Central Florida craft breweries looking to use locally grown hops in their brews

ZELLWOOD, Fla. — In the last few years, Central Florida has become well-known for craft beers—and while the beer is brewed here, not all the ingredients come from the area.

But that is starting to change.

Former University of Florida researchers are cultivating their first hops grown in Central Florida, and local brewers are waiting in line to buy them.

The hops plants have grown to be about 20 feet tall.

“We probably could have gone higher because of our use of the lights,” said Florida Hops' Richard Smith.

Florida has sprouted into a $3 billion craft beer capital.

Central Florida went from having two breweries in 2012 to 25 in 2018.

Local brewers, such as Wops Hops in Sanford, are eager to get their hands on locally grown ingredients.

“There’s little yellow pollen in there that gives a lot of flavor (to) the beer,” said Greg Piecora, with Wops Hops. “It’s just citrusy; it’s beautiful-smelling. This is what makes the beer.”

Hops are usually grown in the Pacific northwest, and growing them in Florida has not been easy.

Smith used lights and lots of water to grow hops on a quarter-acre plot in Zellwood. The plant took off, producing its first crop in less than four months.

“This is nontraditional production happening in Florida,” he said. “You can actually grow some hops in Florida.”

In a week or so, Smith said he will cultivate the crop and dozens of local breweries will be able to get their hands on the hops.

This will be Florida Hops' first-ever crop.