“Want to go and see the hop farm?” Noah asked me one sunny Fall morning. The answer was, of course, yes.
We jumped into his Subaru and headed off from the brewery out of Portland, driving toward Gorham, Maine. It was an unassuming and an uneventful drive past Westbrook on Route 25, open green spaces, the occasional gas station, a Dunkin’ Donuts, a Domino’s Pizza joint. All of the sudden we pulled off the drive, and drove up and to the right, heading back to what I could only assume to be the farm.
The Hop Yard began in Fall of 2011, an idea born from a conversation among friends over beers. That idea took root, literally, in the Spring of 2012 when Geoff Keating and his partners planted their first acre of hops in Fort Fairfield, four hours north in Maine. The following year, in 2013, plants went into the ground in Gorham, considerably closer to Portland, perhaps the epic-center of the brewing scene in Maine.
“The original goal of The Hop Yard was to grow a meaningful quantity of hops, enough to create a self supporting agricultural business, and enough to enable us to work with a handful of local brewers,” Keating explains. And over the years, they’ve more-or-less succeeded.
It was an active and bustling day during my visit, with fresh Cascade hops being picked and separated from the bine. Cones heading straight into ten-pound bags, and straight into Noah’s trunk for a beer he would brew that afternoon. It was the closest thing to a “local brew” that I’ve experienced.
Now, with 10 acres in the ground, the Hop Yard supplies local brewers in Maine with both fresh and pelletized hops (a partnership with Crosby farms allows them access to the equipment needed for this process), Maine-grown Sterling, Willamette, Cascade, Nugget, and Centennial varietals.
“We’re hoping to revitalize the Maine hop,” says Keating. “And we get one harvest a year to try to do just that.”