Fiddlehead Creek Farm of Argyle, Supplies Lake George Brewery with Hops
One night in mid- August, Chris and Emily DeBolt delivered 115 pounds of hops from their Fiddlehead Creek Farm in Argyle to the Adirondack Brewery in Lake George.
“We started brewing at 8 am. At 10 am, we threw in the wet hops. We were on our way to making our first batch of Fiddlehead Creek Farm Pale Ale, the first commercially brewed beer made with locally grown hops in decades, if not a century,” said John Carr, the owner of Adirondack Brewery.
By September, the small batch was exhausted – consumed by craft beer afficianados who loved not only the taste of the beer but its local origins, Carr said.
“It truly had a local flavor,” said Carr. “We crafted it to highlight the hops. And we wanted to introduce our customers to what a beer made with fresh hops tastes like. My hope is that one day, beers brewed with New York hops will be a brand that’s recognized across the country and throughout the world.”
Carr, as well as the DeBolts, are playing roles in a movement to strengthen locally-based economies that’s received support, directly and indirectly, from New York State.
State legislators and officials have acknowledged that local breweries like Carr’s draw tourists an create jobs – not only for breweries but for the manufacturers who make and print packaging and small farm owners like the DeBolts.
“There’s support from the top down,” said Carr. “Everyone sees that a brewery can have a positive effect on an entire area an area.”
This past summer, Governor Andrew Cuomo approved an agreement to exempt breweries producing small batches of beer from paying annual fees to register every brand.
“The appeal of craft beers lies in part with the variety of beers available,” said Carr. “Registering fifty brands, at a cost of $150 per brand, is unsustainable. We would have had to limit productions to twelve brands.”
The agreement with the State Senate and Assembly also makes any New York brewery that produces 60 million gallons of beer or less eligible for a refundable tax credit against state personal income and business taxes.
Another provision of the agreement will create a “Farm Brewery” license and extend benefits currently limited to wineries to breweries.
Among other things, Carr hopes that opening the doors to farm breweries will encourage more farmers to grow hops and even barley.
“Emily DeBolt, the Lake George Association’s director of education, asked me if I would be interested in buying hops if Fiddlehead Creek Farm grew them. I said I’d take everything they could produce,” said Carr.
Both Emily and her husband, Chris DeBolt, are Cornell graduates who created a nursery specializing in native New York plants at their farm in Argyle.
Their interest in hops as a commercial crop is long-standing, said Emily DeBolt.
“We’re home brewers, and Chris became interested in hops as a research topic when he was in graduate school at SUNY ESF in Syracuse. We did more research, and joined the Northeast Hops Alliance. New York State was once the nation’s primary producers of hops, and the alliance is interested in bringing commercial hop production back to the region,” said DeBolt.
It took three years to create a crop that was large enough to produce a commercial crop, DeBolt said.
“We planted our first of the hops in 2009 in our field to test out a few varieties including Cascade, Willamette, Brewers Gold, and Golding. Because hops are perennials, it takes a few years to produce a sizable crop,” said DeBolt.
The harvesting was done by hand, completed in one day with the help of family and friends, said DeBolt.
Fiddlehead Creek Farm will produce another crop next year, said DeBolt, and Adirondack Brewery will produce another batch of locally-sourced beer.
“I’m paying six times what it would cost me to buy hops from Washington State, but it’s worth it, not only because the hops are fresh, but because I want to get the word out to other farmers that if they grow, we’ll buy,” said Carr.