Growing hops in Arizona. Sounds impossible, right? After all, more than 95 percent of domestic hops — that all-important flavoring and stability agent in beer — are cultivated in the area stretching from the Pacific Northwest to Idaho’s panhandle, places with notably different climates than the Sonoran desert. To grow hops, you need cold winters, during which a dormancy period takes place and energizes the plant's roots.
But hops also require long days and hot summers, two things a bit more achievable in our state. That's why, for a farmer in Chino Valley, located about 45 minutes north of Prescott, growing hops right here in the Grand Canyon State sounded like a real possibility, one for which he could partner with a local brewery.
For that he turned to Audra Yamamoto, owner of Granite Mountain Brewing in Prescott.
“We’ve got a hop guy,” she says.
Hops are expensive to grow and hold no guarantee in terms of yield. They have a maturation period of about three years, a lag time which makes meeting high demand a difficult task. For these reasons, Granite Mountain's hop farmer — who prefers to remain elusive — did extensive research as to where his hop crop would be best suited before concluding Granite Mountain Brewing would be the best fit for the partnership. And, over the past year, head brewer Jerrad Smith has been successful in creating recipes that use the local hops, though there's currently only a limited supply.
Smith first used the hops as a dry hopping component in an anniversary brew, and following that success, he created the 100 oz. of Attitude, a double IPA. The special brew has become a highly sought pour for brewery patrons, who relish the fact that it's dry hopped using locally-grown Cascade hops. Grapefruit and piney aromas from the fresh hops hit the nose straight through from first sip to finish, making for a pretty one-of-a-kind drinking experience.
The hops also allow Granite Mountain to make more local connections with their beer, something Yamamoto deems extremely important to the culture and feel of the brewery.
“It’s all about connections — to customers, to Prescott, to the brewery experience, and the community,” Yamamoto says.
Visit the brewery and you'll find a dark, comfortable, and cozy space with walls lined with local art instead of televisions. And in keeping with the brewery's local theme, lots of elements in the space come from artisans within the community — everything from the steel mountain landscape that's now the brewery logo to the hand-bent iron footrest lining the bottom edge of the wooden bar top, which was hand-picked by Yamamoto and husband/co-owner Damon Swafford.
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As far as future plans, Yamamoto is looking toward distribution, which will start up next year. It's an impressive achievement considering the brewery started with a Kickstarter campaign and will only celebrate its fourth anniversary in August of this year.
For more information about the brewery, check the Granite Mountain Brewing website.