Homegrown hops make historyFrog P will be on tap later this month
The pleasant but pungent smells of hops filled Frog Level Brewing Company on Jan. 29, as a historic moment was literally brewing.
For the first time ever, a commercial brewery is using hops grown in Haywood County to produce a one-of-a-kind beer. While craft brewing is an exploding industry in western North Carolina, local brewers typically have to get their hops from other regions due to the difficulty of growing vast amounts here in North Carolina.
It has taken several years for Heidi Dunkelberg, co-owner of Coffee Cup Café in Clyde, to grow enough hops to partner with Frog Level brewers Clark Williams and Taylor Rogers for this new brew.
On Jan. 29, Dunkelberg delivered between 4 to 5 pounds of Chinook, Cascade, Crystal and Nugget hops to Frog Level that she grew on H&K Farm Hop Yard in the Beaverdam community. Her hops will produce about 30 kegs or 150 gallons of beer, which will hopefully be on tap toward the end of the month.
After seeing the variety and amount of hops she had, Williams said he and Rogers decided to make an American Pale Ale brew, which has been aptly named “Frog P.” But don’t let the name scare you — the fragrant hops set the stage for a delicious pint.
“These hops are not the same as hops grown out West or anywhere else in the world because we have a different climate and soil than anywhere else,” Dunkelberg said.
Just like grapes picked for wine, the taste will differ depending on the amount of precipitation that season, the elevation and the time they were picked from the vine. When asked how she knew when it was time to pick the hops, Dunkelberg said she just made her best judgment call based on her experience checking on them each day and smelling the buds.
But these aren’t just local hops — these are high-quality, local hops, and Dunkelberg has an official report that says so. Appalachian State University has an enology lab that tests alpha and beta acid content, moisture content and dry matter in hops. She was given high marks in each category for the hops she sent to be tested from her farm.
“In other words, she was doing it right,” Williams joked. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t be using them.”
Hops quality is crucial
Buying the best-quality hops is crucial to making a good beer. The hops determine the bitterness, the flavor and the aroma of the beer.
“Certain styles of beers use a different variety of hops,” Dunkelberg said. “If we had more, we could probably do an IPA (India Pale Ale) but this was everything we had this year.”
Growing hops is labor-intensive work, and Dunkelberg is excited to finally see some big results from her six-year effort. Until this point, she has only used her hops for small batches of her home brew. One pound of wet hops only equals three to four ounces once they are dried out, which puts into perspective how many hops Dunkelberg had to pick for this collaborative project with Frog Level Brewing.
“This is my sixth year growing hops, but it takes three years before they are putting out a full yield,” she said. “It’s hard work but at least I’m outside getting some exercise.”
Even though it is time-consuming and a lot of work for a small harvest, Dunkelberg is continuing to expand her hops production while also encouraging others to get into production in Haywood County. She currently has 20 16-foot panels that her hops grow on, but she plans to expand that to 35 panels in the next few years.
The hops have to be picked off the panels when they are ready and dried. Dunkelberg said she was using her attic to dry the hopes, but it took three days for them to dry. She recently constructed a hop-drying shed where hops can dry in 20 hours.
Williams said the batch would be tasted after a week to see how the beer is progressing. The amount of bitterness produced will determine how much hops have to be added toward the end of the process for more flavor and aroma.
Williams said Frog Level would have a big release party when Frog P is ready to drink.
Dunkelberg also is excited about using the brew in some of her recipes at Coffee Cup Café. Since the restaurant is keen on using locally-grown products, she plans to brine a brisket from Sunburst Beef in the new beer for a tasty brisket sandwich.