September 21, 2014

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Man finds success selling hops to brewery

NEW RUSSIA TWP. — Jim Pechaitis began growing hops several years ago near Oberlin for his son-in-law, who enjoys amateur beer making.

Now the retired Ford worker has about 700 plants and sells the hops to a brewery in Athens, Ohio.

“Deer don’t like them, woodchucks don’t like them and you don’t have to bend over to pick them, so they’re a perfect old man’s crop,” he said with a laugh.

Pechaitis said hops, which look like little green pine cones, are a big crop in Wisconsin and Michigan.

He sells his hops for about $5 a pound to Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery in Athens, which perennially seems to make the list of top brew pubs.

This year, the brewery was voted the 56th Best Beer Brewery in a list of 100 breweries in the world by RateBeer.com.

Pechaitis’s son-in-law, Bryan Burgess, said he first began growing hops in his own yard, but there really wasn’t enough room — or enough sun.

His father-in-law’s property on Quarry Road was a much better fit.

Hops are used in most beers with the exception of English ales, Burgess said. The main ingredient in most beers is malt from barley, which is rather sweet, he said.

“Hops help to counterbalance the sweetness of a malt beer,” Burgess said.

Just like amateur wine makers, patience is a virtue in home brews, he said.

“It’s delayed satisfaction,” Burgess said.

Burgess, an Oberlin councilman, said he got a chance to visit Jackie O’s last weekend while attending an Ohio University football game. The place was packed, with 16 varieties on tap.

“It’s a nice place, and a lot of fun,” Burgess said. He was particularly impressed with an Indian pale ale that had rye as a major component.

In any given year, the pub brews 50 to 60 varieties of beer, with whimsical names ranging from Mystic Mamma IPA to Burnin’ Hill, Drawn & Portered and Sweet Chocolate Love.

Pechaitis, 60, retired several years ago from the Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake, where he helped build Econolines, Villagers and other vehicles.

After some experimentation, he now grows six to seven varieties of hops from pieces of stems called rhizomes, which he orders from suppliers in Washington state.

In addition to adding bitterness to beer, he said the hops add flavor and aroma.

Only female plants are grown in hop fields, preventing pollination, which is not desired, he said.

Growing hops is a fun hobby.

“You’re not going to get rich doing it.” Pechaitis said. “It keeps me out of trouble.”

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.