Increase in craft breweries makes hops a more valued commodity - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Increase in craft breweries makes hops a more valued commodity


Altoona (WQOW) - After a long day at work, you might find yourself relaxing with your favorite beer in hand. You probably know hops are an essential ingredient, but did know the plant can be grown right here?

"Hop is basically a weed," said Mike Blodgett, a hops grower in Chippewa County.

It's a weed with a purpose and an essential part of a $350 billion industry in the United States, according to the National Beer Association.

"It's qualities are bitterness and aromatic features that it imparts on beers," Blodgett said.

The craft brewing industry is growing, like a weed itself, with new locations opening up around nearly every corner, like Modicum Brewing Company in Altoona. In order for these new businesses to thrive, the hop industry needs to follow suit. There lies a problem.

"In the past few years, there has been a serious hop shortage," Modicum owner Eric Rykal said. "There was a big one a few years ago and the industry never really recovered."

But, why?

"The explosion of the number of breweries," Rykal added. "The styles of beer that most breweries are brewing right now use a lot of hops compared to styles that were popular in the past. So, we are always kind of in a state of shortage."

Because of that, people like Blodgett saw an opportunity to turn a love of growing into a business endeavor. 

"The demand for hops is increasing," Blodgett said. "I don't know that anybody is quite sure where the top is at this point."

He told News 18 the majority of hops are grown out west, but by starting his farm two years ago in the Chippewa Valley, he is able to provide establishments, like Modicum Brewing, which happens to be his son-in-law's business, with a taste of Wisconsin.

"(It's) the whole keeping it local thing," Blodgett said. "I just felt like it was something that I wanted to learn about, something I wanted to dig into quite literally."

So, as you pick up your favorite craft brew, know that subtle bite of bitterness could be coming from your own back yard.

News 18 also reached out to the owners of a new hop farm near Chetek. The owners there told us they started their 10 acre operation in 2017.

Blodgett's farm is only a couple acres, but he said he still produces quite the crop for only being in his second year. It normally takes four to five years for the plants to fully mature.

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