Farm to foamDuluth isn’t just brewing the most beer per capita of anywhere in the free world, but it’s striving to do it in an environmentally friendly way, using locally grown, organic farm produce and crystal-clear Lake Superior water.
By: John Myers, Forum News Service
BRULE, Minn. — Just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be any more to say about Duluth’s new title as the state capital of micro-brewing, craft beer and brew pubs, along comes this story about hops.
Duluth isn’t just brewing the most beer per capita of anywhere in the free world, but it’s striving to do it in an environmentally friendly way, using locally grown, organic farm produce and crystal-clear Lake Superior water.
Even the spent mash that’s left after the brewing process — soggy barley and other grains — is going to feed cows on a sustainable beef farm in Cromwell or used as compost for the hops. And then manure from those cows is going back to the hops farm to be used as fertilizer.
Talk about closing the reduce, reuse and recycle circle. The craft beer groupies even have a name for it: farm to foam.
Local farmers are reaping some rewards from the suds consumed along Duluth’s quaint waterfront streets and avenues.
On a recent Thursday morning, Badger Colish, the head brewmeister at Canal Park Brewing, was out harvesting hops from vines grown at the Brule River Hilltop Hops farm along U.S. Highway 2. Colish and brewery coworkers, along with farmer Paul Riordan, harvested nearly 200 pounds of fresh hops from trellises on the farm.
Riordan and helpers cut the hops vines off vertical ropes, loaded them in a truck and took them back to his yard, where a small army of helpers and family and friends pulled off the hops flowers, weighing and packing them for the 40-mile trip to Duluth.
It was Riordan’s first harvest as a hops farmer. A former fisheries technician for the state, Riordan quit his day job and turned a hobby of brewing beer into a lifestyle of raising hops.
“I couldn’t sleep; I was up at 3:30,” Riordan says. In addition to Canal Park Brewing, Riordan is selling fresh-picked hops to local Fitger’s, Castle Danger and Thirsty Pagan breweries. “This is a dream come true. You can visualize it, but until you start bringing it in … now it’s real.”
Farmer and brewer met last winter when Riordan called Colish to tell him about his plan to grow hops for local breweries. Riordan placed about 700 hops plants across an acre of land. He hopes gradually to expand that and someday add mechanical picking and drying capabilities to provide hops that can be stored and used all year by local brewers.
The fresh “wet” hops — these are Cascade variety — have to be brewed within days, if not hours, to make the perfect beer.
That wasn’t going to be a problem on a recent Thursday.
“This is going to be a joyous brew,” Colish says. “This is going back to the history of brewing when they stopped their usual work on the farm, brought in the hops and said, ‘Let’s make beer.’ For hundreds of years, this is how it was done, and we’re going back to that.”
Later that day, Colish was back in the stainless steel “laboratory” at Canal Park Brewing making what is simply called Wet Hops Harvest Ale, 2013. The beer will reach maturity and be on tap in about two weeks. The 200 pounds of Hilltop Hops — mixed with yeast and water and malted barley — will produce about 35 kegs of ale, with 16 gallons to a keg.
For most beers made, even local ones, brewers must use dried, pelletized hops from the Pacific Northwest. It’s good stuff and keeps well. But it’s not fresh. And it’s not local.
“Part of what we are is sustainability. We’re trying to do as much locally as we can,” Colish says, holding some hops flowers up to his nose. “And we’re going to get such great flavors and aromas from this. It’s going to be unique to this plot of land and these plants.”
Colish hopes that, as local brewers’ relationships with local producers grow, beef from the cattle that eat the spent brewing grains might someday end up on a plate (cooked medium rare, of course) at Canal Park Brewing, right next to a pint of local ale.
The local effort keeps more money in the local economy, requires less transportation and fuel, creates less carbon and other pollution and ensures the crops and livestock are sustainably grown, which is better for the land. There’s a clear connection between producer and consumer. Just like the old days, Colish notes, when people’s beer and food came from their hometown.
“A burger and a beer, all tied together,” Colish says. “That will be great.”