A Great Hop-Pertunity: Elk Mound farm takes hops from bed to brewer

Tori Johnson

Scott and Jody Alnes and Co.
Scott and Jody Alnes and Co.

It’s a long journey to get the beer we love to drink ready to serve. Some folks in Elk Mound have taken on a role in that journey, starting their part of this process in the soil. Scott and Jody Alnes began their own hop farm about three years ago in hopes of carrying on their late son Jesse’s passion for brew. Jesse was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. He was well-known for making his own small batches of beer, and sharing his craft with others. Jesse passed away in a motorcycle accident 10 years ago, but his love for beer lives on with his parent’s farm.

This two-acre farm, with the ability to expand up to 20 acres, is home to approximately 2,000 hop plants. Growing on vines, these plants tower over the surrounding crops. If you happen to drive past while making your way across Highway 29, you will notice it doesn’t look like your average Midwestern farm. Growing at the farm are two separate varieties of hops (also referred to as cones): Cascade and Centennial. These are perennial plants, meaning they will keep growing year after year without being replanted. The amount of hops harvested from each plant depends on how long it has been in the ground, and it takes about four years to reach maximum yield. The average amount of cones produced on each vine amounts to around three pounds. That may seem small, but this two-acre plot has the potential to produce around 6,000 pounds of hops if all goes well.

The Alnes family will be the first to tell you that this is not a hobby you pick up out of the blue. They spent years researching hops, attending seminars, and shadowing a very close mentor until they knew enough to start the farm. Now, they share their knowledge with anyone who reaches out to learn about hops.

Hoppertuntiy Gardens has recently started making its impact on the Chippewa Valley brewing scene. Chippews Falls’ own Brewster Bros. was the first establishment to “hop” on the opportunity to source cones locally. In addition to buying hops from the Alnes family, Brewster Bros. crafted a beer in honor of their son. The company had the Alnes design their own label, and let the family name the ale. This seasonal, wet-hopped IPA known as FLYBY has a label that features an aircraft Jesse learned to fly while in the Air Force soaring over the hop fields.

Normally, hops that must be shipped are dried before travelling. By sourcing locally, Brewster Bros. was able to utilize wet hops, adding a fresh element to the beers flavor. FLYBY will be available again in September.

A couple of other customers seizing the chance to add Wisconsin-grown hops to their recipes are Pearl Street Brewery in La Crosse and Worth Brewing Company from Northland, Iowa. Pearl Street Brewery showed no hesitation to take advantage of having a local hop producer with their decision to buy out Hoppertunity’s entire 2018 harvest of Cascade cones. Breweries – or anyone looking to make their own beer – have the chance to buy cones locally from Hoppertunity after the next harvest (depending on whether the plants are ready, this could be at the end of August). The Alnes family is excited to expand its customer base and hope to see its hops in more local brews.

The work done on the farm is not an easy 9-5 job, but you wouldn’t tell by speaking with the family. They are proud of their accomplishments, and have a positive attitude about the challenges coming their way. As the process of starting a farm has moved on step by step, things seem to work out in their favor with happy coincidences at every turn.

Inquiries about volunteering during harvest season or purchasing locally grown hops can be directed to hoppertunitygardens@gmail.com. General information about Hoppertunity Gardens can be found on their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/HoppertunityGardens.