Last year, Woodbridge resident Mark Jones grew hops for the first time.
A resident of the neighborhood since 2015 when he and his wife bought a house, Jones would rent out extra bedrooms through Airbnb. One of the Airbnb guests spotted Jones’ hops and told him about a hop growing group in Leeds, England. Jones was inspired to do the same in Detroit and thought his neighborhood was the perfect place for a cooperative hop-growing effort.
That’s when the Woodbridge Co-Hop was born. This summer, neighborhood residents helped grow 150 hop plants in one community garden, two vacant lots, two side lots, and seven private residences. To be a part of the group, a person can either grow hops or help with the watering and harvesting.
In its inaugural year, 20 people (all new to hop growing) participated in the group effort, and 45-plus pounds of hops were harvested over two harvest days to create a unique neighborhood brew called Woodbridge Wet Hop Pale Ale brewed by Brew Detroit. The beer will be sold at Brew Detroit’s Corktown location and the Woodbridge Pub. A portion of beer sales will benefit minor home repair grants for low-income residents in the neighborhood. To celebrate the fruits of their labor, the collective is holding a beer tapping event at Woodbridge Pub.
It’s proof that while you can go it alone, there’s strength in numbers (plus more beer).
“The previous year when I grew hops on my own, I yielded 13 ounces for nine plants, so growing this many [hops] exceeded all expectations,” says Jones, co-founder of the Woodbridge Co-hop. The collective effort also included assistance from Woodbridge Neighborhood Development and Brew Detroit (without them, “this project never would have happened”) and their relationship with the experts at 45th Parallel Hops who helped the rookie growers navigate the process made it successful, Jones says.
In addition to granting the Co-Hop permission to use two of its vacant lots, Woodbridge Neighborhood Development contributed funds towards plants, hop trellises, and soil testing, Jones says.
“We knew our product would be sold at pubs, so we required everyone to have a soil test, including lead, before getting hops,” which were purchased through 45th Parallel Hops, Jones says. But in March when the pandemic hit, all the labs were closed, so the growers planted the hops first and then sent soil samples for testing in August when the labs opened.
“We planted a total of 120 Hartwick plants over 12 properties and unfortunately four properties totaling 30 plants tested high in lead, so we did not harvest those. Luckily, we had another resident step in with 30 Cascade and Willamette hops with a clean soil test which covered the lost plants. Brew Detroit adjusted their recipe to account for multiple types of hops and we were good to harvest,” Jones says.
The most fruitful location was a vacant lot at the corner of Avery and Lysander that produced 1.1 pounds per plant, an impressive amount that surprised even the group’s supplier, Jones says.
The Cascade and Willamette hops were harvested first in mid-September and dry-hopped, followed by the Hartwick harvesting two weeks later, which needed to be wet-hopped within 24 hours, hence the name of the beer, the Woodbridge Wet Hop Pale Ale.
The beer-making process with Brew Detroit was “extremely easy. [Head brewer Joe Thorner] asked what type of beer I had in mind and I thought something similar to [Founders’] All Day IPA would fit well — lower alcohol content but can taste the hops,” Jones says.
And how is it?
“Last Friday, Oct 16 we had a private tasting at Brew Detroit and we can verify that the beer tastes great. We were all pleasantly surprised at the quality and are proud to serve it to the neighborhood and other guests on the 24th,” Jones says.
The goal is to have a release party every year.
“Next year the hops will mature earlier, so it could be in early October, but the goal is to continue it into the future. In addition, the plants will produce more hops as they get older, so we should be able to produce more hops and more beer without needing to expand our growing operations, although, we will always welcome new growers from the neighborhood,” Jones says.
The Woodbridge Co-hop Beer Tapping will take place from 2-4 p.m. at Woodbridge Pub, 5169 Trumbull. Brew Detroit is donating $1 of each pint sold to WND and Woodbridge Pub is donating $1.50 of each pint to WND and its minor home repair grant program. For more information, check out the Facebook event.