We ran into Spencer Gray, president of Sugar Creek Hops LLC, at the Craft Brewers Conference a couple of weeks ago. The farm is a family owned and operated hop farm and supply company located along picturesque Sugar Creek in fertile Boone County, Indiana. The Gray family comes from a long line of farmers producing everything from corn and soybeans to peaches and sugar cane. On top of all that coolness. Gray had even bigger news.
Sugar Creek Hops is set to open the first hops processing facility of its kind outside the traditional hop growing regions of the United States this August, said Gray. The new facility will include a custom engineered pellet mill designed specifically for the purpose of processing hops in a way that preserves volatile acids and essential oils, the key components that add bitterness, aroma and flavor to your lovely beer.
Sugar Creek Hops sources and brokers hops grown around the world in addition to operating the largest hop farm in Indiana. Sugar Creek Hops currently works with more 150 breweries located throughout the United States and abroad and has experienced double digit growth since opening their distribution facility last spring. This new facility will allow Sugar Creek to process hops from the raw dried cone into pellets, which are used by the vast majority of craft brewers.
Unlike other pellet mills, this new design produces a more consistent hop pellet by utilizing an additional stage of processing where the hops are homogenized before they are pelleted in order for brewers to achieve a more consistent result for each batch of beer brewed. The pellet mill at Sugar Creek Hops will have the capacity to process more than 1 million pounds of pelleted hops a year with the ability to expand the system if needed.
As the craft segment of the beer industry continues to grow at record pace (18 percent in total volume growth in 2014 according to the Brewers Association) major strain is being put on the traditional U.S. hop growing regions located in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. With the desire of craft brewers to utilize locally sourced ingredients combined with the overall increase in demand, hop farms have been emerging in new regions such as the Midwest and Northeast for the past decade.
The burgeoning Midwestern industry has been met with many challenges, one of which has been the lack of critical infrastructure needed to process hops into the form that can be used by brewers. The new processing capabilities at Sugar Creek Hops will facilitate the continued growth of these new farms and will lead to a more sustainable supply chain for brewers.