The craft beer renaissance didn’t just produce an astounding number of microbreweries; it also resulted in the rise of hop farms.
The U.P. is part of that trend, with a few hop farms scattered from east to west. One of the larger farms is run by Jim Korpi in Rock.
“We started in 2009 with, maybe, about 100 plants,” Korpi said, “and then over the years we kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger and now we’re up to about three acres of hops.”
In addition to three acres of trellises, J. Korpi Hop Farm also offers pelletized hops, which are more convenient for brewers to work with. Korpi’s current size allows him to work with several of the U.P.’s breweries and he tries to ensure that each client receives their share.
“I don’t want to cut anybody out,” he said, “so I keep the orders small: 10 pound orders to at least five or six microbreweries, but now I’m getting demand for more so my orders will probably go up to 100 pounds per brewery this year.”
While Korpi grows commercially, there’s another hop farmer who views his own efforts as more of a trial run.\
“I kind of started on a whim and now I’m becoming a little more structurally sound as far as the trellis system works and just keeping rows organized and actually utilization of space, too. I’m going to try and garden vegetables between the rows and try and use as much of the land as possible without wasting any space,” said Rob Wanhatalo.
Wanhatalo, known to his friends as Wob, started farming hops four years ago in Elo and has used that time to discover which hops flourish in U.P. soil and which ones don’t.
“The Hallertau, the Northern Brewer and Willamette aren’t quite adapted to this climate,” Wob said. “I gave them three years and they didn’t really do much, so I’m eliminating those and trying some new stuff out. The “C” hops in Michigan can typically thrive anywhere; they’re really strong and resilient plants. I’ve got some of those in the ground. Aside from that I’m going to try some new stuff, some native stuff and see what happens from there.”
While only a trial, Wob plans on using this experience to help future farmers.
“I’m testing these varieties so I can see what works and consult people in the right direction if they want to try different varieties that people don’t typically grow in the state of Michigan,” Wob said.
Whether for commercial purposes or personal, hop farming is an integral part of the continually growing craft beer industry.