Cascade Hops

At Maize Valley Winery in Hartville, Bill Bakan is known as the Fun Czar. One of the owners at the family-owned and operated farm, Bakan is the creative genius behind Maize Valley’s popular agritourism activities, including their intricate corn maze, wine tastings and fall activities. He also plays a role in the groundskeeping as well as growing the operation’s 50 annual crops.

“We take on the ‘hakuna matata’ motto from ‘The Lion King,’ ” says Bakan. “Our number one goal is to produce quality products, but we also want to be at the point where people aren’t worrying about things.”

The idea of producing quality products in a worry-free atmosphere leads Maize Valley’s expansion into the craft brewery industry. While sampling their award-winning wines or having a fun day at the farm, visitors can now enjoy a beer as well.

Bakan says the transition to grow hops didn’t present much of a challenge. They already had the necessary land, irrigation and other resources. When Ohio passed a permit allowing wineries to begin manufacturing and selling beer in 2013, it was a no-brainer. This puts Maize Valley closer to being a unique destination with great products.


Trying Their Hands At Hops

Hops are a specialty crop that most Ohio breweries source out-of-state.

“Currently, an estimated $30 million is being spent out of state on hops,” says Brad Bergefurd, extension educator and researcher at Ohio State University (OSU). With the help of the Specialty Crop Block Grant program, his team is working to expand the hops industry in the state. This will keep more jobs and money at home.

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“Ohio growers want to produce hops, but the research-based production guidelines for insect and disease management, irrigation and fertilization that are needed are lacking. They’re also left without economical methods for post-harvest processing of hops that suits brewers’ needs,” Bergefurd says. To help with these challenges, OSU has expanded specialty crops research into hops production.

Currently, Ohio produces around 100 acres of hops. Roadblocks include plant diseases and insect pests as well as limited options for post-harvest on-farm processing. Educators like Bergefurd can help growers make informed decisions by conducting research in these areas. OSU has two research plots, one in Wooster and one at the South Centers in Piketon. They also hold educational seminars for new growers, including Bakan.

“Brad drew quite a bit of attention when we decided to grow hops, and we went to a few of the seminars and growing workshops,” he says. “We got lots of assistance there, plus did some research on the internet.”


Ohio has ideal soil for hop production. Other factors come into play to determine if hops will thrive in the state. Climate is a big player as it won’t do any good if the hops don’t like the climate.

Maize Valley began distribution of their craft beers over Labor Day weekend. They will continue testing a few batches for six months to a year before choosing regular brews.

“There’s a lot of interest in the craft brewery business, and our brewery is filling a niche,” says Bakan. “You need to be on the edge, but you can’t get too far out of bounds and make your offerings confusing for the core customer.”

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Hopping On The Bandwagon

Other breweries join Maize Valley in the hops scene. Chalet Debonne Vineyards in Madison was the first to grow hops in the state. Later they established Cellar Rats Brewery as the first sustainable winery/brewery combination in Ohio. Similarly, Valley Vineyards in Morrow started Cellar Dweller Craft Beers. They also produce quality wines and brews.

Bergefurd says that approximately 100 Ohio breweries produce more than 1 million barrels of craft beer annually, requiring 4 million pounds of dried hops. Expanding hop production will not only keep valuable Ohio jobs and money in the state, but also result in delicious, refreshing, homegrown beers.


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