FAYETTEVILLE – With growth in the locally grown and craft beer trends in Arkansas, the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture is working at the intersection of the two – searching for a hop variety suited for the state’s warm climate and beer tasters’ palates.
Hops are flowers of the Humulus Iupulus plant used to add flavor and aroma to beer. Arkansas is not the ideal climate for hops plants, which typically fare better farther north. However, with 200 different varieties of hops, horticulture specialists for the Division of Agriculture hope to find the ones that suit the southern climate, according to a news release.
“We want to evaluate different varieties of hops for their suitability to find the varieties that will be useful for Arkansas producers to use,” said Amanda McWhirt, extension horticulture specialist for Division of Agriculture.
Each variety of hops offers different characteristics of aroma and flavor and can vary from citrusy to bitter. The challenge for Division of Agriculture researchers becomes finding a variety that can withstand Arkansas climate but also one that has attributes attractive to brewers and consumers.
“We’re looking at how much the plant will produce, the disease resistance and insect resistance,” McWhirt said. “We also have to evaluate the hops for aroma and other characteristics that will be important to brewers.”
The project will evaluate six different varieties at the research station in Clarksville as well as on farms of Arkansas hops producers. One is Ronnie Ledford with Double L Plantation in Logan County.
Ledford has been growing hops since 2011. It took him seven years to produce a sellable product, but he hasn’t let that break his spirit.
“Growing hops is not for the faint of heart,” Ledford said. “Mother Nature did everything she could to stop me, but I firmly believe we can grow hops in Arkansas.”
Since beginning, Ledford has worked closely with Logan County Extension Staff Chair Bob Harper. It was through Harper that Ledford heard about the project.
“Bob Harper has been very helpful,” Ledford said. “There is a very steep learning curve when growing hops, and we’ve been learning together. He heard that extension was applying for a grant, and he put us together.”
Ledford is very passionate about locally crafted beer as well as his hops farm, and his excitement for this project is through the roof.
“I was confident and now I believe that I’m going to have validation that this can be profitable, and I’m excited,” he said. “People here are very proud to be in Arkansas, and if you could have a beer that was truly an Arkansas beer, people would buy it.”
After the wrap up of the yearlong project, the data will be presented to Arkansas brewers, as well as a field day to get Arkansas beer brewers and Arkansas hops producers connected.
“The goal is to take the information we gather and have a big meeting with existing hops growers and include breweries to advertise the fact that they could brew a true Arkansas based beer,” McWhirt said. “We’re planning to have a workshop field day to invite breweries of Arkansas to show how hops will be grown here and explain the different opportunities. We want to bridge the gap between brewers and hops producers.”
“We are hoping that once we see success, we will get further funding down the road,” McWhirt said. “This is an opportunity to create a very unique, local product.”
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without discrimination.
— Sarah Cato is with the U of A System Division of Agriculture.