WRIGHTSTOWN — As co-founder of Oast House Hop Farm in Wrightstown, now in its sixth growing season, Beau Byrtus believes the farm is on the ground floor of "something big" in New Jersey.

Hops (Photo provided by Oast House Hop Farm)

While still in the infancy stage, Byrtus pointed to hops production as a booming industry for the state.

As the craft beer scene continues to climb in the Garden State, so does the interest in growing hops, a prominent ingredient in beer that contributes to its bitterness, aroma and flavor.

The mid-Atlantic region, including the Garden State, was a prominent producer of a hops a century ago, but the northwest region of the country handles about 90 percent of production today.

A little over 600 plants are in the ground at Oast House Hop Farm. Byrtus said their harvest has been sold to a handful of breweries and restaurants, as well as an ice cream shop in Princeton.

"I think there's a huge demand," he told Townsquare Media. "The market is wide open and I see (hops) having a strong place in the New Jersey agriculture market in the future."

According to Byrtus, the farm has been contacted by others looking to start similar operations, and his crew has been more than happy to help in order to build the industry.

Peter Furey, executive director of the New Jersey Farm Bureau, described hops production as a budding industry in the state (no pun intended). He said calling hops a "cash crop" for New Jersey would be premature right now, but it can become one over time as more research is conducted on New Jersey's tolerance to the crop.

"New Jersey has a wonderful climate and it has wonderful soils, so if I was a betting man I would say 'yes'; the possibilities are there," Furey said.

Underway at Rutgers University is a two-year study aimed at determining the best way and time to harvest and process hops in New Jersey. Doctoral candidates are handling samples from outside brewers, as well as a specially-created hops farm in Pittstown.

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