in the U.S., and that number shot up to more than 4,500 in 2015.

The brewing process starts with four main ingredients, experts say: water, grain, yeast and hops.

Brewing starts by mashing grain and water together. The mixture is then boiled and hops are added. The mixture is cooled; yeast is added and left to ferment. A filtering process finishes out the brew, and the beer is barreled and bottled. The variety and quantity of the four core ingredients allow for all kinds of experimentation.

Where crops fit
Hops, for example, play a varying amount of significance in each type of beer on the market today. According to USA Hops, beers like India pale ale, barley wine and even porter have a fairly high amount of hops per pound of beer.

This opens many doors for hops growers like Crazy Horse Hops to find brewers that are already in the microbrewing business, Hammer says.

Likewise, other crops can contribute to the flavor of beer. MJW Grain Inc. in Ritzville, Wash., has expanded its fifth-generation wheat operation to additionally grow triticale and rye.

Triticale is a hybrid of rye and durum wheat, low in gluten and high in lysine. When used as a malt, triticale can add fruity, caramel, toffee or even coffee flavors to beer.

“We diversified our farm to combat low wheat prices and to get into the unique brewing industry here in the Pacific Northwest,” says Maya Wahl, president and CEO of MJW Grain Inc. “We were lucky enough to find a niche market and have made lasting relationships with microbreweries in Washington, Idaho and Oregon.”

Whether you’re a grower looking for a way to diversify, a brewer ready to experiment or someone who enjoys the product, there are many things to appreciate in the microbrewing industry, observers note.

Learn more about Crazy Horse Hops at crazyhorsehops.com/#welcome. Find out more about MJW Grain Inc. at mjwgraininc.com.  

Barth is a senior in ag communication at Purdue University.

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