Floraville farm offers fresh hops
Patrons of Stubborn German Brewing Company in Waterloo two weeks ago may have seen a new option: Fresh Hop English Pale Ale.
That beer, which was only available until the limited supply was gone, was brewed with fresh Challenger hops from a farm in Floraville known as 3.9 Hops.
That was a milestone for Chris and Lisa Mollet, the couple who owns the farm, as they have only been operating as 3.9 Hops since November 2017.
The couple started growing trials for hops about five years ago after Chris tried brewing his own beer.
They noticed the hops for that came from overseas or the Pacific Northwest, and decided to try their hand at growing their own.
“I thought, ‘we grow our own vegetables, why not try growing our own hops and see if it’s better,” Chris recounted. “I did, and found out that sometimes it’s better or just as good.”
The Mollets dedicated 3.9 acres of their more than 100-acre farm to the hop yard, planting their first crop in the late spring and early summer last year.
Both Chris and Lisa’s families have been farming for generations, and they enjoy gardening, but they had no experience in growing hops.
“It’s just a different plant, different challenges and growing it on a commercial scale,” Chris, who works in government, noted. “It’s a learning curve and we’re still learning.”
Although the Mollets planted the rhizomes, also called rootsalks, for the more than 3,000 hops plants over a year ago, this year marked the first significant harvest.
That is because the perennial hops plants take several years to mature.
“We still haven’t seen the full capacity of what the yard is going to yield yet,” said Lisa, who works as an office administrator.
Nevertheless, the part-time farmers said their 3.9-acre hops yard requires labor comparable to a few hundred acres of corn of soybeans.
Each spring, the couple has to string the yard, which requires them to tie more than 6,000 knots. Then, once the hops start growing, they have to train them to grow up the strings, which are about 18 feet long.
Once that is done, the Mollets are in the yard about every other day to manage pests or fertilize the hops.
The hops typically emerge in late April and are harvested in July or August, but the wet weather has delayed them about a month this year.
Once the couple harvests the hops, they can be dried, pelletized and stored like most hops or used fresh.
They also send samples to a lab to test the hops against industry standards in factors like oils, alpha acids and beta acids.
3.9 Hops typically fares well on the tests.
“In some regards, depending on the variety, we’re actually better than industry standards,” Chris said.
That can impact factors like how many hops brewers must use to make a typical batch of beer.
Anyone interested can purchase hops from 3.9 Hops.
The couple has already sent out introductory letters, which is how Stubborn German owner Chris Rahn learned about the farm, and attends beer festivals.
Individuals can pick their own hops once they are ready for harvest. There are several varieties available.
The Mollets said there are a couple benefits to getting hops from them.
“We’re either in industry standards and you’re buying from a local source, or we’re actually higher,” Chris said.
That local source allows brewers to make beer with fresh hops, something not available in this region because hops are not usually grown here.
“One thing we’re bringing to the craft beer market in the St. Louis area is fresh hops,” Chris explained. “So when Chris (Rahn) brewed with our hops, he had never done it before because you can’t get fresh hops around here.”
Brewing with fresh hops means about 20 percent of the oils are not lost as they usually are in the drying an pelletization process, according to Chris.
“Brewing it fresh, you actually get more hop flavor and hop aroma because you’re not losing those oils when you brew with fresh hops,” he said.
To find out more about 3.9 Hops – including when it will allow people to pick their own hops – follow the farm on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org.