Fowler Packing, one of the region’s largest farming companies, is getting into the craft beer business. Well, sort of. The Parnagian family is jumping into hop farming. No, not rabbits.
Hops, as in the green, cone-shaped flower that gives craft beer, including India pale ale, its distinctive pungent aroma. The new venture is called Golden State Hops and is headed by Grant Parnagian, the third generation of this family-run farm.
Assisting Parnagian is Scot Sanders and Will Rhodes. Together they selected five varieties of hops – Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Willamette and Magnum – to grow on land just south of the company’s sprawling packinghouse on Cedar and Manning avenues, west of Fowler.
“We researched this for two years before deciding to plant and it is something we are very excited about,” Parnagian said. “This has a lot of potential.”
Craft beer is a booming business, nationwide and locally. And part of what makes craft beer so appealing is that it’s local and independent. Parnagian can appreciate that, having become a craft beer drinker himself. He wants to become the hop source for local craft brewers, whose numbers continue to grow.
Also motivating Parnagian is the belief that hops can’t grow in the San Joaquin Valley. There are only a handful of farmers growing hops in the Valley. The Pacific Northwest is considered the hotbed for hop farming.
“We believe you can grow hops here, we are doing it and our focus will be on producing the best quality hops,” he said. “I want the brewers in our area to be able to come here, to look at the crop, pull the cones off the vine and smell the hops. We want to build relationships.”
With his first crop due to be harvested in about a week, Parnagian is taking extra steps to ensure quality. He recently sent samples of his hops to a testing lab for an analysis of the specific qualities brewers look for.
But even without a harvest, Golden State Hops is getting noticed. Passersby stare at the 18-foot tall posts that are used to create a trellis system that the hops grow on. Come picking time, the entire stock is cut down and placed in a harvester to separate the cones from the plant.
Traditionally, the hops are dehydrated and sold in the form of pellets. But they can also be used fresh.