Growing local in Colorado: coming soon to a pint glass near you | TheFencePost.com

Growing local in Colorado: coming soon to a pint glass near you

Bridgett Weaver | reporter

Grow local. Buy local. Eat local.

As the local trend also drives locally sourced brews, small hops and barley operations have been popping up all over Weld County and northern Colorado with the hopes of satisfying the needs of the state's 200 craft breweries.

One of the newest additions to Colorado craft beer culture is Troubadour Maltings, a Fort Collins-based malting facility that contracts local farmers to grow barley.

Three of Troubadour's contracted farms are in Weld County, with one owned by David Eckhardt, who used to grow barley for Coors, about four miles south of LaSalle. He got back into growing barley recently after a seven-year absence.

“There’s a new producing local, living local energy in Colorado, so it makes sense if you can buy your hops local that you would do it.”

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"I think the nice part is that there really is a premium to the locally grown," Eckhardt said. "The idea that you have your barley in someone's beer and you can say, 'That's my barley.'"

There also are small hops fields emerging in Weld to support the craft brewing industry, including G5 Hop Fields, 11095 Colo. 392, Windsor; Hoffman Farms, 33177 Pikes Peak Drive in Greeley; and High Hops Brewery, 6461 Colo. 392, Windsor, which grows hops in-house.

Dave Dale, owner of DD's Home Brew Supplies, 2015 9th St., said he normally buys his hops and malts from suppliers outside of Colorado. Most of the big suppliers like Hop Union and Great Western Malting get a lot of their products from the Pacific Northwest.

While nearly everyone in the industry sees a demand for ingredients raised in Colorado, it takes time to build an industry, Dale said.

"There was a pretty big hops shortage a few years ago," Dale said. "It takes a few years to build supply."

Hop fields take about three years to yield to their fullest potential, according to growers.

Troubadour owner Chris Schooley said they have to start small on the malting end of things, too. Troubadour is expecting to yield 500,000 pounds of malt this year.

They want to hit the 1 million-pound mark in the next two or three years and then quadruple production every year for the next five years.

He said that level of production will "not even put a dent in the needs as far as how much (malt barely) is getting used right now for brewing purposes."

Growing local speaks to many hearts, but it also strikes a bit of fear in their pocketbooks.

Increased demand of locally grown tends to drive up the price.

Schooley said part of the appeal of paying their premium price is that they can work directly with smaller brewers to create specialty malts.

"Then they have access to put something unique on the market that just doesn't exist at this time," Schooley said. "If we can get local producers tapped into local business this way, then it's a win for everybody."

Neil Fisher, co-owner at WeldWerks Brewing in downtown Greeley, said he would buy local if supplies were available — at the moment they are not.

But Jeff Crabtree, owner of Crabtree Brewery, 2961 29th St., said he, isn't sure if the premium price for products is worth it.

"Their sales pitch to us is we're a local hop farmer and I want to sell you my local hops," but they're often more expensive or require work on the brewer's end, he said.

When he orders from a broker, it's normally both easier and cheaper, he said.

"I call my hop broker and tell them I need Cascade hops, and they show up on a UPS truck in 44-pound boxes. And they're ready to be boiled," Crabtree said.

For this reason, he said he doesn't necessarily buy into locally grown hops being better than those grown in Washington or Oregon.

His hesitance is that any locally grown hops in Colorado are not actually a local variety because there is no such thing as a Colorado-born variety of hops capable of mass production.

Not yet, anyway.

"The challenge that I'm being faced with is that having local growers is great. You're growing a local hop but it's the same hop that's being grown in the Pacific Northwest," he said. "You're using local ground and local labor to grow a hop — I don't have an issue with that — but I will have a challenge when you sell it for a premium."

But he said he sees the value in buying local.

"The positive in this case is that I can send people to the farm, and they can feel good about being able to see the hops growing," Crabtree said. "There's a new producing local, living local energy in Colorado, so it makes sense if you can buy your hops local that you would do it."

For premium products, Crabtree said he doesn't mind paying a little extra.

At the end of the day, it has to make financial sense for brewers to buy local hops and malts because they're small businesses, too.

"I'm all for local, and I want to support local," he said. "But it has to make sense in my business." ❖

Colorado beer statistics

» The number of breweries has gone from 126 in 2011 to 235 in 2014.

» Colorado ranks third in the nation for both craft breweries, of which there are 235, and breweries per capita, which is 6.1 per 100,000 adults over 21 years old.

»The economic impact of these breweries is $1,634.2 million, which ranks fifth in the nation. Per capita profits are $437, or second in the nation.

» Colorado produced 1,673,686 barrels of craft beer per year, the third highest production of craft beer in the U.S. That evens out to 13.6 gallons of beer for each adult over 21, which ranks second in the nation.

Source: Brewers Association