ITHACA, N.Y. -- For perhaps the first time in more half a century, a brewer has made a beer from hops grown entirely in New York state. The new venture has been achieved with help from Cornell University agricultural researchers working with the Northeast Hops Alliance.
Hops, once a leading specialty crop in New York state, suffered from plant disease and insect pests. Prohibition in the 1930s also helped spell the crop's demise, and 50 years ago, production ceased. Now Cornell researchers are helping growers and brewers bring hops back to the state.
"New vigorous hop varieties, pest control strategies and production technologies, along with the growth of specialty beers, may yet permit a small return of commercial hop production in New York and elsewhere in the region," says Duncan Hilchey, Cornell senior extension associate in Cornell's Community, Food and Agriculture Program in the Department of Development Sociology. He helped to develop the Northeast Hops Alliance, a group of farmers and brewers trying to build a hop resurgence in the state. Hilchey estimates that the last beer made entirely from New York-grown hops was brewed in the 1950s.
Two years ago, Hilchey worked with the Northeast Hop Alliance to conduct a market survey of microbreweries, brewpubs and regional breweries to learn about potential sales of regionally grown hops in the Northeast. Over two-thirds of the brewers surveyed were interested in buying regional hops and over one-fourth said that that brand loyalty would be increased.
At the same time, Rick Pedersen, of Pederson Farms in Seneca Castle, N.Y., was growing test plots of hops with a $7,350 grant from the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets. Last fall, he sold his first crop of Cascade, Mount Hood and Willamette hop varieties to Ithaca Beer Co.
The Ithaca brewery used 7.5 pounds of the New York state hops per barrel in its new ale, compared with 1 pound of New York hops per barrel for its regular pale ale, and a half pound per barrel for nut brown ale. Growers hope that the resulting taste will bring a consumer demand for more New York grown hops.
Dan Mitchell, the owner of Ithaca Beer Co., and 1992 Cornell graduate Jeff Conuel, Ithaca Beer's head brewer, estimate that the new Double India Pale Ale will provide a pleasant hop taste. It could measure 100 bitterness units, or BUs. Best-selling, major commercial beers are estimated to be 12 BUs. Ithaca Beer's own regular pale ale is 40 BUs, which gives it a robust flavor.
The sugar measurement of the liquid brew, called wort before it ferments into beer, was 18.4 degrees Plato, a number that brewers call the "original gravity." At 18.4 degrees Plato, the sugar is very high. After fermentation, the last sugar measurement, or "final gravity," became 1.9 degrees Plato. This means that the yeast ate most of the sugar during fermentation and turned the wort into a strong tasting beer. The Double India Pale Ale is about 10 percent alcohol, which is very high for beer. It was brewed Nov. 13, 2003, fermented for two weeks, conditioned and stored for two months at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The brewers estimated that they will make about 45 barrels.