July 24, 2019 07:33 PM
ONTARIO, N.Y. (WHEC) -- Recently, an online travel publication, Matador Network, named Rochester the best beer town in the northeast.
The number of local breweries has exploded which has led to a growing hops industry in New York. One local hop grower is building a loyal customer base after only a few years.
When you stop by Cobblestone Hop Yard, you'll see rows of vines growing skyward -- creating a wall of green. These plants produce hops -- the cone-shaped flowers that put the bitterness and aroma in beer.
"This is centennial. They're a pretty plant. I like the leaves," said Cheryl Wygal.
Wygal started Cobblestone Hop Yard in Ontario in 2015. She farms the same land where her grandfather grew corn, wheat and oats for 60 years.
In fact, the name of the company, "Cobblestone", pays homage to her grandfather's home -- which still stands on the edge of the property.
News10NBC's Brett Davidsen: "Did you ever think you would become a farmer?"
Cheryl Wygal: "No, not really. When I was younger I thought I would be in the landscaping industry and then that kind of fell by the wayside when I took the time off raising my kids."
But with the children nearly grown and a horticulture degree she had yet to use, Wygal sought out the advice of a local grape grower.
Wygal: "He said grapes are cool, but you should look into hops because New York state has all sorts of incentives for breweries to use local ingredients and now's the time to get in."
So, Wygal got to work.
They built a barn, purchased equipment -- and then started growing hops on eight acres. Four years later, Wygal now has 14 different varieties.
Wygal: "They all impart different flavors to the beer."
Wygal does most of the spring field work on her own.
Wygal: "I drive the lift along the top and I have to tie each of those cords individually. This year, there was about 16,000 of them."
Davidsen: "16,000 cords?"
Wygal: "Yeah. My hands hurt after that season."
Davidsen: "I imagine they did."
Wygal: "You have to actually hand start each chute to get them growing a couple bands per string and then they take off. Soon as you get them on the string, you get a warm day, they can grow a foot in a day."
By August, the vines have grown 20 feet high and the hops are ready to be harvested.
Wygal: "I have driers upstairs in the barn. I dry them immediately. If they sit around, they'll spoil. Once they've dried to about eight percent moisture, I put them in a bag and compress them into bales and then, I send them out to get processed."
Once these vines have matured, Wygal expects to get about 1,000 pounds of hops per acre. They sell for about $12 to $14 a pound.
Cobblestone Hop Yard now has about two dozen customers from mostly New York breweries. Last weekend, they held their annual hop fest to share with the public what they do and to celebrate the brewers who buy their hops.
So, what would her grandfather think?
"My grandfather did not drink, so I am not sure what he would think about it. My uncles and I talk about that now and then, and they're like 'I think he would be okay with it'."
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Updated: July 24, 2019 07:33 PM
Created: July 24, 2019 04:03 PM
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