While there are many ways to add flavor to beer, hops have been the top choice for brewers for millennia. Hops are the “spice” of beer, and without them, different beers would not have their distinctive balance of flavors, bitterness or aroma. To brew truly great beers, it is crucial for brewers to have access to different varieties of the highest quality hops.
Elk Mountain Farms – the largest contiguous hops farm in the world– is located in a secluded valley in Northern Idaho, in the western United States. It sits at the 49th parallel, a location that was chosen to replicate the mild climate of the prime hops-growing region in Europe, which spans from Munich to Prague. The farm’s clay-like soil is also rich with organic matter that is the result of thousands of years of flooding from the Kootenay River, which is fed by a nutrient-rich glacial lake in the area.
Since 2011, Elk Mountain has partnered with Goose Island to grow and harvest hops for the craft beer brand, and the partnership has proved fruitful for both the farm and the brewer. Over the course of the last five years, Elk Mountain has grown from a 70-acre operation to an 1800-acre farm that grows more than 60 different types of hops. And the farm does more than just plant and harvest hops; it also serves as a center of innovation and a laboratory for Goose Island.
Elk Mountain’s special combination of soil and climate make it possible for the farm to grow and experiment with more hops varieties than any other hops farm in the world. In addition to growing commercial hops varieties like Cascade, Saaz and Amarillo, Elk Mountain also grows numerous different experimental varieties.
The team at Elk Mountain works hand in hand with our brewmasters at Goose Island. Every year, the Goose Island brewmasters visit the farm at different stages of the growing cycle to review the breeding program and evaluate varieties during different stages of maturity. This helps the Goose Island team get a feel early on for what will be the best varieties that year, and they are able to be on site with the growers at that key moment, when the hop hits maturity and expresses all its flavors. The Goose Island brewmasters also work with the growers at Elk Mountain to improve how the hops are processed, which can have a large effect on the hops’ flavor expression.
This sort of partnership is beneficial to both brewmaster and grower, and we are committed to continuing to support brewers and growers working together. After all, having access to new and rare strains of hops gives the brewers at Goose Island the ability to dream big, push the boundaries of beer and continue to brew the beers of the highest quality.