As readers of our summer issue will recall, New York was once the world’s biggest exporter of hops—those climbing vines whose flowers provide the bitterness in beer—by the millions of pounds. These days, even the most sustainably minded local brewers source their Humulus lupulus from far-flung farms. But thanks to a test plot at the gorgeous, 80-acre Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Westchester, at least one batch of Brooklyn suds can now say they’re truly plow-to-pint.
Those were planted in part for brewmaster Kelly Taylor, who with his wife, Sonja Giacobbe, runs Kelso Brewery just off Atlantic Avenue in Clinton Hill. For the past few years Kelso has supplied kegs of special seasonal pilsners—infused with Stone Barns’s own lavender and honey in spring or pineapple-mint and lemon verbena in summer—for the celebrated hyperlocal restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns, which overlooks the very fields and hives where they were harvested.
The idea for the hops crop sprouted at the restaurant three years ago, when Taylor and brewmaster Scott Vaccaro from Westchester’s Captain Lawrence Brewery took part in Blue Hill at Stone Barns’s annual sausage and beer dinner. The two ended up talking about their appetite for locally grown hops, and—with the support of Blue Hill beer sommelier Mike Greenberg—started begging Stone Barns’s farmer, Jack Algiere, to put a few in the ground. “We’ll use ’em and put ’em in the beer,” Taylor recalls was his pitch to the already-busy farmer, “and give it back to you!”
The plea worked. The brewers put up the money for starter plants (hops are grown from tuberous stems known as “rhizomes”) and picked out varieties like Cascades and Nuggets that Jack planted last spring. By last fall Stone Barns got their first tiny crop, which Taylor dried and threw into a firkin—beer speak for a quarter-barrel—of Kelso pilsner as a test run.
This harvest season delivered a bigger hop haul: Both Taylor and Vaccaro each got five pounds of flowers, which Taylor picked up at Blue Hill in Manhattan. (“I put ’em in my backpack,” he says.) To best display their terroir, he’s added them in fresh to his standard pilsner recipe, which Taylor expects to be a “punchier, grassier and greener” beer.
Sadly, we won’t get to taste a pint here in the borough of Kings, as Taylor has to make good on his promise to Greenberg and Algiere. That means you’ll have to score a res at Blue Hill at Stone Barns to taste Kelso’s hoppy brew, or queue up in Westchester on October 2, when Stone Barns will tap Captain Lawrence’s keg, appropriately, as part of their annual Harvest Fest.
Photo credit: Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.