RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Loudoun County pasture is set to become the Mid-Atlantic's first commercial-scale production and processing facility for hops — an important ingredient in brewing beer.
Black Hops Farm LLC will invest about $1 million to initially convert 15 acres in Leesburg into a hop farm and build a processing facility, which will allow other Virginia hop growers to efficiently process their crops for market, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced Friday. The move will create 11 jobs, and the company plans to source more than 60 percent of their hops, or at least 3,500 pounds, from Virginia over the next three years.
Black Hops Farm fills a critical need for current and future craft brewers and builds on efforts to increase Virginia's position in the fast-growing craft beer industry, said McAuliffe, who approved a $40,000 grant from the Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund for the project.
Over the past few years, more than a dozen states including Virginia have added hops to their list of crops, mirroring the growing demand and interest in craft beer, as well as the use of local ingredients.
Hops — strung up with twine on trellises blanketed with bines bearing the cone-shaped flower — have been growing in Virginia since the 1700s but are most notably grown in the Pacific Northwest. Former President Thomas Jefferson even grew hops at his estate Monticello estate near Charlottesville and bought large quantities to brew small batches of beer.
For years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports only included Washington state, Oregon and Idaho, but the latest numbers include 14 additional states that are growing the bittering flower, according to the Hop Growers of America. More than 50 varieties of hops — which impart different characteristics to beer such as bitterness or citrus flavors — are grown in the U.S. However, a favorable climate and fertile soil are vital for commercial production.
While industry figures show only 25 acres of hops being grown in Virginia this year — compared with more than 29,000 acres in Washington state — farmers are hopeful the state's industry will grow. Virginia also recently passed a bill permitting farms to grow hops as well as establish a working brewery onsite. During the last few years, hops were even planted at the Executive Mansion at the Virginia State Capitol.
"With so many farmers already growing hops across the state, we're hoping that we can play a part in making Virginia the hops capital of the East Coast," Jonathan Staples of Black Hops Farm said in a news release.
Overall, agriculture and forestry are two of Virginia's largest industries, providing more than 400,000 jobs and combining for an economic impact of $70 billion annually, according to a 2013 economic impact study conducted by the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. On its own, agriculture generates more than $52 billion per year.