New Hops Fields Near Traverse City

Springtime’s evening light on Dan Wiesen’s hops yard, in Leelanau County. photo by Jerry Decker

A new hops field with finishing touches being applied to the trellis system and about to be planted. Photo by Jeff Smith

On a muggy and misty July 5, I had the pleasure of touring the back roads of Old Mission Peninsula with three gentlemen–Rob Manigold, Dan Wiesen and Steve Sobkowski–who are leading the way with one of the North’s most promising new crops: hops—you know, the stuff that adds flavor to beer.

I’m writing a story about their budding efforts, which will run in our September issue (on newsstands mid-August, in time for the Traverse City Microbrew and Music Festival), so they gave me the total tour. We checked out a new field just being planted (pictured), a getting-established 2-year old field, the irrigation system, and, very important, the processing plant, with its crazy contraption of a machine that separates the delicate buds from the vine and puts them all in a neat pile.

Like any entrepreneurial effort, the journey has not been smooth. For one, little surprise here, the giant hops growers out west who control the whole market, have been no help at all. E.g., hang up the phone when asked the question, “hey, can we purchase some hops rhizomes?” or when rhizomes are finally procured, they are laden with virus (not saying intentional…but…well…you be the judge).

Dan Wiesen (left) and Steve Sobkowski, hops farmers (excuse the blurriness). Photo by Jeff Smith

Our local guys have pressed ahead anyway. It’s a good tale. And good for our region to have what might be another pillar for our ag community to stand on.

And then, kizmet, I came into the office today and there was an email from a friend asking me to share a microbrew at Right Brain Brewery tonight — they use local hops, so clearly meant to be part of the research.

An Old Mission hops field heading into its second year; the vine flower bud is what’s used in beer. The vines commonly grow 6 inches a day, will climb to the top wire, then grow horizontally along the wire. Photo by Jeff Smith

Read more in September’s issue.—Jeff Smith, editor, Traverse Magazine

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