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Farmer aims to grow hops locally in Flathead Co.

By Paige Sedgewick, Reporter, psedgewick@kcfw.com
Published On: Apr 21 2014 06:42:01 PM MDT
Updated On: Apr 21 2014 06:47:50 PM MDT

One local farmer has tackled a new crop, hops. This adventure started last year and now the Montana Department of Agriculture has approved him for phase two, which gives him more grant money to go through with the project.

WHITEFISH, Mont. -

Beer is big business in the state of Montana. One thing we don't have, though, is locally grown hops for the beer.

Tom Britz took on the project of growing hops in his backyard about a year ago. Now the Montana Department of Agriculture has approved him for phase 2, which gives him more grant money to go through with the project.

Hops are not an uncommon crop to start in Montana, but they never seem to finish.

"A lot of projects in Montana that have got to a certain point of having the hops growing, and then they fall on their face because they can't get any further,” said Dr. Pat McGlynn, Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Agent for Flathead County.

Britz is determined to see his crop harvest. He told NBC Montana that this has been quite the adventure, especially because he's growing 39 different varieties of hops. That is the largest variety of hops grown from Yakima, Washington to Southern Michigan.

Growing this assortment of hops can get overwhelming.

"You can't mix varieties. You can't go down the row and pick everything, because in one row you might have eight different varieties. So, you've got to keep them separate from the time you pick them, to the time you harvest them, to the time you process them, to the time you preserve them," said Britz.

This is a whole new ball game for Britz. About a year ago he was looking for a crop to grow in his back acres when McGlynn suggested trying hops.

Once decided, Britz partnered with Great Northern Brewery in Whitefish and Tamarack Brewing Company in Lakeside for phase 1.

"Montana-grown hop along with Montana water, we have 100-percent Montana beer. How unique and fantastic is that?" said Josh Townsley, the owner of Tamarack Brewing Company.  

The collaborators can't believe how well the hops did during phase 1. The growth of the crops throughout the year surprised them.

Britz and the crew have been pleased with the results so far, but they are keeping their eye on the ultimate goal.

"Knowing what's in it, having a higher-quality product is what's the end goal is, so that when we get to October, I'll be a lot smarter about this," said Britz.

Right now, Britz laughs about the adventure this has been and the trial and error process he's been going through to perfect the crop.

They have 800 hops planted at the farm. It takes 4 years until they get a full harvest from the crop. The group is looking to experiment and see how the different varieties do throughout phase 2.