In the back corner of a field, overlooking the source of the Susquehanna River, Otsego County is about to get back to its roots.
“To me, this is an agricultural area. I grew up around here, so this is kind of a really cool project. I’ve learned a great deal,” said Mike McManus, Brewery Ommegang Innovation Manager as he stood over a hop yard, awaiting fresh hops.
McManus grew up in the legacy of the dominant Anheuser-Busch family and Otsego hops.
“We’ll drill holes every three feet. We’ll train them along the cover and let them rise to the top of the yard. Where you see the wires,” he explained.
The area’s been in the shadow of their destruction to fungus since 1909.
“It came back from that after the advent of some fungicides and then powdery mildew really did the industry in the Northeast in,” said McManus.
But now the hops are back and Brewery Ommegang, where McManus is the Innovation Manager, is getting in on the ground floor.
“It’s really exciting. There’s a lot of interest in it. And there’s a lot of farms going in around here,” said McManus.
McManus’ job is to design specialty beers. As they test 15 types of hops to see which grows best, he could get some more flavors to play with. They’re the first major commercial brewery in the area to test Otsego hops.
“Is it going to pay off for us economically, in the next year or two? No. But it’s long term.” said PR and Creative Services Manager Larry Bennett.
Ommegang said it’s about supporting local business.
“Hops are expensive, so if there’s a way to grow them in Upstate New York, make it economically viable for farmers, it would probably be also beneficial to the breweries,” said Bennett
But it could be some time before the plants and the local hops business can get back off the ground.
Brewery Ommegang says they won’t get to use any of their hops for brewing until next year. And the crop they’re putting in will only be large enough for small batches of beer.