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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

First of Its Kind Collaboration: Florida-Grown Hops to Your Glass from First Magnitude Brewing and Florida Hops Consortium

Photo by Linda Johnson, 4/23/2017
[Ed. Note and Update, 4/23/2017:  I am thrilled to drink the historic Apopka Hop Pale Ale, the focus of this story. Made with six hops, the beer is floral, with citrus and earthy notes. It's a smooth-drinking tasty brew. According to First Magnitude, the in-house release on April 6, featuring the beer in bottles and on draft, sold out within a couple of hours.] ....

Whether or not you realize it when you drink that beer, beer and science just go together. On April 6, First Magnitude Brewing Company (Gainesville) will release a limited batch of a true original pale ale. The beer is not only a product of First Magnitude's skilled brewers led by John Denny, but it's also a testament to advances in scientific research. When the brewery releases its "Apopka Hop Pale Ale," the public will get a taste of the first beer brewed exclusively with 100% Florida-grown hops.

Label representation from Florida Hops Consortium
and First Magnitude Brewing Company
While a beer brewed with six hops isn't unusual, when those six hops were all grown and harvested solely in Florida, it's unique, considering that Florida's hot climate isn't typically thought of as conducive to hops. 

What started out as a hobby for University of Florida's Brian Pearson about five years ago has bloomed into a funded university research program. Pearson, an assistant professor of environmental horticulture at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), completed his first successful trial in 2012. Last year, when word of Pearson's research at the Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka became widely known, he began fielding calls from citrus growers interested in learning about "diversifying their crops with hops," and touring the production facility.  “We’ve lit a fire of curiosity in these growers because of our successful trials,” Pearson says. Still, there's cautious optimism until further determination of whether local hops production can be profitable. Although he sees success, he adds that "the biggest production challenge we’ve faced is low yield.”

He explains that in the most successful hops-growing regions, production of 3 to 4 pounds wet weight per plant at harvest is ideal. In the U.S., the Mid-Atlantic region produces 2 to 3 pounds wet weight per plant at harvest, whereas until recently, Pearson’s team has been able to produce half or less of that volume, he explains. Using exploratory horticultural techniques, the team has been able to make strides in production, making its way toward becoming more competitive. Research continues into next year.

Can hops take the heat of Florida? In a research paper originally published in October 2013, Pearson concludes that they can. And, it seems that more than a few folks are interested, as his paper has been downloaded more than 7600 times, and 115,000 people viewed documentation that his team shared last year on social media, according to a press release.

While hops are dormant during the winter months in most areas, Florida’s climate can allow for year-round production of hops in protected agricultural environments, Pearson claims. What effects a constant cultivation may have are unknown, but the UF team has had success in preventing a "large number of healthy and thriving hops plants from entering dormancy for more than two years." He expresses his excitement "about the possibilities, because we finally have a hops flavor that is unique to Florida, and we can produce it at times when nobody else can.”  The USDA awarded Pearson's team a two-year, $158,000 grant that expires at the end of 2017, and they are pursuing additional funding sources. “Getting research dollars to expeditiously continue this effort is the missing piece right now,” he said. "We’re currently cultivating 20 varieties of hops here at our research facility as part of a two-year trial."

Photo by First Magnitude Brewing Company
Pearson first met the First Magnitude crew about a year and half ago, through an introduction by a colleague, and the brewers have assisted with "sensory evaluation research." Around the beginning of 2017, Pearson explains that he wanted to move ahead with a unique label for a beer made with the Florida hops from his facility and spoke with the Florida Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services. He then realized that "we had enough hops left over from last year’s harvest to help a brewery brew the first Fresh from Florida: Made with Florida Hops labeled beer." Given the relationship, he contacted First Magnitude, and this collaboration was in the works. First Magnitude named the beer Apopka Hop Pale Ale to commemorate the origination of the hops used in the beer. 

According to First Magnitude, the beer is a "bright, floral, easy-drinking pale ale." It will be available on tap and released through a limited number of 500ml bottles ($7 each), starting at 6pm on April 6, exclusively in the First Magnitude tap room. 

So, hey, if you have kids who are interested in science, you never know where it can lead.

And that's not weird science. 

Special thanks to Brian Pearson for the additional interview! And, hey, I'm no stranger to the awesome folks at First Magnitude Brewing... You can check out a few stories about 'em right here on brewnymph.com!

And, hey, speaking of Gainesville, check out the calendars on this website for some pretty cool upcoming events happening over there.... Thanks for reading, everyone!

Cheers!

Til next time,



Linda




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