The cloudy golden yellow beer filled the tulip glass, topped by a perfect crown of white foam.
High P.A. is a new release created by MashCraft Brewing Co. to celebrate the harvest. The Greenwood-based brewery has always taken pride in their locally made beers, but this one takes the farm-to-glass concept to a new level.
Not only was it brewed in White River Township, but the hops used to give it a mellow melon taste were grown five miles away.
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“It literally opens people eyes to what fresh hops — not the two-year-old pelletized hops you’d get from the West Coast — can do for the quality of the beer,” said K.C. Lewis, co-owner of Indy High Bines, a southside hops farm.
Taking advantage of the craft beer boom and the farm-to-table trend, Lewis and co-owner Ryan Gettum hope to have a business venture that will only grow in the future. Their southside Indy hop farm is producing nearly 700 pounds of dry, processed hops.
Much of that product goes straight to local brewers. Indy High Bines hops have been featured in beers made by MashCraft, Taxman Brewing and others throughout the state.
For the first time ever, local beer connoisseurs can drink suds that were not only made minutes from their home, but with ingredients grown just a few miles away.
“A lot of the growers around have done some great beers with the central Indiana breweries, which lets all of the other breweries who haven’t taken the chance on using local products know that they should try it,” Gettum said.
Hops are a tiny but growing segment of Indiana agriculture. In 2015, only 25 acres had been planted throughout the state, according to the Hops Growers of America.
But this year, the planted acres doubled, to 50.
“Right now, the hops community is super supportive. There’s not really a competition because there’s not enough acres in Indiana. So we can bounce ideas back and forth,” Lewis said.
The heavy hitters in the hops game are still the Pacific Northwest states — Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Those three states account for 96 percent of the hops grown in the U.S. Washington grew more Sterling variety of hops this year than all of the varieties grown in Indiana combined.
But more and more local growers are investing in the crop.
For Lewis and Gettum — friends who went to Center Grove High School together — the idea to start farming hops grew out of chance encounter with a History Channel show they had been watching.
“When the History Channel was still a real channel that you could learn from, we were both pretty big history buffs. We watched a story about hops, and started talking about it, just joking around that we should try growing hops,” Lewis said.
At around the same time, one of their friends announced that he was starting a hops farm. Lewis was originally going to get involved with that farm, but the arrangement fell through.
Two years later, Gettum called Lewis up and brought up the hops issue again.
“He asked if I was still interested in maybe starting a hops farm. I said yes, and we really started reading about it seriously at that time,” Lewis said.
Neither of them had any experience in hops, or agriculture for that matter. They had to learn from the ground up about varieties, how to diversify their plantings and trellis design to hold the climbing vines.
Initially, they put about 10 plants in Gettum’s front yard.
“People thought I was putting up a field goal for my kids — two posts and a wire between them,” Gettum said.
That first crop turned out to be a small-scale success. The plants were strong, and a larger operation seemed possible. They began looking for property where they could create their hops farm.
Being southside Indy residents around Bluff Road, Lewis and Gettum were in the middle of a longtime greenhouse district.
On Bluff Road, a 5 1/2 acre property, just down the street from Gettum, came available. Not only did the site offer the ideal size and location, but unknown to Lewis and Gettum, it offered the ideal conditions to grow hops.
“It’s that German greenhouse soil there. We have a nice sandy loam, that drains really well,” Gettum said. “Our plants were able to root deep immediately.”
In the summer of 2014, they finalized the purchase, created their logo and formed their company. That winter, they spent hours in the cold and snow erecting the nearly 20-feet-tall poles and wiring that would constitute the farm’s trellis system.
Hops grow on vines, so the trellis system is necessary to give the plants someplace to thrive.
They put cereal rye in as a cover crop, so that the land wasn’t a muddy quagmire while they worked. The duo consulted with another friend from school, Jackson Umbarger, and his family’s company Umbarger Show Feeds, to learn about fertilizer, soil analysis and field amendments.
“For a couple of guys who have no ag background, to bounce ideas off of him, was great that first year,” Lewis said.
Their first crop started growing in the spring of 2015. They planted hops such as the Columbus and Cascade that had grown so well in Gettum’s front yard the year before.
In addition, they took a chance with the more exotic breeds such as Cashmere, the variety that shines through in the High P.A. brew at MashCraft.
“We are always looking for quality local products to work with, whether it is coffee for beers, chips and jerky for our tasting room snacks or hops to brew with,” said Andrew Castner, head brewer at MashCraft. “In test batches last year, Indy High Bines proved to grow exemplary hops, so we set up the big batch of High P.A. this year.”
For Indy High Bines, the end of August means that the growing season is over. The hops have been harvested, dead plants have been cleared out and the ground is being turned over for a winter cover crop of barley.
In their original plans, Lewis and Gettum hoped to expand their acreage this fall. But problems with their Cashmere hops plants forced them to put those plans on hold.
A sizeable investment in a harvester machine, to strip the plants of their hops without having to do it by hand, also contributed to the decision.
“We decided to wait another year, to get our feet underneath of us a little bit,” Gettum said. “We want to prove we can do it, prove we can sell it and prove it can make a good beer. We want to prove we can do what we set out to do.”
Lewis and Gettum have worked with local brewers, but their most activity has been with Mishawaka’s Evil Czech Brewing Co. Their hops have been used exclusively in Tulip Tree IPA, the brewery’s year-round session India pale ale.
An acquaintance in the hops processing business connected the farm with Evil Czech, who did an initial limited brew last year with the hops. The session IPA was so successful it was added to the brewery’s regular rotation.
This year, the brewery will get 71 percent of the hops harvest Indy High Bines produced this year — about 500 pounds.
“We hung out, talked hops, brought some samples out, and we essentially bought everything they had in stock. This year, we’re buying the vast majority of it,” said Simon O’Keeffe, head brewer at Evil Czech. “Getting fresh hops from someone you know, that’s important to have an actual personal relationship from the person who’s farming the product you use.”
But the company is increasing its presence in the local craft beer scene. They have started working with Chilly Water Brewing Co. in Indianapolis. In honor of the state’s bicentennial, Tinman Brewing Co. created Hops and Hominy, a balanced beer with a dank aroma made with Columbus hops from Indy High Bines.
“It’s more of a bitter hop, but it has great heavy aromas,” Gettum said. “When you smell that beer, it’s like we opened a bag of our hops right there.”
This fall, Taxman will release Harvest, a saison made with all-Indiana ingredients, including Indy High Bines hops.
The increased use of Indiana hops in local brews helps create a self-driving engine of industry, Gettum said. If other brewers see that the Hoosier products can help create great beer, more will want to buy it. That will inspire more farmers to try hops, and hopefully start the cycle over again.
“It is advantageous to be able to talk directly to the people with the most product knowledge and experience,” Castner said. “I can walk the fields with Ryan and KC and talk about what I need to taste in the beer, and they can recommend what hops to use to get there. Also, with them being local, we were able to make multiple adjustments on the fly to make the best possible beer.”
Lewis and Gettum as excited to be involved in helping the burgeoning industry put down roots.
“Everyone wants to see everyone else succeed because the more Indiana hops that gain a foothold with the breweries, the more open the breweries will be to use hops from Indiana,” Gettum said. “We’ll help any farmers, invite anyone to come out to see if they want to do this.”
Indy High Bines
Where: Bluff Road, southside Indianapolis
Who: K.C. Lewis and Ryan Gettum
Hops produced: Cascade, Southern Cross, Columbus and Cashmere
Beer with their hops:
- Tulip Tree IPA, Evil Czech Brewing, Mishawaka
- Harvest, Taxman Brewing Co., Bargersville
- High P.A., MashCraft Brewing Co., Greenwood
- Fresh Hop Pale, Chilly Water Brewing Co., Indianapolis
- Hops & Hominy Bicentenni-ale, Tin Man Brewing Co., Evansville
Acres strung for harvest
— Information from the Hops Growers of America