By Eric Peterson | Jun 15, 2015
Hops and hemp production
A longtime pipeline welder, Munger picked Montrose, Colorado, as a retirement spot in 2007, but found a hobby in growing hops and made it his second career soon thereafter.
Working with Cody Phillips, his son-in-law, Munger has now planted 30 acres of six hops varieties on a 50-acre farm on California Mesa near Olathe, and is eying a 10-acre expansion in 2016.
"When I first got going, craft brewing has going pretty good," he says. "In the last two years, it's exploded like I could have never imagined, all over the country."
Gross production grew from 15,000 pounds in 2013 to 24,000 in 2014, and Munger forecasts about 40,000 for 2015.
The boom in IPAs and other hoppy beers means that demand is outstripping supply. "For the next three years, hops are going to be hard to get," he says. "They're putting double and triple the hops into beers now."
"I thought we were in a great place to be doing this, because of the 'Colorado Proud' thing," Munger adds. "We're just going to keep planting and keep growing."
Munger recently installed a drip system and is increasing the farm's harvesting and processing capacity to match production, with 30 acres to spare. "There's a lot of infrastructure," he says. "It's not like growing hay." He orders equipment from European suppliers, because his scale is more in line with hops farms in Germany than the U.S.
Over five years, Misty Mountain's increasingly bigger harvests has proven the concept: The Olathe area is particularly good for Cascade, Crystal, and Chinook hops. "Our yield is way up," says Munger. "They're growing awesome here."
The third-year yield of 2,000 pounds an acre for some aroma varieties is on par with farms in Washington state, far and away the leading hops producer in the U.S. "I don't want to tell them that, because they might come here," says Munger.
Tommyknocker, Wynkoop, and Oskar Blues are customers, as are a who's who of craft brewers on the Western Slope. Munger says that MillerCoors subsidiary AC Golden buys more than 80 percent of his crop for use in all-local Colorado Native. "We're kind of the main guys for them."
Now that he's shifted gears from pipeline welder to hop farmer, Munger has some choice words for the change. "Life's a trip," he says. No surprise from the man who named his farm for a Led Zeppelin song.
Favorite beers: Of those with Misty Mountain-grown hops, Palisade Brewing Company's Imperial Red Ale and the AC Golden Imperial Pale Lager. Beyond his customers, Munger gravitates towards Stone and Sierra Nevada, calling the latter's founder, Ken Grossman, "the king of big, hoppy beer."
Challenges: Balancing production with the capacity to harvest and dry the crop. "You usually have about three and no more than four weeks to harvest and you've got to dry them right away," says Munger.
Opportunities: More and more hops are needed to supply an ever-growing craft beer market. "We get in and they're going to buy it," says Munger. "We've never seen this craft beer explosion and they say it's going to keep going for a while."
Needs: More farmland. Munger says there's a possibility of acquiring 80 adjacent acres. "We've got another farm next to us that we might pick up," he says.