North Carolina Goes Hoppy

NCSU will research growing hops in the state

North Carolina State University researchers in Raleigh and a handful of farmers in the mountains are growing experimental plots of hops this season.

NCSU got a $28,000, one-year grant this year from the Golden LEAF Foundation to investigate the commercial viability of growing hops in the state. In March, a couple of volunteers from a soon-to-open Durham brewery called Fullsteam came to help researchers plant a small plot of about 200 plants at a university field laboratory near Lake Wheeler south of Raleigh.

The goals are to test the plants’ ability to grow in North Carolina and to monitor potential diseases, particularly mold, which drove hops production out of the eastern United States and Midwest in the 1920s.

It’s not a first for the state. A couple of years ago farmers in the western part of the state decided to plant hops. They were spurred by a spike in hops prices and the rise of craft-brewing in North Carolina. This year, some hope to reap their first significant harvest.

If the farmers can figure out how to grow good hops in quantity, he said there is a ready market, given the dozens of brewing operations that have sprung up in recent years, including nearly 150 within 200 miles of his farm.

As part of their grant work, NCSU scientists plan to perform chemical analysis of the North Carolina-grown hops which could show unique regional characteristics, something that could add distinction to beers made with them.