Four Star Farm gets to know its clients who brew

The Recorder, August 20, 2018, by Max Marcus

About 100 beermakers from around New England were on hand to tour Four Star Farms for its sixth annual Brewers Day recently.

“We have to get personal with the brewers,” said Gene L’Etoile, one of the owners of the farm. “We can’t supply a big brewery with their hops. We can supply specialty beers, but any large brewery, we don’t have enough hops for them to use year-round.”

Most of the breweries Four Star Farms sells to produce a few hundred barrels of beer a year. Its largest customers produce about 30,000 a year. In comparison, Anheuser-Busch, which owns Budweiser and a number of other brands, produces about 125 million barrels a year.

Large breweries mostly buy their hops from the Pacific Northwest, where about 54,000 acres of hops farms produce about 97 percent of the hops in the country, L’Etoile said. The next largest market is in Michigan and Wisconsin, where there are 2,000 to 3,000 acres of hops planted. The East Coast has about 200 acres of hops farms.

“If you buy a pinot noir from California and one from France, they’ll taste different. It’s the same thing with hops,” L’Etoile said. “Brewers and drinkers want something new. They want something different.”

Four Star Farms started growing hops in 2008 to supplement its main crops, turf and grain, L’Etoile said. Since then, the business has grown “considerably:” the farm now grows about 17 acres of hops in addition to about 100 acres of turf and grain each.

American hops were originally brought by the pilgrims and grown in New England, L’Etoile said. But hops farms moved westward as diseases made it increasingly difficult to grow in New England. It wasn’t until about 15 years ago that the diseases caught up with the farms on the West Coast, L’Etoile said.

“I wouldn’t say we’re on an even playing field, because it is a lot better climate for hops there (on the West Coast) than here,” L’Etoile said. “But now they have almost the same problems out there, so it’s closer to an even playing field.”