This all started with a stove-top homebrew kit, purchased a few years before anyone was old enough to legally buy beer. Why? Because, you couldn’t buy beer, but you could buy hops and malt. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.. to beer. Those first brews were probably terrible, by any standard, but we were proud rebels. We had a few bottles explode along the way, but by the winter of 2002, we were brewing small, 5-gallon batches in our barn, regularly. By that time, we had begun to develop favorite recipes and were actively working to get consistent results. It was more than a hobby; it was an obsession, searching for the highest quality ingredients to better our recipes and filling ledgers with brewing and recipe notes. For us, planting a few hops was inevitable on the path to achieve the most flavorful brews.
Black Locust Hops was born in the spring of 2006 when getting hops became difficult (for that story, you’ll have to check out one of our tours!). We planted forty hop rhizomes in a single row, supported by Black Locust poles, with the simple goal of growing our own ingredients for our homebrews. We used to chop our bines down w/a machete, lay them out on tables, and have hand-pick parties with a bunch of our very long-suffering friends. In 2007, we sold a 20 gallon bin of our hand-picked whole hop cones for what would be the first farm to bottle beer in the region “The Black Locust Venom Ale” by DuClaw Brewing Company! As more breweries contacted us, asking for local ingredients, with the help of our friends and family, we planted more hops, expanding to meet the steady demand. We quickly realized we were going to run out of friends, if we were like, “Hey, everyone, let’s hand-pick 4000 plants; it’ll be fun!”
We were the first hop operation in the region, and the commercial hop picking/ harvesting equipment is made for hop farms that are hundreds of acres, not 24 acres and cost a minimum of a quarter of a million dollars.. a little out of our reach (by $244,000 or so). With that can-do, DIY because we couldn’t PAY attitude, we got to work researching the best styles of pickers, ordered parts, and put together the only full- service harvest facility in Maryland. We built our own harvester to machine to cut the plants, a new barn to house all of our specialized equipment and dryers, and even a pelletizer to make storage and use of our hops feasible. Over the years, we have been able to automate much of our harvesting process, which allows us to retain our friendships and to harvest, dry, pelletize, and package not only for ourselves but for other small hopyards in our area. We’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, but we’ve been proud to share our mistakes in order to help other farms get started on the best footing possible.
Brewing is still our passion, and in 2015, we applied for the first special exception in Baltimore County to build a farm brewery to serve our brews with our farm-grown hops directly to our customers. We knew it would take us a long time to build everything ourselves, but that’s us. Our farm brewery, like everything else on our farm, was designed and built by our own hands, down to the tabletops and seats milled by us from wood grown right here! When you visit us, you’ll see us on our hands and knees working in the hopyard, tending our plants, and brewing and packaging our beers. Rarely will you see us sitting down, but we promise you it does happen from time to time! What began as a dream (and a rather time-consuming hobby) has transformed into a way to keep our farm viable while sharing something special with our