Locally grown hops research has been ongoing for the past three years at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension's Research Center and Demonstration Orchard in North Las Vegas. Large regional breweries use hops in brewing to add a bittering agent flavor that is very popular.
Hops are the flowers (also called cones or strobili) of the hop plant Humulus lupulus. They are used primarily to stabilize the beer and add either bitter, zesty or citric flavors. The hops are grown on three bines on a rope. Volunteers manage the ropes to be sure that only three bines emerge.
"Since most hops are from Europe, they need colder weather to produce an ample crop," said Tamara Wynne, the Center's research technician.
Tenaya Creek, a Las Vegas brewery, has been purchasing the Center's hops for about three years. Wynne mentioned that the brewery uses about 90 percent of the Center's fall harvest.
"We've been using Extension's local hops for a few years now," said Anthony Gibson, head brewer for Tenaya Creek Brewery. "Our Local 702 Pale Ale special key is brewed with local hops."
The actual flowers from the local hops cannot be used in brewing; instead, the flowers are placed in mesh bags and inserted into small 15-gallon kegs. The oils secreted from the flowers then add the bitterness, flavor and aroma added Gibson.
"Local brewers tend to find fresh hops much more flavorful than the dry pellets available commercially," explained Wynne.
Wynne said that hops are quite easy to grow in the desert, but at the Center, hops tend to grow better in shaded hoop houses with amended soil. Recently, the Center started conducting research on Neo-Mexicana hops grown in several areas of the southern United States. The Neo-Mexicana hops grow well in hotter climates.
The Center, overseen by Extension Environmental Horticulture Specialist M.L. Robinson, is used to conduct research on a variety of vegetables and fruit trees, and will be the site of a tomato research project this spring, testing how much shade is necessary to grow tomatoes in the desert.
Besides the research done at Extension's southern Nevada research center, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension conducts other research throughout the state to help growers in Nevada identify low-water-use alternative crops that can be profitable to grow in Nevada and other desert regions. Many of the projects are conducted in conjunction with the University's Agricultural Experiment Station and College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources.
For example, Extension Educator Carol Bishop and Molecular Biologist John Cushman with the College are conducting a five-year study at the Southern Nevada Field Laboratory in Logandale of the prickly pear's potential as a food/biofuel crop in the West. The goal is to expand its use to enhance economic diversification and develop new revenue streams.
Extension Alternative Crops and Forage Specialist Jay Davison, Cushman, Assistant Professor of Agriculture Juan Solomon, and Biochemist and Molecular Biologist Jeff Harper are also conducting trials with other College colleagues on camelina, a crop that can be used for biofuel, and other alternative crops. Davison also has been doing trials with hops in northern Nevada since 2012. He has worked with Nevada growers for more than 15 years to introduce them to growing the gluten-free grain teff, with Nevada growers in four counties producing 2.6 million pounds of the grain valued at $1.2 million last year.
For more information on the agricultural research being done by the University of Nevada, Reno, Check out University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, Nevada Agriculture Experiment Station and the University's College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources.