Ryan from 6th Meridian Hops Plays 20 Questions
Ryan Heine moved his family to South Dakota to grow hops- and did it before thier house was ready, spending thier first winter in a trailer. Now the hopyard has grown to five acres and he not only runs the farm but a music and beer festival as well.
HOP: What did you do before growing hops?
6th Meridian: Ryan- My day job is an electrical engineer working on radar and video hardware.
Michelle- I am the chief cook and bottle washer of Counterfeit Catering.
HOP: What got you interested in growing hops?
6th Meridian: Before we moved our family to our farm, we lived in suburban Omaha, Michelle working her catering and Ryan working remotely as an engineer. We both were heavily into craft beer and Ryan had experimented with brewing and fermenting wine in the past. We started some hops in our back yard garden just fun and our own use. It didn’t take long for a bigger bug to bite us. We moved our family back to our home town area and started the hop farm on 80 acres that was given to Ryan and his brothers from his grandpa many years ago. Our first winter was spent in a camper with our kids while we built a house and production building. We sold the camper that spring and haven’t looked at one since.
HOP: How long have you been growing hops? Or, how old are your bines?
6th Meridian: Our first hops in the back yard was 7 years ago. But our farm is 5 years young.
HOP: What varieties are you growing? Which ones are doing well for you?
6th Meridian: Our signature variety is Dakota Challenger, a U.K. Challenger grown in our Missouri floodplain microclimate. It tends to produce heavy with a high smooth alpha and good oils and spicy floral aroma. Chinook does really well for us too and exhibit that more tropical, fruity nature found in the Midwest Chinooks. We also have fields of Centennial and Crystal – both much harder to grow but we love the flavor of both. We have some Neo1 that we’ve used on end rows to repel mites. We also just added new small additions of Cashmere and Comet as well as trials of Olympic, Zatecki Cervani, Serebrinka, Triple Pearl and Alpharoma. We just isolated a local wild hop that promises some great noble character.
HOP: Do you homebrew? If so, what do you like to brew?
6th Meridian: Since starting the farm I wanted to do more brewing but never seem to have the time. I’m hoping to invest in a new electric system to cut down the time requirements so I can do simple pale ales dry hopped with each of our varieties.
HOP: Do you have a favorite hop? If so, what makes it special?
6th Meridian: I have some favorites. Obviously Dakota Challenger because it is strong, smooth and pleasant; suitable for any part of a brew. I also like Mosaic and really wish I could grow it. I often call it a cheater hop because of its diverse and complex aroma profile.
HOP: How big is your hop yard?
6th Meridian: So far 5 acres planted. We hoped we’d grow faster into our 80 acres but you have to grow your markets as well as your hops.
HOP: Do you grow anything else?
6th Meridian: This year our daughter started raising chickens. Her brood is 7 strong and she hopes to add more. We may try them out for weed and bug control in the hops in special chicken tractors. We have a few fruit trees and have had a small garden but nothing we sell to the public yet. We’ve thought about doing some diversification in that area if we had more time.
HOP: What was your biggest challenge getting started?
6th Meridian: Weeds are still our biggest challenge in the yards. The second challenge is getting all the hops processed and to the brewers. We found early on that we needed to have our own processing and we had to solve that with very limited budget.
HOP: Any advice for homebrewers in your area looking to start growing hops?
6th Meridian: Keep it simple and try a couple different varieties that you want to grow. Some will work some might not. But don’t overdo it as many plants can become a lot of work in a hurry.
HOP: How has your reception from the professional brewing community in your area been?
6th Meridian: Our reception to the professional brewing company was a lot slower than anyone told us. We entered a market at its peak and built against a trend. However, a few breweries really have supported our farm and keep us moving. This year we started a share program to help us keep a stable financial future for the farm.
HOP: What do you see as your biggest challenge going forward?
6th Meridian: Our biggest challenge has been marketing and hitting varieties and flavors give us a niche in a large market.
HOP: What pests or diseases are you having problems with?
6th Meridian: Weeds. We try to as much organic as possible and unfortunately there is very little effective organic weed killers short of hand and hoe.
HOP: Have you found an aroma, flavor or other characteristic that sets your hops apart (from the traditional growing areas)?
6th Meridian: We planted a UK Challenger against many people’s recommendations. I had a hunch based the where they are traditionally grown in England. It was an immediate success and even caused some confusion with our testers when a first-year plant was producing cones with twice the strength than normal. But we’ve had flops too. Most Hallertau varieties struggle in our area and we even tore out some varieties recently to try others.
HOP: Is there a state or college hops research program in your area? If so, are you involved at all?
6th Meridian: We work with University of Nebraska’s hops research a little and have worked with SDSU and some South Dakota organizations.
HOP: Are you planning to expand your hop yard? If so, with new varieties or with more of the varieties that are doing well?
6th Meridian: We are expanding, but we are putting in a lot of different test varieties in hopes of finding more unique niche hops.
HOP: Is there a community of other growers in your area that you work with? If so, how?
6th Meridian: We have a few growers in our area and we meet in the winter to talk shop and we have done some harvesting and pelletizing for them. We’re members of the Nebraska Hop Growers Association since we’re right on the border with NE, and we work with them a fair bit
HOP: Any press or other articles we should link to?
6th Meridian: Here’s one from last year: https://siouxlandnews.com/sunrise/proud-to-be-a-hometown-farmer/hometown-farmer-
HOP: Have you had a chance to interact with the homebrew community at all? If so, what has the reception been like?
6th Meridian: We often have homebrewers visit the farm when we’re open and we package of a limited amount of 4-16 ounce bags of finished hops for them to purchase. Of course most come for the food, music, and beer between the hop yards.
HOP: Anything else we should know?
6th Meridian: Our Swinged Cat Aliment & Ale Fest starts our open season at the farm on June 21. It's a real live beer festival that will continue as we are able to follow all the CDC guidelines in our large outdoor venue.
Get tickers here (this is not an affiliate link): https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2020-swinged-cat-aliment-ale-fest-tickets-97896957435
Want to check out thier hops? We have a limited quantity of Chinook on sale in the Hop Shop!
Want a bigger bag? Try the 16 oz: