Golden State Hops Farming
May 29, 2019 11:00AM
By Melissa Mendonca
Good Ol' Hops
Story by Melissa Mendonca
Photos Courtesy of Golden State Hops
OF THE FIVE VARIETIES of hops Grant Parnagian is growing at Golden State Hops in Fresno, Centennial is proving the most finicky. It’s just the sort of challenge he expected, however, in his decision to farm hops in an area that hasn’t seen production in almost a century.
“California used to be part of the largest hops growing region in the world,” says Parnagian. “Invasive pests came in and couldn’t be controlled. Production moved to the Pacific Northwest, primarily Oregon and Washington.”
Things have changed, though. “Farming is so different now than it was 100 years ago,” he adds. There’s also a well-established market for craft beer and home brewing as well as a desire to drink a locally produced product. Yet as it stands, most brewers are using hops imported from the Pacific Northwest because there just isn’t much production in California.
“We’re trying something different,” says Parnagian. “We’re trying to provide something not very available to the brewers in California.” And while he says, “Nobody was doing large scale hop production in Central California,” he follows it up with, “You’re not going to know unless you try.”
Which brings us back to those five varieties of hops he’s growing on 10 acres. While Centennial is finicky, he’s learned that it’s finicky wherever it’s planted. The other varieties – Cascade, Chinook, Magnum and Willamette – are doing just fine, with two being downright hardy. The varieties were chosen based on Parnagian’s research of the top 10 varieties used by brewers and represent early-, mid- and late-season crops to determine which grow best in the Central Valley climate.
Golden State Hops was founded by the Parnagian Family in 2016 as a new project of Fowler Farms, three generations old, with operations in mandarins, table grapes, almonds and pistachios from Bakersfield to Fresno. The hops business started from Parnagian’s research and development. “Every few years I research projects and sometimes I’ll pull the trigger,” he says. “I thought there would be good demand for a California product, California-grown hops.”
So far, his thoughts have been sound. While his first crop was used to learn the growing process and the business, last year’s and this year’s crops are establishing him as a producer with happy customers. “The main thing is that it’s a good product. What I put out there last year was well received. That’s the encouraging part,” he adds.
Hops are used three ways in the brewing process: fresh from harvest, dried to 10 percent moisture, and dried and pelletized. “The pellet form is the most used,” says Parnagian. “It’s easier to use with the equipment.” Fresh hops often clog the machinery.
Harvest day sees hops being brought in during the morning and set to dry at temperatures not exceeding 115 degrees, a process that takes 10 hours. They are then pelletized and vacuum sealed with nitrogen and stored in a climate-controlled facility, all on site.
At every step, Parnagian invites brewers into the process. “We want to give them as much of an experience as we can so they can go back to their customers,” he says. “We want them to have a story about what they are serving to their patrons. I encourage all these brewers to come out to the hop yard and see the process. I want to give them as much input as they want.”
Parnagian says he’s also the first guy out to the brewery when a batch of beer comes in with his hops. “These guys are like chefs. They all have their own style,” he says. “They can use the same hop variety and each one of them tastes completely different.” Yet, he says, there’s always a familiar aroma. “It smells so much like the ranch where the hops are being grown.”
While Golden State Hops’ first customers have been breweries in the Fresno area, he is expanding his customer base through participation in beer festivals in San Francisco and Los Angeles. “The reactions have been, ‘Wow, I didn’t know anyone was doing this,’” says Parnagian. He takes pride in giving brewers “a California grown product, which I think carries a lot of weight.”
“Craft brew guys, it’s like an art form for them. I want to be a craft hop grower,” he adds. Not bad for someone who says he knew at a young age he was going to carry on the family farming business. “Growing up as a kid, we had to work. I enjoyed it. When I got my driver’s license, when I turned 16, I wanted to go out to the fields,” he says. “I really enjoyed it. I gravitated to it.” Now, at the end of the day, he can pour a cold beer and savor the fruits of his labors. •
Golden State Hops • www.goldenstatehops.com
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