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Hops — not just for craft brewing anymore

Hops are vines with vibrant green buds whose oils give beer its bitter and bright flavor, but more and more florists and event designers are also incorporating them into wedding and event work — in arrangements, bouquets, boutonnieres and as garlands to decorate venues.

“They work wonderfully for personal flowers because they don’t wilt,” Christi Poppler, owner at Studio C Floral in Chaska, MN, told The Produce News. “I like to use them in centerpieces, arbors, and kind of everything because they are ‘drapey’ and romantic. I like to use the fresh ones rather than the dried ones.”

Eric Anderson, owner at St. Croix Valley Hops at Deer Lake Gardens in St. Croix Falls, WI, grows cut flowers and got into the hops business several years ago when florists began requesting hop vines for wedding decorations. “This is just the very beginning of what could be,” Anderson said in a news release. “We’re at our infancy, but we can produce a crop, now it’s figuring out the market forces that are going to drive it.”

The investment in growing hops is not for the faint-hearted. Anderson said it can cost $10,000 an acre to plant hops, plus the equipment needed for spraying to prevent disease and harvesting. Vines (called bines) grow the same way grape vines grow and can reach 25-30 feet tall. They can grow up to 12 inches a day and are trained to climb up ropes attached to wires strung between telephone poles.

HOPS-2Eric Anderson, owner at St. Croix Valley Hops at Deer Lake Gardens in St. Croix Falls, WI, inspects his hop plants. The vines (called bines) can grow up to 25 feet to 30 feet tall and are trained on ropes attached to wires strung between telephone poles.The market is expected to expand for locally sourced hops, thanks to the boom in craft brewing and the creativity of florists and event planners.

The vines need to be in the ground for three years before full production is realized, although a partial crop can be harvested after two years. The hops harvest season in the upper Midwest is late August and early September and Anderson even allows people pick their own hops at his farm.

Rene van Rems, California-based floral industry consultant and educator, told The Produce News that even though hops fruit can be used both fresh and dry, it is most often used fresh and that can be a challenge due to its availability window of about a month or two. “My one recommendation is to not only see hops as a long garland-like item,” said van Rems. “When cut correctly, it is great in short segments for any design — just make sure the right end of the stem goes in the water.”

“Here’s what I’m seeing in the marketplace — hops is a wedding and event flash-trend, but that can change if it hangs on longer,” J Schwanke, owner at uBloom and floral trend forecaster, told The Produce News. “A flash trend is what we used to call a ‘fad’ back in the day, something that’s been around mainstream for six months to a year. That’s not to say that the super-savvy event designer hasn’t been using it for maybe two to three years. The flash-trend of using hops in wedding and event work stems from the micro-brew trend; it’s a fun way to bring the groom, or men, or craft beer trend into the event or decoration. There’s a huge fascination with micro-brews and Millenials and since hops are a farm crop, it plays nicely with the locally grown or farm-to-table movement. With all that said, there seems to be a good quantity of hops available for the market and since it’s a vine material it looks good in décor — whether it’s on an arbor, a doorway, a wreath, or even bouquets, not to mention the cache of having hops in boutonnieres for the gentlemen in the wedding party.”

Hops production is concentrated in moist, temperate climates, with much of the world’s production occurring near the 48th parallel north. Hop plants prefer the same soils as potatoes and the leading potato-growing states in the United States are also major hops-producing areas.

According the Hop Growers of America, U.S. hop acreage is in its fifth consecutive year of growth, up another 17 percent in the Pacific Northwest and 18.5 percent nationally. The U.S. is now home to over 40 percent of the global hop supply and the USDA is estimating a record 91.8 million pounds incoming for Northwest producers, who produce over 96 percent of the U.S. crop.

“It’s great stuff, fresh or dried,” Ardith Beveridge, director and instructor at Koehler & Dramm’s Institute of Floristry in Minneapolis, told The Produce News. “They also have it dried in colors and it’s just awesome because it has great texture and drape; it has great stems and you are able to maneuver it and manipulate it without it looking contrived, and they have all those little vines coming off it. In the new bridal bouquets — I call it the ‘American garden design’ — it’s absolutely the perfect product.”