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Gorst Valley developing database on state beer hops

By February 5, 2014 October 21st, 2014 News

Wisconsin State Journal – Madison, WI

Gorst Valley Hops already has reignited small-scale hop farming in Wisconsin, selling its hops to places like New Glarus Brewing Co. But now, the company plans to get locally grown hops even more street cred.

James Altwies, president of Gorst Valley, headquartered near Mazomanie, is developing a voluntary database that will work to ensure quality control among small hop growers.

And while he’s starting with hops, Altwies envisions this database being applied to any crop, building confidence in locally produced food and expanding the buy-local movement.

“Our analysis shows the biggest barriers to central food production and consumption … is confidence and quality systems,” he said.

Gorst Valley Hops expects to receive $30,000 in grants to build the database, including a $17,000 grant from the state’s Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin program.

Gorst Valley was one of eight programs to receive funding from Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin, which was announced Friday.

The overall goal is to increase the amount of local food going into markets, and the proposal from Gorst Valley Hops showed Wisconsin brewers have a big need to verify the quality of state-grown hops, said Teresa Engel, director of the Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin program, which is operated through the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Being able to verify the quality of the hops “will really set Wisconsin apart from the other hops (brewers) might be getting from the Pacific Northwest,” Engel said.

Hops are a key ingredient in beer and give the beverage its fragrant, bitter taste. In the past, Altwies said, hops were used only in bittering beer, but now brewers use hops after the beer is boiled and before fermentation.

Brewers now want to know how clean the hops are and what chemicals were used, he said.

The database is envisioned as a central Web-based platform that a brewer, grocer, restaurateur or consumer could use to see exactly what happened during the hops’ growing process.

And while federal regulations require farmers to track this information, such as what herbicides and pesticides were used on specific harvests, that information isn’t readily available to consumers, Altwies said. The database would eliminate the guesswork and allow “the end-user the ability to immediately look at all the quality production practices that happened to their product,” he said.

The database would be voluntary and geared toward small-scale farmers.

Gorst Valley Hops started in 2008 with the goal of reintroducing hops as a cash crop in Wisconsin. The company offers individual growers technical and farming support in the hop-growing process, which includes design work for the irrigation and trellis systems and pest management. Once these hops are harvested and sold, Gorst Valley gets part of the revenue.

Gorst Valley produced 100 pounds of hops in 2009 and a few thousand in 2011. In 2013, that number grew to 10,000 pounds, and Altwies expects around 22,000 pounds this fall.

Altwies and his team are spending the winter building the database and will test it during the spring and summer in Gorst Valley hop fields.


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