The drive from Oldtown to Frederick to participate in the first Maryland hop selection was worth the trip for Junior Carbajal and Dylan Krzywonski, hop growers at Organarchy Hops farm in Allegany County.
The young farmers’ hops — Cascade, Chinook, Centennial and Magnum variety — were selected from eight farmers who submitted their hops for Flying Dog Brewery’s recent Maryland blind hop selection. Black Locust Hops’ Cascade variety also was selected. The winning hops will be used to produce the company’s Secret Stash Harvest Ale.
Local growers were invited to have their hops anonymously labeled for evaluation by brewmaster judges who also offered helpful feedback to the farmers.
The first-time event was an attempt to replicate hop selection in Washington State’s Yakima Valley, where the majority of user-grown hops originate, while supporting Maryland and Virginia hop growers, said Erin Weston, Flying Dog’s public relations manager.
“The reason we chose these hops is a combination of aroma and how the hops are processed,” Weston said. “Once hops are picked from the bine, they go through a delicate drying process, so we’re looking for hops with low moisture content, but are not overly dry.”
Growing hops is labor-intensive, and there’s not a lot of resources on the East Coast for hop growers, Krzywonski said.
“So there’s a lot of trial and error, but by far, it’s the most fulfilling job on the farm,” Krzywonski said. “Just being able to see something from start to finish and see the culmination of your hard work ends up in a glass that brings joy to so many people makes it worthwhile.”
Hops is an agriculture product, and Flying Dog is looking for the best quality hops, Brewmaster Matt Brophy said. Most of the company’s hops are from Washington state. Flying Dog used 200 to 300 pounds of Maryland hops this year to produce 150 barrels, or about 2,000 cases of beer. The company pays $7 to $12 a pound for hops. From grain to glass takes about three weeks.
Flying Dog Brewery supports and uses Maryland agricultural products in many beer concoctions, and the event was an effort to promote the Free State’s hops and growers, Brophy said.
“I’m noticing a lot of hop growers in Virginia and Maryland,” Brophy said. “We’re looking for best quality, and we want to support Maryland growers, but we don’t want to create the impression we’ll buy just any hops.”
The event was also about inviting conversation between brewers and hop growers, the brewmaster said.
With more than 2,500 craft beer companies in the country, the industry continues to grow, Brophy said.
“It’s an explosive time in the craft beer industry,” Brophy said.
Five years ago, Flying Dog had 26 employees. Today, that number is 82.
“Frederick turned out to be a great place to call home,” CEO Jim Caruso said. The plan is to expand the hop selection event to include other brewers and hop growers.
“They can use our space as the hop trading floor, similar to the Chicago Board of Trade,” Brophy said.