When Paul and Krii Black found hops growing on the ranch they manage in the Pine River Valley, they thought they were weeds.
But after talking with a neighbor and doing a bit of research, they found that what they thought were weeds were actually hops that were brought over in the 1800s by homesteaders. They also found there was a shortage of hops, which are a key ingredient in beer.
So they decided to try raising hops, an arm of the business called Pine River Hops, to supplement their hay and cattle business. Krii Black also runs a wedding venue at the 100-acre L-J Ranch called LePlatt’s Pond.
Now in their fourth season of growing hops, they supply brewers in Durango, Pagosa Springs, Silverton and Albuquerque.
“They’ve really liked the hops so far. ... It’s been kind of huge for us,” Paul Black said.
They planted Chinook, Cascade and Nugget hops based on advice from Fort Lewis College researchers who have been looking into which varieties of hops will grow best in this climate.
La Plata County’s elevation has proven to produce a high quality hop, and the Blacks hope to expand from about an acre, which produces several thousand pounds, to 10 acres.
They also want to build a facility within the next year that could pelletize hops. Breweries use many more pelletized hops than fresh or dried ones. It would cut out the need to truck it out of the area and it could serve other local hop farms.
The Blacks want to keep their business as local as possible, and they see small breweries as their niche. Most hop farms are in Oregon and Washington, and many of the largest breweries can contract with the largest producers to buy all their hops, Paul Black said.
As for the hops that inspired the idea, they are working on getting the variety patented, but it’s not yet for sale, Krii Black said.