Walking about the lengths of Pure Mitten’s hop bines — rows of them on trellises, tall as a giant’s overalls — it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the sight, and more so, the smell of this farm out in Coopersville. Lupulin particles hitch to nose hairs like burs, lighting up the mind with scents of fresh-cut grass and grapefruit shandy.
The cones that hang are cute, tiny pupae. They look like they might hatch. After months spent climbing wire, braving the elements and warding off disease, they are finally ready to find a way into your glass. Let the great harvest begin.
Starting the first season in the spring of 2014, Pure Mitten Hops represents a labor of family love through and through. Parents Mary and Morrie Dieleman, both retired school social workers, decided to become unretired farm owners, investing in land, equipment and plants in hopes of creating a legacy.
“We looked at this as something for the next generation,” Mary said.
That next generation includes son Justin Dieleman, who of course appreciates the gift, but isn’t shy to call it for what it is.
“I don’t think any of us had any idea what this would entail when we started, how much it would take over our lives,” Justin said. “It’s super stressful but also fun and rewarding.”
The cycle looks a little like this: following winter’s dormancy, the hops shoot up their spikes in spring, cultivating and growing in rows until plump and defined. The painstaking part comes from the tying of 24,000 or so knots by hand for the bines to curl around. You can only imagine how blistered this can make a finger. The hops reach the sky by June. From there, the summer is mostly smooth sailing, with the exception of downy mildew, a scourge that if left untreated, can decimate a crop entirely. And then comes September — harvest season — the Dieleman’s most challenging month of all.
Agriculture never sleeps. Clocking in a few 90-hour weeks, it’s a ceaseless flurry of clipping and feeding the plant into a separator that sets the hops on a journey of quality control and drying, ultimately ending in pelletization, which transforms the cones into cylinders that look a lot like a gerbil’s cereal.
I spoke with Justin, dripping on a 90-degree day, nearing the homestretch of this harvest.
“Right now, I’m dead tired,” he said, “but seeing all the healthy plants come down and get good yields, knowing that in three weeks from now I can go drink a beer with our hops, it’s pretty cool, because I know how much hard work went into making it happen.”
One such beer featuring the Dieleman’s hops is Founders Brewing Co.’s Harvest Ale, the annual wet-hopped IPA which releases this October. It’s a special beer, and it’s a privilege to be selected for use in the batch.
“Because we’re newer we have to prove ourselves,” Mary said. “We have great Grand Rapids brewers who want to buy our hops and then they see the receipt and think, oh, maybe I should just go elsewhere. So the hops have to be right. Now we think we have the best practices going here. We’re excited because we have a track record.”
Tons of Pure Mitten’s Cascade hops were thrown directly into the Harvest Ale’s boil, imparting higher levels of acids, oils and aromatics.
“Between the lake and the climate, the terroir of our hops is different than anywhere else,” Justin said. There’s no way around it, “Hops from Michigan are going to smell and taste different than ones from out west. Our Cascades are totally different than Yakima Valley Cascades. It allows for brewers to create cool new recipes that you couldn’t get out of a Northwest Hop.”
Breweries are taking notice. Found everywhere from Vivant’s flagship Hop Field to one-off’s from City Built, Trail Point and DeHop’s, Pure Mitten’s soil is producing amazing hops that us Michiganders can be proud to drink.
Other West Michigan Hop Farms
Great Lakes Hops
4135 80th Ave., Zeeland
Sandy Ridge Farms
9173 New Holland St., Zeeland
West Michigan Hopyards
1980 Lincoln Lake Ave. NE, Lowell
Hop Head Farms LLC
4630 W. Hickory Rd, Hickory Corners
Black Creek Hops
235 E. Decker Rd., Scottville
Michigan Hop Alliance
5790 N. Omena Rise, Omena