29 Nov Hoosier Family Goes From Homebrewing to Hop Growing in “Zero to Sixty”
November is all about giving thanks for things that matter – and in every brewer’s case – hops matter. As IndianaOnTap readers are about all things Hoosier, learning about hops grown right here in Indiana is not only important, but essential to the growth of our Hoosier beer industry. Thus, the point of this post – to introduce the IndianaOnTap community to a hop grower in Northwest Indiana: Cone Keepers Hop Yard.
The People, the Hops
I first learned of Cone Keepers Hop Yard (Cone Keepers) through the IndianaOnTap Facebook site – I knew that hops were grown around Indiana, having seen a number of trellis systems which could only mean hops production, but had never actually visited a hops farm. I contacted Justin & Leah Arthur, the owners of Cone Keepers, to inquire if they would be interested in an interview – luckily enough, they were game.
Justin had been homebrewing for the past twelve years and had gone all-grain in the past five. He and Leah had gone to craft brew shows and heard that other breweries were wanting local hops. While his initial idea was to open a brewery, he realized that Indiana breweries were clamoring for Indiana hops. After convincing Leah to sell their house and move to an area where they could grow hops, Cone Keepers was born this past May. As Leah said, it was “0-60, with no test plots” – they jumped in hops growing!
Cone Keepers is situated on a 13.5 acre plot of land near DeMotte in rural Jasper County. For those that are unfamiliar, Jasper County is known for its blueberry production – and as luck would have it, the proper soil for blueberries is the proper soil for hops. In summer of 2014, Justin and Leah, and their two boys, moved into their new house situated on the hop farm. Justin and Leah currently farm about an acre of hops, with another ½ acre in production for next year. While an acre doesn’t seem like much to the uninitiated, seven varieties of hops (yes, 7!) were grown on this acre. This year’s crop included Willamette, Nugget, Zeus, Glacier, Pacific Gem, Newport, and Southern Cross.
When I asked about mentors, Justin noted that while Jasper County is rich in agricultural heritage, the concept of growing hops in Indiana is a relatively new concept. His assistance in business plans, fertilization, and hops know-how has come from Purdue University, the Indiana Hops Alliance, and the farmers around them. Area farmers have been “kind” enough to allow Justin to harvest their manure for his hop plants, a win-win situation for both the farmer and for Justin and Leah. In addition to the efforts of Justin and Leah, their two boys help as they can, and a number of chickens serve as both insect control and manure spreaders.
On the day I visited, the ½ acre expansion was well underway, with clear delineation of the future growth plotted out by rows covered in manure. As Justin would say, “poo matters” and he and his sons were busily spreading manure as I arrived. This coming week they are getting the trellis system ready for next year’s crop. In addition to the current crop, they plan to add Sorachi Ace, Horizon, Cluster E-2 Early, Santiam, Crystal, Vojvodina, Mt. Hood, and Chinook in the ½ acre expansion. With additional acreage ready for expansion, it is clear that Cone Keepers has a focus on the present, while planning for the future.
In addition to hops sales, Justin and Leah have purchased a greenhouse to both propagate their own hop plants and to grow additional hops plants for sale to the public. Plans for the future include custom contract growing of hops for breweries who wish to have their own hops plot.
Further, Justin and Leah plan to purchase a small-scale hops harvester to help them harvest next year’s crop. They are looking at a small-scale Wolf Predator, capable of harvesting ½ acre every two hours. Harkening back to his early homebrewing experience, Justin also hopes to sell his hops to homebrewers as well through retail outlets, such as the Brewing Supply Store in Valparaiso.
On Indiana Breweries …
Cone Keepers has already worked with Route 2 Brews (upcoming, Lowell) and has spoken to other breweries as well. As for nearby breweries, Justin is a big fan of 18th Street Brewery, Four Fathers Brewing, Devil’s Trumpet, and Figure 8 Brewing. At this time, they would welcome inquiries from Indiana breweries who are interested in locally grown hops for an all-Indiana brew. Please join me in welcoming Cone Keepers Hop Yard to the IndianaOnTap family of Indiana beer businesses!
Owners: Justin & Leah Arthur
Hours: By appointment, please call.
Address: DeMotte, IN 46310
Motto: Fresh, Local Hops
Merchandise: T-shirts, buttons