I contacted Sandra Gowan of Prairie Gems Hops quite some time ago with a variety of questions about her hop growing operation. She was quick to respond to my numerous questions with great answers, but I sat on the article for quite some time struggling with how to best present it. As can be imagined then, this article was some time in coming. Thus, I would like to apologize to Ms. Gowan for my tardiness.
I left the interview questions as I typed them and simply cut and pasted the answers that were given in the appropriate areas. Any errors are mine alone and should reflect on me.
With the growing trend towards local consumption I think that this article is timely and of particular interest to many brewers. Please note above the website for Ms. Gowan’s hop operation and visit it when you have a chance.
With all this now said, have a read.
What are your yields like?
In terms of yields you can expect anywhere between one or two pounds of dried hops depending on the variety per plant on a mature plant. I have a mixture of different aged plants so I couldn’t really say what my yield per mature plant might be. Some spring/summer weather conditions will favour one variety over the other so yields will fluctuate.
Do you have the chemical composition done on your harvests?
I have my harvested hops tested each year for alpha acids, beta acids and co-humulone. The lab in Montana uses an HPLC method. One year I had some questions with a variety so Barth-Haas in Yakima, Washington tested some samples as well. They were impressed with the values that the Montana lab had obtained so I trust their results. My test results are all within the normal ranges for the varieties that I grow. If they were not within these ranges I would suspect a quality issue and probably would not be able to sell that variety. Using these test results helped me to confirm that a supplier had sold me the wrong variety a few years back. These results are as important to me as they are to the brewer that uses my hops.
How big is your operation now?
We started out in 2009 with three varieties, five plants of each. Since then we have expanded to 18 different varieties and a total of about 225 plants or 1/4 acre.
Do you give tours?
Yes! We give tours. We welcome anyone that wants to come and see our operation. I love to talk hops with anyone that will listen. (My family is getting kind of tired of me talking hops to them all the time!) I have also given presentations at meetings about growing hops.
What varieties have you got now?
Currently, we are growing 18 varieties. They are Brewer’s Gold, Cascade, Centennial, Challenger, Chinook, Crystal, Fuggle, Galena, Golding, Hallertau, Magnum, Mount Hood, Northern Brewer, Nugget, Saaz, Sterling, Tettnanger and Willamette.
Are you able to get many of the newer varietals?
I have tried to obtain rhizomes to grow Citra, Galaxy, Amarillo etc but all of these varieties are proprietary. It will probably be years before they are released to the general public.
Do you brew at all?
I do not brew at all! I do like beer, especially when it is made well. My favorite style of beer is an IPA (support a hop grower, drink an IPA).
What clients do you have?
My clients to date have been home brewers, brewing supply stores (Grape & Grain and Hop & Vine) and Fort Garry Brewing. Last year I also had requests from Half Pints and the ‘anticipated’ Portage Avenue Brew Works but my harvest was all spoken for. I also sell hop rhizomes. They have been sold right across Canada.
What else do you grow?
I love to grow things and I love the challenge of growing new things. For years I have grown most of my own flowers and vegetables. My small business was created so I could grow custom plants for friends and family. I have grown edible flowers and sold them to some restaurants for years.
Why grow hops?
I decided to grow hops because they are not typically grown here. I love to try new plants. Hops are amazing. They can grow almost a foot a day during their prime growing period so they are fun to watch. I like the fact that they are a perennial so they come back every year.
As you can see, things are looking up for brewers in Manitoba looking to use more local products in their beer.
I would like to thank Ms. Gowan for her participation in this interview, and encourage others to give her products a try.