It’s pretty exciting when you hear that there is a new Hops farm in operation just up the road from you. That’s how I felt last year when I heard about Ryefield Hops starting production in Bemboka which is in the Bega Valley, on the lower side of Brown Mountain, Cooma and the Snowy Mountains.
When I tried to get in contact with them last year, all I had was a surname and the town, which is pretty much all you need in the county. I looked up the surname in the White Pages (online) and found a few people with the same surname in Bemboka, so I just rang one of them. Turns out it was one of the owners cousins, small town!
It was Spring time so Karen told me the bines were only small, but to touch base again in the New Year which I did. As I was heading from my home town of Merimbula up to Jindabyne for the Kosciuszko Craft Beer Festival, I had to drive through Bemboka anyway, so I arranged a visit.
The instructions were pretty simple which involved a cattle grid and dirt road. The only problem was that my Limited Edition Craig Lowndes Commodore with low profile tyres and even lower clearance didn’t like the cattle grid or the dirt road, but I managed to get my ride there in one piece.
Straight away the hop bines are obvious, growing up the metal trellises and swinging in the breeze. Karen’s husband, Morgan, was there to meet me and show me around. Dressed in khaki and with an Akubra hat on, Morgan was the quintessential farmer, although he wasn’t breeding cattle, he was growing hops. The farm is a family farm and it has been in the family for generations and previously used for dairy, but these days things are changing.
Morgan, Karen and her sister, Jade went into Hops farming in 2016. Jade has a background in Environmental Management and permaculture and has been brewing for the past couple of years, whilst Morgan is a boilermaker by trade so created the hops trellis himself. They planted a small crop of Chinook, Cascade, Fuggle and Hallertau hops in 2016 and Morgan says they learnt a lot in that year. In 2017 they increased the size of their crop 6 fold and added 10 additional rows as well as growing an additional variety, Saaz.
When I visited in February Morgan was getting everything prepared to start harvest the following day. The bines were all full of flowers and they were expecting to harvest a couple of hundred kilos of hops over the next week. Amazingly majority of the crop had already been presold which makes for a very promising future, especially when there is a worldwide shortage of hops and brewers are looking to secure themselves shipments. In fact talking to some brewers at the Kosciuszko Festival I heard that they had to place orders 2-3 years in advance, which makes planning quite tricky to say the least.
The other thing that brewers are searching for is to be able to get their ingredients hyper local, which builds on that “localvore” idea. Whatever the case I think there will be plenty more demand for Ryefield Hops in the future and it will be great to see how they “grow” and manage demand for their products.
Thanks to Morgan and Karen for hosting me. For more information, visit their website. www.ryefieldhops.com