Beer enthusiasts around Madison will soon have another opportunity to indulge their taste for hoppy pale ales. The Hop Garden, a new farm and beer company based in Belleville, is getting ready to release its debut brew, named Local Harvest Pale Ale.
Owner Rich Joseph, 44, just received federal regulatory go-ahead for his new business, which is starting up this month. He plans to use his own locally grown hops for the beer, which will be made at the House of Brews on the east side of Madison. The first bottles should be available by mid-February.
Joseph's beers will provide a showcase for his interest in hop farming. He's among several southern Wisconsin farmers who have been growing hops and supplying them to area brewers through the Wisconsin Hop Exchange. Last fall, part of his crop was used in a series of fresh hop beers made by One Barrel Brewing Company.
Joseph recently purchased about 17 acres of farmland near Belleville, located approximately 20 miles south of Madison. That's in addition to a hop field that Joseph manages on his father-in-law's Oconomowoc farm.
"My original plan was to make beer on a small scale here, and show people the difference in the hop varieties and what beer tastes like with them," says Joseph. Last fall, Joseph planted over 1,100 hop rhizomes on his Belleville land, and he has plans for another 5,000 plantings this spring.
As the demands associated with planting, caring for the hops and harvesting them became more evident, Joseph says he decided to turn to Page Buchanan at House of Brews to help out with the beer itself. "I've been home brewing for about 15 years, but I'm not the professional; that's why I'm leaving beer up to Page," he says.
The first release under the Hop Garden label will be named Local Harvest Pale Ale. It features Nugget, Columbus, Cascade and Willamette hops. Joseph realizes hoppy beers are strong sellers in Madison, and that quest for bitterness is making its way to more rural areas of Wisconsin, too. "Hoppy beers are popular. I want to offer a transition beer, nothing that would scare anybody," he explains. "My hope is that we'll serve some of the smaller towns in southern Wisconsin."
Joseph already has about 40 different stores ready to carry his beer, which will be available in 22-ounce bomber bottles. The first batch of beer is scheduled for delivery to local stores beginning Tuesday, Feb. 18. By spring, Joseph plans to offer his second beer, Bushel Basket Imperial IPA.
Around Dane County, the initial release of Hop Garden Local Harvest Pale Ale will most likely be available at Steve's, Star Liquor, Licali's Market & Spirits, and all three local Woodman's Markets (the east, west and Sun Prairie locations).
Joseph is hoping that his Belleville farm, also named the Hop Garden, will become a draw for beer tourists and those who want to learn about growing the plants. This winter he's been offering workshops to prospective growers. He also wants to establish a network of farmers who produce hops. Joseph intends to use his farm as a central place for other farmers to bring the vines where the cones would be picked and then processed, prior to pelletizing by the Wisconsin Hop Exchange, which then sells them to Wisconsin breweries.
"I'd like to turn the Sugar River Valley area into a hop growing Mecca," says Joseph.