Hops farms brewing in Manitoba

A hops plant at CMCDC

Vineyards and locally produced wine are a big industry in southern British Columbia and Ontario. Could the same care, dedication and market be developed for beer right here in Manitoba?

Many already know that the Canadian Prairies produce excellent barley, but what about hops: the essential ingredient that makes beer taste like beer?

Hops feasibility trials

The Canada-Manitoba Crop Diversification Centre (CMCDC) is testing the feasibility of growing hops in Manitoba. With a mandate to support the adoption of innovation in agriculture across the province, the centre is looking forward to sharing its results with interested producers.

Craig Linde, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development's diversification specialist at CMCDC says the centre has planted nine varieties of hops in three locations near Carberry, Melita and Arborg. They will monitor the plants' success and growth rate.

Hops are used as a flavouring and preserving ingredient in beer with the majority of the North American crop produced in Washington.

"Right now hops are grown in Manitoba on a small scale," says Linde. "But there is a growing culture of microbreweries that want to source local hops. Recent changes in Manitoba's liquor laws have allowed more microbreweries which could lead to more hops produced and used in Manitoba."

Though it is only the second year of the experiment, Linde says the hops weathered the extremely cold winter well. Staff at the centres will continue to monitor the plants for the rest of the five-year experiment.

The centre has already received interest in its trial, both from producers in Manitoba and other prairie provinces.

"The price of hops can be erratic and harvesting them is hard work unless you have some very expensive equipment," says Linde. "However, as more microbreweries pop up in Manitoba, the demand for local production may go up as well. Our trials will give interested producers a solid base of Manitoba research experience if they would like to grow hops."

Manitoba hops for a Manitoba beer

The number of Manitoba farms producing hops is small but on the rise with an increasing number growing hops for their own use or for sale to Manitoba's microbreweries.

Farmery Estate Brewery near Neepawa, Manitoba is one operation that is doing just that. Co-owned by brothers Lawrence and Chris Warwaruk, the quarter-section farm produces high-quality barley and has several acres of hops.

The brothers own Luxalune Gastropub in Winnipeg and are the creators of Farmery Premium Lager, a craft beer that has won a strong local following. After a decade in the restaurant business, they decided to revisit their farming roots by growing the ingredients for their beer. They aim to construct their own estate brewery where visitors will come to learn about the beer-making process from gate to glass – a new experience gaining traction in North America.

"By next year I hope to be using our own hops and our own barley in our own brewery in our own beer," says Lawrence Warwaruk.

He explained that they learned much of what they needed to know to produce the hops from research done out-of-province, though they got a few plants at the start from a small Manitoba producer. CMCDC's research trials will ensure future hops producers in the province will have a solid base of local research to help them make informed decisions for their farm.

The Warwaruk brothers planted their hops in 2011 and hope to collect a solid harvest from the mature plants this year.

"I think you'll find we can develop and grow some varieties of hops just as well as anywhere," says Lawrence.

For more information

If you'd like to learn more about the hops growth trial at the CMCDC, contact Craig Linde at the diversification centre at 204-841-4712.

Manitoba's diversification centres have a close relationship with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. They are funded in part by Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

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