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Hops thrive at North Las Vegas orchard, used in local beer

Posted at 7:41 PM, Jun 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-05 22:57:57-04

The hot desert landscape of the Las Vegas valley may not seem like an ideal location to grow hops, or other crops, but they're thriving.

The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension's Research Center and Demonstration Orchard in North Las Vegas first planted hops -- key in brewing beer -- in 2011. The crop has been so successful that local brewery Tenaya Creek uses the hops in its 702 Pale Ale special key.

"When you have fresh hops, just like fresh fruit, like when you pick fruit from the tree, it tastes so much better than when we buy it from the store. It's the same way with hops," said Tamara Wynne, the center’s research technician.

Hops are typically grown in colder climates in Europe and the Pacific Northwest but quite a few varieties have flourished in North Las Vegas.

"You don't get as much disease when you have a lack of moisture and humidity," Wynne said.

One variety of hops called Neo-Mexicana is native to the U.S. southwest and Mexico and does well in hot, dry climates.

For those varieties that need a little moisture, the center has a shade house that brings down the temperature and increases the humidity.

"The hops are surprising. You wouldn't expect them to be growing this vigorously and this awesome in the desert," Wynne said. "It's amazing with a little bit of water and a little bit of love, they do grow and do well and we actually get harvests."

The center also hopes to encourage Nevada farmers to consider planting hops, especially the Neo-Mexicana variety that doesn't require the same amount of care and can be quite profitable, Wynne said. Hops do take three to four years until delivering a crop but Wynne said the value makes it worth it. 

There's also a demand for hops beyond local breweries. While 90 percent of this year's fall harvest at the center is going to Tenaya Creek, home brewers are also interested in the fresh crop versus using dried or frozen hops.

"So the hops locally grown that brewers can use in their home city is really desirable," Wynne said.

A volunteer with the center first initiated the partnership with Tenaya Creek about three years ago after bringing the brewery lots of hops to test out.

"The brewer really loved the flavor," Wynne said.