Sign up for our Newsletter
Jaclyn Van Bourgondien examined hops at Farm to pint in Peconic. (Credit: Vera Chinese)
Jaclyn Van Bourgondien examined hops at Farm to pint in Peconic. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

During its first year of operation in 2012, Farm To Pint’s one-acre field fronting Main Road in Peconic harvested around 30 pounds of hops.

Last year, that number increased nearly tenfold, to about 250 pounds.

And this year, Jaclyn Van Bourgondien and her husband, Andrew Tralka, sold 500 pounds of the bitter, cone-shaped flower to northeastern breweries, which use the hops to make batches of what are called wet-hop ales.

“It takes three years until you get your yield,” Ms. Van Bourgondien said as she and her family snipped long tendrils of nugget and chinook hops from an 18-foot trellis on Saturday. “It’s like grapes. It takes several years until you are established and ready to go.”

Hops farming, once prolific in New York State, has been making a comeback on the East End as farmers like Ms. Van Bourgondien and Mr. Tralka experiment with growing the ingredient, which is necessary to offset the sweetness of malt sugars in beer. The pair operates on a small patch of land at the Van Bourgondien’s family farm.

The dry summer helped keep funguses at bay and gave Farm To Pint a successful and promising return.

“The big goal was to get this far,” Ms. Van Bourgondien said. “It’s a great accomplishment that we made it to year three. You can see the outcome and the fruits of your labor.”

Like Farm to Pint, a number of local hops fields have also reached maturation.

Justin Wesnofske, for instance, is growing a half-acre of hops on his family’s Route 48 farm in Peconic. During his first year in 2012, the yield was so small it wasn’t worth mentioning. But this year, his fourth season, he harvested 170 pounds of hops.

“Every year that we’ve planted, the plant gets stronger and stronger,” said Mr. Wesnofske, who is also a brewer at Greenport Harbor Brewing Company. “We’re going in the right direction.”

Mr. Wesnofske brewed a total of 3,000 gallons of wet-hop ale for Greenport Harbor, Long Ireland Beer Co. and Port Jeff Brewing Co. this year. The hops came from his own farm and from North Fork Hops, a Southold grower.

Most beer makers purchase dried hops from vast farms in the Pacific northwest. The harder, pelletized variety has a much longer shelf life — about two years — as opposed to the fresh hops sold by local operations like Farm to Pint or Condzella Farms in Wading River.

“Ideally, the brewer is using them within 24 hours,” Ms. Van Bourgondien said, adding that offering wet hops has been her farm’s niche. “A lot of brewers have not had access previously unless they were overnighted from Europe or the West Coast.”

Chris Pinto of North Fork Hops purchased the region’s first pelletizer this summer, which will allow local growers, like his friend Mr. Wesnofske, to expand their reach.

Mr. Pinto, who grows three acres in Southold, said the machine will not be functional this harvest season. He plans to rent it out to local farmers next year as a way to pay off the $15,000 investment and help the local industry.

“There’s no way for us to compete because there’s so much demand for our product,” Mr. Pinto said. “This is the only viable option if you want to have more than one acre of hops.”

Phil Ebel, operations officer at Great South Bay Brewery in Bay Shore, said his company is happy to support local farmers as customers are looking to consume a product made with locally grown ingredients.

“We buy wet hops from local producers to keep them in business so they can one day afford to buy a pelletizer,” Mr. Ebel said. “It’s investing in our local agriculture. And our customers are really excited about it.”

To get to that point, the Long Island hops industry is helped along by the cooperative efforts of its farmers.

After Ms. Van Bourgondien and her team gathered up the hop bines — which is what its vines are called — they loaded them into a van to be trucked to a harvester at Condzella Farms. There, tiny mechanical “fingers” removed the buds by hand on a machine owned by a company that traditionally could be viewed as Farm to Pint’s competition.

“The industry is in its infancy,” Ms. Van Bourgondien said. “There’s definitely a learning curve. But it’s been cool to take the craft beer movement to a new level.”

[email protected]

X
X