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Getting Alberta hops off the vines and into pints

It has not been an easy summer for Alberta farmers. The record rain has impacted most crops, including one not commonly seen. As Sarah Komadina reports, it's already a challenging market for hops producers.

The hops crop at Northernhawk Hops Garden is ready for harvest as the company focuses on growing its production despite a challenging year.

Part-owner Franc Parker said they started growing hops about three years ago, around the length of time it takes for the plant to mature enough to be ready to make beer.

Parker said he only has one acre of crops right now and production suffered this year because of a cool wet summer, paired with hail.

“I was surprised we were able to get as much hops as we did out of this. I didn’t think they were going to cone at all,” Parker said.

“They’re nowhere near as big or tall as they should be or not as full as they should be.”

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Currently Parker mostly sells to small home brewers, as the Alberta market for craft breweries is hard to crack.

“The market is there, but (we) don’t have the larger volumes that they have in B.C. or down in the (United) States, because their weather is so much more optimal,” Parker said.

“The Pacific Northwest, as well as Europe have a longer history in growing hops, consistency in crops and also packaging methods,” Edmonton’s Blind Enthusiasm Brewing Company Owner Greg Zeschuk said.

READ MORE: Alberta Open Farm Days to feature its own craft beer this year

A big part of the reason is packaging. None of the Alberta producers have a pelletizer, which makes it easier for brewers when they are making beer.

“Pelletizing is so much easier for brewers for storage handling, so it makes it easier for them and so it’s totally understandable about why they want to go that way,” Parker said.

Parker plans to buy the equipment sometime next year to expand his market. He hopes it will help create more of a demand for local hops. Although he currently only has one acre planted, he has room to grow up to 15 acres.

“I think if we had the high quality hops packaged the way we could readily use them local, we would absolutely. I think our preference whenever possible is to use local ingredients,” Zeschuk said.

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READ MORE: Alberta’s craft beer market growing despite trade challenges

Zeschuk said local craft breweries are able to use Alberta malt barley frequently, and hopes hops can soon be just as easy to access.

“It’s actually doable, just needs a little bit of time a bit of money and education. Next (thing) you know we can be using exclusively Alberta hops.”

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