Sourcing ingredients locally helps brewers create a unique product while strengthening their local community and economy. With growing opportunities for production in the United States, more brewers are able to create unique products by embracing their community’s existing offerings.
One great example of a brewery that sources locally is Hop Farm Brewing Company. Its beer menu sees the extensive use of locally grown hops, while food options include a burger sourced from cattle that have a diet consisting of Hop Farm’s spent grain, dubbed “Beer to Burger.” Read on to see what Matt Gouwens, the head brewer at Hop Farm, has to say about sourcing local, current production and how he got started.
Can you tell us about Hop Farm Brewing Company?
Hop Farm Brewing Company is a woman-owned, family-run brewery in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pa. At Hop Farm, we are dedicated to the responsible use of our natural resources, from production to packaging and everywhere in between. We grow our own hops organically and add some of them to every batch we brew. We are proud Pittsburghers who look to highlight and work with other local businesses for materials, ingredients and services wherever possible. Hop Farm opened its doors in 2013 as a growler shop, which quickly grew into a brewpub. We self-distribute our product in Allegheny County and look forward to adding cans back to our lineup.
From your menu online, it seems as if you boast a range of brews from the fan-favorite IPA to a dark farmhouse ale and barrel-aged sours. What guides Hop Farm’s choice of style production, and what do you personally enjoy drinking or brewing most?
Our choice of styles that we produce come from a wide range of places,from collaborating with local homebrewers and brainstorming with our regulars, to particular styles that I personally like. We will always have a few IPAs on tap and a sour or two. Out of the Hop Farm Beers, my current favorite is our Small Crop. If I was stranded on an island with only one beer, it would be something from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales. I believe my love for hops and wild and funky beers will one day converge.
How much of the hops used are grown locally? How much do you grow yourself?
When we opened the brewery, I believe the half-acre of hops planted on our property was the largest plot of mature hops in Allegheny County. I quickly realized that this yard was going to produce enough for one batch of IPA or a few batches of something a little less hoppy. Fortunately, right around that time, I met a local farmer who was very enthusiastic about growing hops for our local market. I also realized at that point, any additional capital I had needed to go into the startup of the brewery. It has taken a few years, but that one farmer has expanded to about 5 acres of hops and continues to plant more. At this time, about 25% of the hops that we use are grown locally. As the yards mature, that percentage will continue to rise each year.
Why is growing your own hops, and sourcing so many ingredients locally, so important to Hop Farm Brewing Company?
I was born with a green thumb. Although my parents would never let me have a garden, I always loved playing in the dirt and got great satisfaction from eating straight from the garden. For me it was a pretty natural progression. Sourcing locally gives our menus a bit of its own terroir and a unique distinction of its own. Our newest addition, the Hop Farm Burger, is from not only locally sourced beef, but also cattle that have been fed a diet consisting of grass and spent grain from our brewery.
What is your current production like? Do you have plans for expansion?
Our current brewhouse is a 10 BBL steam-fired Specific Mechanical System. It is accompanied by 3 10BBL fermenters, 1 20BBL fermenter, 1 30BBL fermenter and 5 10BBL brite tanks. We were actually the first canned craft beer in Pittsburgh (Allegheny County), and doing it in-house, but due to initial demand on draft accounts, it proved to be a real challenge to keep up with both. With our additional capacity, we will be putting out cans again soon. Expansion plans are in the works.
How did you learn to brew and what made you want to open your own brewery?
I started brewing when my girlfriend (now wife) bought me a really bad homebrew kit. Being naturally competitive, (even with myself) I knew that I could do much better. The homebrew thing snowballed and in 2009 I went through the American Brewers Guild Program under Steve Parkes. When I graduated, I apprenticed under Paul Rutherford of Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in Lancaster. The experience was invaluable and I am very grateful for the opportunity they gave me and the network of brewers that I was able to develop while there.
What advice would you give to aspiring brewers or business owners?
Be tenacious, it’s not always cupcakes and beer.
The Brewers of Pennsylvania is a nonprofit trade association that brings together leaders of Pennsylvania-based breweries in order to promote and protect the brewing industry in the state. Established in 2011, the Brewers of Pennsylvania serves the consuming public of Pennsylvania by encouraging brand diversity in the market. We believe in the nobility of brewing and hold dear the great traditions and history of Pennsylvania brewing.
Photos: Paul Selvaggio