TRAVERSE CITY — Brian and Amy Tennis own and operate New Mission Organics and are the founders of the Michigan Hop Alliance. When they planted hops on their organic farm in Omena seven years ago, they were one of the first commercial growers in the state and remain the only certified organic hop grower in the state, although a couple more are close to certification. They have 10 acres of hops in the ground right now and will be planting another five in the next few weeks.
Brian Tennis says their farm is not the only one experiencing growth.
“Michigan’s hop industry has exploded,” Brian Tennis said. “There’s probably 350 acres in the ground right now, and I think that number will double in the next few years. I wouldn’t be surprised if we are looking at 1,000 acres in 2016, which would make Michigan the third or fourth largest producer in the country at that point.”
About 75 percent of Michigan’s hops are grown right here in the Grand Traverse area, primarily on the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas, where conditions are excellent for the crop. The names of the hops grown here will be familiar to anyone who reads today’s beer labels or brews at home: flowery and aromatic hops that add to the “nose” of the beer such as Willamette, Fuggle and Crystal; high alpha bittering hops like Nugget, Centennial, Chinook, Columbus and Summit that contribute the bite found in many ales, lagers and IPAs; and those in between that have both bittering and aromatic characteristics including Cascade and the Empire hop.
Brian Confer is the brewer at Frankfort’s new brewery, Stormcloud Brewing Company. His interest in local hops was sparked last fall by a wet-hopped ale he brewed using fresh, local hops. He’s since started an innovative brewing project: the Leelanau Pale Ale series.