Friday, September 14, 2018
We paid a visit to the Mighty Axe Hops Farm near Foley, Minnesota, and were treated to a very informative tour. It’s harvest season, a good time to learn about the process. At 83 acres, Mighty Axe is the largest hops farm between Michigan and Idaho.
Eric Sannerud and Ben Boo have been operating the farm here for three seasons, and are harvesting nine different varieties this year, including Zeus, Crystal, and Cascade, among others. They plan to add a tenth next year. In addition to these, Mighty Axe is growing some trial hybrids for the University of Minnesota. The harvested trial hops will be given to some brewers to test their quality and flavor. Successful hops varieties will be available for sale in the future.
The hops bine (no, it’s not a vine, it but does climb) is a perennial that grows from a rhizome. New shoots are sent up in the spring, and they die back in the fall. Female plants produce the hop flowers that are used in brewing beer. The flavor comes from the lupulin, the yellow center of the flower.
Rather than tendrils that grasp and wind like a vine, a bine grows by sending shoots that grow in a helix, wrapping clockwise around a pole, rope or anything that’s handy. Since it can grow as much as 8 – 20 inches a week before reaching full height (7 – 20 feet or more,) Mighty Axe strings ropes from tall trellises to support their bines.
When ready to harvest, the bines are cut down and processed by machine to remove the hops flowers.
The leaves are blown out of the facility, and are left to compost for a few years. Eric and Ben do not use them as fertilizer on their fields since the leaves can harbor insects that might harm future crops.
The hops flowers are dried in heated bins, then baled and frozen.
After freezing, the hops are pelletized for sale to brewers, where they are magically transformed to that prized beverage: beer!
The next time you are drinking an ice cold one, give a toast to Eric and Ben, as well as to all farmers, for as one near Rochester, Minnesota put it so succinctly: