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BRUNSWICK — It’s no secret Maine has an abundance of breweries, with more than 130 across the state.
The state does, however, lack commercial hops farmers to supply local ingredients to those breweries.
That’s why Brunswick native Nick Favreau convinced his parents in 2016 to start using the family’s farm at 195 Woodside Drive to grow hops.
“We already had the open land and the open pasture so we didn’t have to clear anything,” he said. “We had the farm buildings here, too, so it was an easy process to switch over to harvesting hops.”
Before his parents started Woodside Hop House, Favreau said, there were fewer than 30 acres of commercial hops grown in the state. Now, the Favreaus have dedicated 4 acres of their farm to harvesting hops at the only commercial operation in Brunswick.
“We know how important local ingredients are for breweries in Maine and that is why I thought my mom and dad could get in on this business,” Favreau said. “… I think it really is going to be successful for them. There is a need for local ingredients, including locally grown hops.”
Favreau’s great-grandfather, Dr. Maurice J. Dionne, was the original owner of Crystal Springs Farm. After Dionne’s death in 1973, parts of the farm were sold to the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust.
But nearly 60 acres are still in the family; Favreau’s grandfather owns 25 and his parents, Jerry and Jennifer, own 35.
It did take some convincing to get Favreau’s parents on board to become entrepreneurs in the beer industry.
“I don’t even drink beer,” Jerry Favreau said. “But my son is knowledgeable about the industry and both he and my wife convinced me this was a good idea. It is a great way to keep this land in the family, which is important to all of us.”
Woodside Hops House planted its first crop in 2017. In March, Flight Deck Brewing became the first brewery to use hops from the business when the brewery released a blueberry lager.
The new brew sold out quickly, according to Nate Wildes of Flight Deck Brewing.
“We had no idea how our first supply would be and customers at Flight Deck really seemed to enjoy the blueberry lager,” Wildes said.
According to Favreau, growing hops takes lots of patience. Hops are a hardy and aggressive plant, and a perennial that takes three years to mature.
In Maine, most hops are at peak in September. The plant can be seen growing up trellises and can have side arms 18-24 inches across with flowering cones.
Hops are what give beer its aroma, flavor and bitterness, while also acting as a preservative and stability agent.
“Not many people know exactly how much goes into harvesting hops,” Nick said. “It is hard to anticipate what the brewing industry will want when you have to plant hops three years in advance.”
The Favreaus attend conferences across New England to learn more about the hop industry. Although all three family members have other full-time jobs, they still immerse themselves into learning more about the industry.
Jerry is a grocery manager at Food City in Lisbon, Jennifer works at a Lowe’s home improvement store and Nick works as a consultant for BerryDunn, a certified public accountant and consulting firm in Portland.
“We are really busy, but we are thankful for this new opportunity and we all think it will pay off in the end,” Jerry Favreau said. “We both work in high-stress jobs and for us to go back into the field and plant things or watch them grow is therapeutic for us.”
The Favreaus said they have been applying for various clean energy and small business grants. They hope to install solar panels on some of their buildings and purchase more equipment, which, they said, can be a “hefty investment.”
“My idea is that hopefully in the future we can create a group of hops farmers that can collectively apply for grants and grow this industry together,” Nick Favreau said.
Nick Favreau inspects a hop bine at Woodside Hop House in Brunswick.
Hops from Woodside Hop House in Brunswick were featured in a blueberry lager launched by Flight Deck Brewing in March.