Brewer grows hops unique to New Mexico

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Matt Oler and Rich Headley knew of no other New Mexico hops grower when they decided to grow the crop at Crossed Sabers Ranch on the Turquoise Trail in 2012.

Why should there be any this far south? Hops ideally grow near the 45th latitude north with the long days of summer: Washington grows 70 percent of the nation’s hops, with Oregon and Idaho next in line and Michigan and New York trailing further behind.

Put another way, Germany is at 48 degrees north.

Santa Fe is at 35 degrees north.

Undeterred, Oler and Headley ordered hops plants from Michigan and were told another New Mexico hops farmer had also bought plants.

Soon, they discovered more people were growing hops, and eventually, they established the New Mexico Hops Growers Association with Tom Brewer, founder of Red Hat Hops Farm in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, as assistant administrator and primary promoter.

The group’s catchy tagline is “Farm to Tap.”

Hops — which help give beer its flavor and aroma — thrive 700 miles farther north, but Headley told The Santa Fe New Mexican that the high elevation of northern New Mexico and intense sunshine are beneficial to hops, though the growing season is shorter.

But the Crossed Sabers hops had developed unique characteristics. Instead of the typical three or four hop cones (flowers) per cluster, theirs can produce as many as 10 or 15 cones.

“It’s a very hearty plant and it’s evolving,” Headley said.

Beers made with New Mexico hops were showcased Oct. 19 at the hops association’s Hoptober 19th event at Beer Creek Brewery, featuring beers from 10 craft breweries using hops from all seven farms. Santa Fe breweries Tumbleroot, Second Street and Rowley Farmhouse Ales took part, as did Red Door Brewing in Albuquerque.

Beer Creek Brewing, where Headley and Oler are owners, brewed its beer at Tumbleroot and Red Door the first year the restaurant was open, while still building its own brewery. It opened Sept. 26 at the restaurant.

“For me, it is helping the local guy and getting it fresh coming from down the street. We’d love to get as local as possible with ingredients,” Red Door head brewer Matt Meyer said.

The seven hops farms this year grew a combined 500 to 600 pounds of hops used on a limited basis by 13 New Mexico breweries. Crossed Sabers harvested 65 pounds of hops, which could supply about 150 to 170 barrels of beer, Headley said.

He said he believes as many as 20 breweries might use New Mexico hops next year, and Oler believes Crossed Sabers could produce 300 pounds of dry hops next year.

Headley stressed New Mexico hops is a boutique industry and likely will remain so. The farmers here can supply unprocessed wet or dry hops plucked with three harvesters among the seven farmers. He doesn’t anticipate the local industry moving beyond simple harvesters.

Headley does want New Mexico breweries to be his hops customers, but he thinks long-term the hops grown about 16 miles south of Interstate 25 will fuel the beer production at the second Beer Creek Brewing brewery envisioned for Santa Fe in the next few years.

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Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.santafenewmexican.com

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