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Q&A with Adam Dellinger, farmer and owner of Sunny Brae Hops

Adam Dellinger is owner of Sunny Brae Hops in Carlisle. - (Photo / Submitted)

Three years ago, Adam Dellinger and his wife, Diana, drafted business plans for their dream — to start their own farm.

Being a craft beer enthusiast and homebrewer, Dellinger naturally put hops on the list of products he considered growing.

Dellinger knew hops would provide a unique challenge, especially because there is not yet much hops grown commercially in Pennsylvania. But with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and a master’s degree in soil science, Dellinger was certainly well-suited for the job. He also brings a decade of work experience with the USDA, where he worked with soil and water conservation and as a liaison to natural resource and economic development-focused nonprofit organizations.

Located in rural Carlisle, Sunny Brae Hops had its first hop harvest in fall 2014. It has collaborated on beers with many Pennsylvania breweries, including Moo-Duck Brewery in Elizabethtown, Molly Pitcher Brewing Co. in Carlisle and Troegs Brewing Co. in Hershey.

CPBJ: Describe your hop farm. How large is it?

AD: Our total farm size is 6 acres, but hops are the only commercial crop we grow. Everything else we farm is for personal use. I am in charge of everything to do with the hops farm, from accounting to marketing to growing and processing. My wife helps during the busy times, but she has a full-time job and has limited availability. We are very fortunate to have wonderful volunteers that have spent time on the farm and helped during peak seasons.

How much hops do you grow?

We are currently farming 2 acres of hops. We grow nearly equal portions of four varieties — Cascade, Chinook, Nugget and Comet. We do grow a bit more Cascade than the rest.

What makes rural Carlisle an ideal location for growing your hops?

We have found many benefits to being in a “farming” area of Cumberland County. I think sometimes people don’t realize that growing hops isn’t all fun; it still is very much a bona fide farming endeavor. Hops are an agricultural commodity crop, so you’re going to need tractors, specialized implements, seed and fertilizer, access to welding shops, and all the other support infrastructure you need to farm. Being in close proximity to an apple-growing area helps, too, since a lot of the equipment and products used on orchards can be used with hops.

You seem to focus on growing hops naturally. Could you elaborate on your environmentally friendly practices?

We are very conscientious about how our actions affect pollinators and the environment around us. We use the principles of integrated pest management to help control disease and pests. That is just a fancy way to say we employ techniques such as growing varieties that are less susceptible to disease, sourcing disease-free plants from the National Clean Plant Network, using beneficial insects such as lady bugs to help combat aphids, and scouting for pests and only spraying if a certain economic threshold has been met.

Why grow hops locally when there are plenty of other sources around the country?

We are able to offer very different services compared to the big hop farms out West. First and foremost, we are local, which means the brewers can get to know their farmer very well. It’s an easy drive to get out to our farm to learn more about hops production and what we are doing, so there is an educational aspect and discussion that can happen that’s beneficial for all involved. Furthermore, our hops taste different. Our climate, soil and water are all different from the big farms, and all those aspects are revealed in the nuances of the hops. Not unlike grapes for wine. Lastly, it can’t be overstated that when brewers buy local hops, they are really helping to keep their money local.

Who buys your hops?

We sell the majority of our hops to Pennsylvania craft breweries, but we do offer them to homebrewers as well. We have also sold hops to some breweries in Maryland and even one in Kentucky. All of our hops are sold directly to the customer.

How has the local business community been conducive to getting your business off the ground?

We have really benefited from the welcoming and collaborative nature of the craft breweries and community in the area. So many breweries understood what we were doing and wanted to be a part of it. They helped organize workdays, craft beer lovers volunteered their labor, and local media outlets helped get the word out. The local breweries also supported us by buying our hops during years one and two, even though the hops aren’t fully mature until year three. I think that shows the commitment they have in wanting to see a local hop farm succeed.

What do you consider your most successful local collaboration to date?

This year, we had the opportunity to work with 10 Pennsylvania breweries just on fresh-hop beers alone. Every single one of the breweries that we have interacted with so far have been fantastic. They are very interested in what we are doing and are as supportive as they can be. We’ve hosted many of them on the farm for tours and most brewers have also rolled up their sleeves and helped with tasks around the farm, especially at harvest time. Naturally, each relationship is a little bit different, but it’s really been humbling to be able to work alongside everyone willing to bring Pennsylvania hops into Pennsylvania craft beer. I should give a special mention to Troegs, as they have continually shown exceptionally high levels of support for what we are doing. We have hosted several big work days where dozens of Troegs employees came out to lend a hand, and of course they provided some great beer as well!

Do you have any upcoming collaborations in the works?

Fresh-hop beer season is pretty much over, but we have been selling the remainder of our hops in dried form to several Pennsylvania breweries, which will typically be used in one-off batches. One big release that is upcoming is our Pennsyltucky Collab beer, which was brewed by Against the Grain brewery in Kentucky with Pennsylvania ingredients. This brew was organized by Hop Hedz Gear (our T-shirt supplier), and in addition to our hops, they used Pennsylvania malt from Deer Creek Malthouse and apples from Weiser Orchards in Adams County. The first release party event was held in Lititz at the Bulls Head Public House on Dec 1. As I mentioned, there are other breweries that currently have our hops on hand for special events and we will share information about that on social media when those are released.

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