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Cone Keepers Hop Yard keeps Northwest Indiana beers local and hoppy

The family-owned hop farm provides local hops to local breweries


The hop fields at Cone Keepers Hop Yard in Demotte - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • Submitted Photo
  • The hop fields at Cone Keepers Hop Yard in Demotte
Justin and Leah Arthur started Cone Keepers Hop Yard in 2014 in DeMotte  with a 1/2 acre of trial trellis. They added another .75 in 2015 and expanded another 1.25 acres in 2016. Justin, an electrician by trade, does the farming; Leah is focused on assisting with marketing and sales.

Cone Keepers’ website informs: “We’re a family-run hop farm, our mission is to grow the highest quality, freshest, local hops. We look forward to serving all the Northwest Indiana breweries and helping the homebrewer make some fantastic craft beer with our fresh, local hops.”

Justin and Leah responded by email to fill out their story.

NUVO: What prompted you to delve into hops farming with a challenging mission for “all the Northwest Indiana breweries and…homebrewers?”

Justin Arthur: I have been a long time homebrewer. I knew the importance of using the right hop for each particular batch being brewed. As I began brewing, I came across some difficulties with locating certain hops. Also, I wanted to brew with quality and the freshest hops available. After several years of brewing with hops grown from the Pacific Northwest, I decided it was time to study and learn the ins and outs of this amazing plant. I then attended Purdue specialty crop seminars for hop production.

Leah Arthur: Indiana and the surrounding areas are a growing community of established breweries. The people running these places are truly passionate about their craft, and we, in turn, are passionate about producing high-quality, multi-variety hops, grown in Indiana soil. We recognized the need of LOCAL hops, and knew it could be accomplished with a lot of hard work and determination.

NUVO: Why did you choose the initial variety of hops?

Justin: We studied several hop varieties, which is a challenging task to do. Today there are around 250 varieties and several of them are proprietary. So we narrowed the varieties down to the ones available for us to grow on a commercial level. I also spoke to a few brewmasters and asked them what varieties they were particularly interested in. Our goal is to produce an equal balance of aroma and bittering hops.

NUVO: Why did you expand into different varieties?

Justin: We initially started with ix varieties on the .5 acre trellis. We had to eliminate Pacific Gem from that yard. Our 2015 expansion on the .75 acre trellis, really peaked our interest in several different varieties. We wanted to see what varieties would do well in Indiana. We planted 10 more varieties and ended up eliminating Vojvodina, Horizon and Santiam hops from that yard. So last year, with all of our trials out of the way, we expanded again on 1.25 acres and only planted two varieties —  Sorachi Ace and Galena hops. We hope that with our test variety trials accomplished, we have a strong knowledge of how to push forward. Also, knowing how to set a consistent spray schedule for fungal disease and pest control is vital in Indiana hop production for each particular variety.

Hops, on hops, on hops. - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • Submitted Photo
  • Hops, on hops, on hops.
NUVO: Which came first — choosing the site and preparing it or chasing the varieties of hops? What followed per your learning curve?

Justin: I would have to say choosing the hop varieties was an initial challenge. Then of course you have to put those plants in the hop yards. Farming hops is an unusual and difficult way to farm. It's construction meets farming. Building a hop yard and trellis system is a huge task and very expensive. Many things have to be laid out properly and a visual blueprint has to be conducted on the proper growing site.

So knowing your land and how water flows or where the proper soil is, really determines how the trellis system will be constructed. With our hop yards, we knew that staying close to our barn and water supply was very important. That is why we decided to start the trial yards close to the barn. After that we drilled a new water well in the back part of the farm and installed the 1.25 yard expansion in 2016.

NUVO: What was your initial marketing strategy?

Leah: We pounded pavement at first!

Justin likes the face-to-face interaction and establishing a connection with the brewer (whether it is a professional brewer or a homebrewer). So, he did a lot of visits to breweries and tried to discern what were they most looking for in hops.

We used social media right away. Word gets around, and eventually a few media sources contacted us (Times of NWI, Jollity Magazine, etc..) and wrote great articles about us. As we got our name out there, we published a website and try to keep our social media current.

NUVO: How do you each work with brewers?

Leah: I am mainly the sounding board for Justin; he runs his sales and marketing ideas through me, and I do my best to implement them. For instance, we brainstorm on new SWAG we can give away or new features to add to our website, and I make it happen.

Justin: I have a personal level with brewers. Deep down, brewers love beer and enjoy the best beer that can be found. There is a huge push and movement for local products. Especially with brewing ingredients, brewers love the ability to come out to our farm. Seeing and touching a product that will go into a batch of brew that they work so hard on is important to them. There is a true symbiotic relationship between local growers and local breweries. This is on all levels, whether it be local honey, or other ingredients that their kitchen is cooking with.

NUVO: How do you interface with other hops farmers?

Justin: The interaction among hop farmers is huge in Indiana. We all know the difficulties of growing this crop: the cost of building a commercial hop yard, the time spent in the yards and the trials and errors of growing a crop that wants to be grown in a arid climate. All of these are general topics of conversation.

We keep our interactions current on all social media platforms. One of my goals this year is to be able to attend more of our IHGA meetings; this is where you can really interchange ideas and goals.

NUVO: What are your plans for 2017?

Justin: Our plan for 2017 is to continue to increase the alpha levels and oil content on certain hop varieties. We want to continue to be a professional partner with breweries and grow with them. Also, with our greenhouse, we will continually attempt to develop and propagate our own hop variety.

We have future goals of expanding our farm by raising Nubian goats for milk and meat production. The goats will be raised on a two acre forest on our farm. We plan to supplement a lot of their feed with spent grains from Pokro Brewing and Evil Horse Brewing.
Cone Keepers' hops were used in Pokro Brewing's award-winning Bicentenni-ale beer. - POKRO BREWING CO.
  • Pokro Brewing Co.
  • Cone Keepers' hops were used in Pokro Brewing's award-winning Bicentenni-ale beer.

NUVO: This appeared as post on your site: "Our hops went into the WINNER of Indiana's 2016 Bicentenni-ale Beer Competition, made by our friends over at Pokro Brewing. Read more about it here!"

What’s special about being part of wins?

Leah: Of course, we love the publicity. But we are most proud that all of our hard work can translate into something award-winning, and Pokro can be recognized as the amazing brewmasters that they are, using local Indiana hops.

Justin: Being a part of this win was very big for both Pokro Brewing and Cone Keepers. The owners of Pokro Brewing are more then professional partners, they are dear friends. We are very proud of what Pokro Brewing has done in the past few years. They have just recently grown from a 3bbl production to a 10bbl brewery. This will allow them to continue to make exceptional beers on a larger level. With Pokro Brewing you will always get a new and exciting style of beer.

NUVO asked Pokro for their input:

“We appreciate that Cone Keepers is a family-owned business, just like ours,” emailed Robyn Pokropinski, Pokro Brewing Company co-founder. “We had the honor of touring their farm and meeting the family. Getting to know the people with whom we are doing business is important to us, as are all of the personal touches that a family-owned business can provide.

“We enjoy using locally-grown ingredients in our beer. We won the [Indiana State Fair] 2016 Bicentenni-ale Beer Competition with ‘Angus,’ our British Strong Ale brewed with whole-leaf Fuggle hops from Cone Keepers. It was a great win for us both! Every fall we brew harvest ales (‘Black Kat’ and ‘POKtober Harvest Ale’) with fresh hops that Justin personally delivers to us.

“Our brewery focuses on Belgian, English and European style beers. Joe (owner/brewmaster) is proud of his Polish heritage, so you will find a few Polish items on our food menu, plus we have a monthly Polish Night (First Thursday of each month), featuring a full Polish food menu.”

In addition to Griffith-based Pokro, NUVO reached out to others who use Cone Keepers hops. Here are their diverse stories:

  • The Guardian Brewing Co.
Bill Kerr, founder/brewer at The Guardian Brewing Co. in Muncie, emailed:

At The Guardian, we try to make most of our beers with as much Indiana-sourced ingredients as possible. Before opening our brewery in 2015, we were looking for a local hop source and we found Cone Keepers. We visited Justin and Leah during their harvest party where they had family and friends helping to harvest and clean the hop vines. It was really cool to witness!

We also use malts from Sugar Creek Malt Company. Their malts make up the majority of our beers. They make some fantastic malts. We also source other local ingredients,  such as coffee from Muncie's own coffee shop The Caffeinery that we use in our Coffee Stout; and we use Wick's Pies out of Winchester for our Pumkin Ale. We are partnering with Wicks to do a pie beer series.

Hop Bottle Pete, IPA — named after a local Muncie legend, pop bottle Pete — utilizes 86 percent Indiana ingredients. We used a large amount of whole cone nugget hops from Cone Keepers. We also used Sugar Creek Malt two row as the base malt. It's malty, a tad sweet, a little boozy and has a great hop profile. It doesn’t kill your taste buds with hop bitterness, but it's definitely there. Copper in color, very tasty and the beer was well received. 8 percent ABV, 70 IBU's.

I would say the easiest part about using locally-grown ingredients is being able to call or email these suppliers and pick up ingredients the day you want them, as opposed to ordering and waiting on shipping.

The most challenging — sometimes local suppliers are small like us, and it's hard to keep up with our demand. It's a good problem to have though!

  • Iechyd Da Brewing Co.
Elkhart-based Iechyd Da Brewing Co. (it's pronounced Yah-key-Dah) founder Summer Lewis passed along brewer Chip Lewis’ responses:

Cone Keepers is one of the local sources with a nice hop selection and an ability to supply hops in pellet form. We also use malt from Sugar Creek Malt for some of our brews.

We made a Bicentenni-ale brew for the state's 200th using Indiana ingredients. Ye Olde and Aleman Malt from Sugar Creek Malt, Cone Keepers' Iechyd Da Blend hops (mix of Wye Viking, Willamette and Cascade) as well as some unknown variety hops growing on the Ruthmere Mansion Museum a block from the pub. We fermented with White Labs San Francisco yeast to make a California common style beer. All this together made a great Indiana steam lager that our customers really enjoyed.

The easiest part about using locally-grown ingredients is the ability to work directly with the growers to create hop blends with specific flavor profiles. The most challenging part, as with most locally-sourced ingredients, price is always a factor. It's a fine balance of absorbing additional cost and what customers are willing to pay for the added value of a locally-sourced product.

  • Katsmann Brew
“Home brewers with a future in opening a professional brewery,” is how Justin Arthur introduced NUVO to Muncie-based KatsMann Brew co-owner Tim Kats, who emailed:

My father-in-law [Robert Mann] and I took on the hobby of home brewing in the fall of 2014. Bob (my father-in-law) ran into Justin at work in downtown Chicago and somehow struck up a conversation about homebrewing and learned that Justin owned a hop farm. We definitely wanted to start using fresh hops and what better way than local grown products. We took a trip out to his hop yard this past November to get a tour and pick up eight different varieties of hops.

We brewed our first batch with Cone Keepers' hops to ring in the New Year. Just the fresh smell of the whole cone hops was amazing, you can smell the subtle differences in the varieties. Bob has a small garden from which we have used home grown rosemary in a Saison, but haven't looked into any local grain/malts.

The nice part about locally-grown ingredients is the face to face, and nothing is better than supporting your local businesses/state. The beer we brewed with Cone Keepers hops is a hop forward American amber ale using Brewers Gold and Cascade. We will dry hop with some Cascade as well.

We are still at the home-brew scale, but are steadily upgrading our equipment and look to keep growing. As we start brewing bigger batches, more local products will be searched out. We don't have a brewery yet but it’s one of our future dreams! We love to experiment with ingredients to create unique beers.

  • Evil Horse Brewing Co.
NUVO asked Steve Kamp, founder/brewmaster of Illinois-based Evil Horse Brewery what drew him to cross state lines to Cone Keepers hops. Kamp replied by email:

We are working on a special collaboration beer with a local establishment and wanted to use locally-sourced ingredients. I had learned about Cone Keepers from my girlfriend, who lives in Demotte, where Cone Keepers is located; we actually went there on our first date! While not in Illinois, Demotte is relatively close to Crete, Illinois, where our brewery is located. We also used 60 pounds of locally-sourced honey from Frankfort, Illinois.

The beer we brewed will be a fairl-hoppy honey ale. We used Fuggle Hops from Cone Keepers as the dry hop in the beer. Fuggle Hops have a pleasant, woody/earthy aroma and flavor. Dry hopping is a process where you add fresh hops into the fermenter of a beer that already has been fermented; this allows the volatile hop oils to be absorbed into the beer. Normally, hops are boiled when the beer is brewed but you lose a lot of the delicate hop aromas and flavors through the boiling.

The easiest part about using locally-grown ingredients is availability. I was able to personally pick up both the honey and the hops. You get to meet the people who produce the product and get a feel for the passion that they have for what they are doing. I can tell you that Justin is very passionate about his hop operation.

The challenge is less variety in locally-grown products. I am sure this will change with time.

A pint of history:

DeMotte became a station in the early 1880s on the New York Central Railroad. Named for Mark L. De Motte, a member of Congress at the time, DeMotte continues to celebrate the area’s Dutch-American heritage in early August with the annual Touch of Dutch Festival.

Until the middle of the 19th century when it was drained to make farmland, Jasper County was part of the 2nd largest freshwater wetland in the U.S. created by the Iroquois River, one of the main tributaries of the Kankakee River that flows throughout Jasper County.


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