The Leelanau Ticker talked with Michigan Hop Alliance founder Brian Tennis about the upcoming Leelanau hop harvest. Some highlights:
At hop harvest later this August, a massive picking machine will take on 30 acres of perfectly ripe hops at Michigan Hop Alliance’s farm in Omena. “It’s mesmerizing, like a Dr. Seuss-scene, to see the machinery work and to take in the aroma…even if you are not a ‘hop head,’ it’s still magical,” says Brian Tennis, who founded Michigan Hop Alliance along with his wife Amy Tennis by planting their landmark first acre of hops on the Leelanau Peninsula in 2008.
In taking a chance on hops, the Tennises started one of the first commercial hop yards in Michigan, after the state’s 80+ year hiatus from the industry. Fast-forward to three years ago, when Commerce Township-based Streetcar Partners Management purchased a controlling interest in Michigan Hop Alliance. It allowed for such immense growth in hop processing, production and brokering for Michigan Hop Alliance that it became the largest independent hop supplier in the Midwest almost overnight.
Leelanau Ticker: So, where does Michigan fall right now in terms of hop production?
Tennis: Michigan is the 4th largest hop growing state in the country and the top 10 or 11th in the world. I should say we were 10th or 11th in the world two years ago, before we saw a lot of the acreage ripped out. What we are doing right now is idling. What we are needing is a market correction and also looking for new and interesting varieties so we can sell them.
Leelanau Ticker: You are selling hops besides what you grow?
Tennis: Yes, we also broker hops from all over the world, importing hops from nine different countries as well as hops from the Pacific Northwest. A lot of the hops we get in are already palletized on skids and sent to our cold storage facility near Detroit. That facility ships out hops to literally hundreds of breweries in the state, and a total of 4,000 brewery accounts across North America. So, we sell close to a million pounds of hops a year. Well, that was before COVID… I think we are about half of that right now.
Leelanau Ticker: Other thoughts for propelling Michigan hops forward?
Tennis: Fetch Brewing Co. in Whitehall is making beer using all Michigan hops. Hop Lot and Filling Station, too. In terms of true production beers there are only a handful that have come out with ‘100 percent Michigan’ beers. We grow barley here, so there is no reason we why we should not be doing it, and I’d love to see more of a marketing angle there, promoting the cause. On the grower side, we need to provide a quality product at a price point the brewers can use.