There is something brewing in San Diego’s agriculture. Hop farms are growing almost as quickly as the plants that can sometimes drop six to 10 inches per night.
According to the San Diego Farm Bureau, there are now 15 hop growers in the county compared to zero almost a decade ago.
“It’s something we’re trying to see if it’ll work because the beer industry is so huge in San Diego,” Gary Johndro, who owns San Diego Golden Hop Farm, told NBC 7 San Diego.
San Diego’s craft beer industry has exploded over the past decade.
According to the San Diego Brewers Guild, there are 128 breweries in San Diego County at the moment, with a couple dozen more on the way. In 2015, the craft brewing industry generated about $850 million in San Diego and employed more than 4,500 people.
It’s obvious why local growers are trying to get in on the success of San Diego suds.
Johndro has about 1,400 hop plants right now, and says he expects to sell the entire hop haul over the next couple of weeks.
Right now is hop harvest season, one of the best times of the year for local brewers.
“This is my favorite time of the year to be brewing,” explained Tom Nickel, owner of Nickel Beer Co. in Julian. “All of the fresh hops are coming in and we finally have a hop industry in San Diego where you can get freshly grown hops pretty much the same day they’re harvested and brew with them right away.”
Brewing with whole, fresh, hop flowers is a process known as “wet hop.” This type of beer has grown in popularity over the past decade, but it’s not cheap to produce.
A batch of wet hop beer will use several times as many hops as a typical brew, all for a flower that will only soak in the beer for about 90 minutes of the nearly two-week-long brewing process. Still, brewers like Nickel say it’s worth every dollar, and every minute.
“To me, fresh beer is going to be the best tasting beer you can get,” he said, “I’m not looking to save money, just looking to make great beer with local ingredients.”
And that works out well for growers like Johndro, and Eric March, who started growing hops nine years ago at Star B Ranch and Hop Farm.
March says people laughed at him when he started.
“A lot of people didn’t think it was possible,” March told NBC 7.
Hops thrive in the much wetter, longer summer days of the Pacific Northwest, but growers like Johndro and March have found certain varieties of the plant do very well in Southern California and they have the customers to back that up.
“I have pretty much as many people coming to me to ask about growing hops or start growing hops as I do brewers coming to me that want to use my hops,” March said.
Nickel said San Diego hops have their own unique characteristics, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re delivered in person, without having to pay for shipping from another state.
The trickle down does not end there.
After they’ve been used for brewing, Nickel’s brewery sells its used hops to local ranches as feed for livestock.
Scot Blair, of Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery, said it’s exactly what he likes to see for region.
“The whole footprint of this process of fresh hop beer is very sustainable,” Blair said.
Monkey Paw is another local brewery that produces wet hop beer. In fact, the business just tapped a keg this week of its newest wet hop creation.
In other words, you can expect the relationship between San Diego’s growers and brewers to keep flourishing. For Johndro and other small business owners who are in the mix, that’s certainly worth a toast.
“It’s just exciting to be a part of it,” he added.