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Meet Billy Goat Hop Farm in Montrose, Colorado

Billy Goat Hop Farm in Montrose Colorado

Billy Goat Hop Farm in Montrose, Colorado was named the first grower outside the Pacific Northwest to win the prestigious Cascade Cup. Photos courtesy of Billy Goat Hop Farm.

One of the greatest flavor enhancers in beer is hops, the cone-shaped fruits of the Humulus Lupulus plant. Farming this diverse plant is a science that has grown alongside the art of craft beer for decades. In the United States, the vast majority of hop production takes place on farms in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. And yet, award-winning hops are growing right here in the Uncompahgre Valley of Colorado at this very moment.

Located on 32 acres of fertile land south of Montrose, Billy Goat Hop Farm is a name to make note of in the craft beer industry. This year, the family-owned and operated farm was named the first grower outside the Pacific Northwest to win the Cascade Cup, a prestigious contest where experts judge hops based on their appearance, aroma, and other factors. Behind the highly coveted Cascade hops are owners Audrey Gehlhausen and Chris DellaBianca.

Billy Goat Hop Farm in Montrose Colorado

Billy Goat Hop Farm got its roots in 2016 when Audrey and Chris began searching for land ripe for creating their dream hop farm. The couple spent time touring different regions to determine where the best growing climate would be, carefully researching factors such as the availability of distributors and the abundance of breweries for any given area. They soon purchased a parcel of land south of Montrose that was previously used to grow barley for the beer industry, a connection that suggested to Audrey and Chris that the land was “meant to be.”

No time was wasted, as Audrey and Chris got straight to work installing their trellis system and immediately began growing. After much sweat and many beers, they now have 32 trellised acres with a state of art drip irrigation system and 11 varieties of beautiful hops. Their customer base has expanded as well, with some of their largest customers today located on the east coast. But they have not forgotten about the passion of the home brewer. Billy Goat Hop Farm continues to offer smaller quantities of hops to ensure homebrewers can make beer with the highest quality ingredients around.

Billy Goat Hop Farm in Montrose Colorado

Their success can be attributed towards a focus on creating an excellent end product for their customers – delicious beer. As a small vertically integrated operation, they are able to get the hops off the bine, pelletized, and packaged in a matter of weeks. This creates a fresh, bright product that comes through in the brew. The hops also have a uniqueness thanks to the natural environment. The soil type, elevation, latitude, climate of Colorado that imparts its own character into the hops. Audrey and Chris explain that being intimate with all the plants every step of the way enables them to catch disease and pests early, using less chemicals. They also hand-make burlap sacks for better breathability.

As an industry, hops have seen major changes over the last 40 years. For decades hops were grown for their bitter properties until Coors began to incorporate more aromatic hops to create the “Wild American Aroma” in the 1970s. This shift opened more people to using the aromatic hops and caught the attention of some brewers who would change beer forever. The emergence of American style pale ales in the early 1980s, which began to take hold of the market a decade later, saw the hop farmers switch from the more bitter hop to growing a more aromatic hop.

Billy Goat Hop Farm in Montrose Colorado

This change in the industry saw, for the first time, more “aroma hops” being grown than hops for bitter properties in 2012. The onset of this revolution in hops and beer can be tied back to one particular hop that was created in 1967 called the “Cascade.” The Cascade was grown throughout the 1970’s but didn’t gain much foothold until companies such as Sierra Nevada began using them to produce beers that are now staples in the American lexicon.

As growers of Cascade hops, Audrey and Chris attended the Hop Growers of America Conference held annually in the Pacific Northwest this past January. They were not aware that the Cascade Hop Competition was part of the conference until they arrived, and decided at the last minute to enter their product to see how it would compare. The results were overwhelming, as they ended up taking home the prestigious award and the brewing world is taking notice that the quality of hops produced in Colorado is on par with anywhere in the world.

Billy Goat Hop Farm in Montrose Colorado

The future is bright for Billy Goat Hop Farm. This summer they will begin to offer weddings and private events at the farm, with potential for more large events in the future. Their highly anticipated annual Southwest Fresh Fest is coming up on September 23rd, 2023. The event will feature live music, food from local chefs and producers, fresh hop beers from12 breweries, farm tours, and more. Telluride Express will be providing free shuttles from Montrose to and from the hop yard.

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