Motorworks Brewing is excited to announce that yesterday we brewed an American Pale Ale using Florida-grown wet hops. The hops-were hand harvested right here in Tampa Bay on independent grower Matt Harper’s farm in Riverview, whose locally-grown, pesticide-free Cascade hops star in our new Pale Ale.

Matt’s small, completely organic farm specializes in a “holistic approach to growing everything, using diverse biology and organic matter.” Through innovative methods like using disease-free, tissue culture plant-stock, Matt says he’s “very excited about the future of hops in Florida.” The first harvest of 72 plants yielded three pounds of fresh wet hops, and Matt says it’s “reassuring that we’ve already achieved a harvestable crop. There’s not much data floating around, so it’s exciting to know that we can now replicate this moving forward and expect higher yields as the plants mature.”

“We couldn’t have expected these results,” Matt beams, “but it’s exciting. The next step is examining the hops through the seasons and seeing how they respond to Florida’s climate, and I’m curious to see how hops react to this environment, what this region has to offer, and what kind of flavors they impart.” He says that the toughest part “is that other areas have established industries where a lot of people are pooling knowledge and have access to serious equipment. There’s none of that here because it’s such a non-existent industry in Florida, so there’s a lot of unknown factors. It’s an entirely new frontier.”

The overwhelming majority of American hops are picked, pelletized and shipped here from the Pacific Northwest, and through drying and pelletization fresh hops lose a substantial amount of their distinctive qualities. Pelletized Cascade hops primarily lend bitterness (IBUs) to beer, but very little in the way of flavor and aroma.

Three pounds of fresh hops went into our 3.5-barrel American Pale Ale brew, and we added the wet hops during the final whirlpool to maximize their flavor. Fresh hops have to be used, well…fresh, and these hops were handpicked by Matt and the Motorworks Brewing team on Tuesday, going from bine-to-brew in an 18-hour window.

Immature Cascade hops give off grassy, vegetal flavors while overripe hops can exhibit savory qualities reminiscent of onion/garlic. Ideally, we’re looking for bright, citrusy flavors and aromas from Cascade hops picked at the peak of their freshness. Craft beer is by its very nature experimental, and this journey has certainly been an experiment for our brewers. Having never used wet hops in the brewing process before, this was a dip in uncharted waters for us – waters infinitely more welcome than the surging tides of Tropical Storm Colin, who politely quit raining just in time for harvesting. What a guy.

The end-game was simple: brew a beer that above-all-else showcases the unique characteristics of Floridian hops. Terroir is a crucial concept in the world of wine, and we’re excited to see what kind of flavors we can derive from hops grown in Florida’s distinct soil and climate. We’re also enthusiastic about the future of a sustainable hop crop grown right here in the Sunshine State and its implications for Tampa Bay’s flourishing craft beer culture.

Thanks to super intelligent, super cool guys like Matt, that goal doesn’t seem like such a pipe dream anymore. We’re thrilled that Matt reached out to us, and we’re glad to have made a new friend who’s passed on so much knowledge already.

“We believe Matt’s found a way to grow hops pretty efficiently and this first crop we’ve received is high quality.” says Head Brewer Bob Haa. “I think a lot of breweries are going to be very excited about the viability of a commercial crop in Florida.”

Bob has a Masters in Biology and the concepts he and Matt casually tossed around left most of us blank-faced and dumbfounded. You have no idea how excited two grown men can get about a bag of worm excrement (hops love their organic enzymes). Fans waiting to see the last Star Wars movie were less passionate.

It’s been a pleasure to stand side-by-side with someone on the front-lines of a new era in Floridian agriculture, and and honor to brew the first commercial beer starring hops grown right here at home. We hope you’ll join us on Thursday, June 30th, raise a glass of our Florida wet-hopped Pale Ale, and embark on this journey with us. Cheers!