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Growing and growing in southern Henry County

Individual hop bines, heavy with cones, are loaded onto theWolf WHE-513 picking machine at Crazy Horse Hops in Knightstown. The new machine and processing facility is a $2.5 million investment into the Henry County farm.

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

Crazy Horse Hops in Knightstown was already the largest hop farm in Indiana when it opened on 10 acres in 2016.

Hops are one of the essential components to beer. They can add flavoring or bitterness to the drink, depending on how the brewer uses them.

In the past two years, the Knightstown farm has grown by nearly 700 percent and is adding the finishing touches to the Crazy Horse Hops processing and packaging plant.

“With how fast we are ramping up production, it has been both really exciting and really tough,” CEO Ryan Hammer said. “We completed both the next 18 acres and the first phase of construction last year and then added a 40-acre field and the second phase of the barn this year.”

The first phase of the new facility is 6,400 square feet and houses the Crazy Horse hop-picking machine, the Wolf WHE-513.

Hammer explained this stationary combine separates the hop cones from the rest of the plant.

The Crazy Horse Hops shop area is also located in the first phase of the building.

“The second phase of the barn is not quite so simple,” Hammer said.

The larger of the two sections is 14,000 square feet and houses the rest of the processing system, including, drying, conditioning, baling, cold storage, the pelleting line and packaging. This is also where the farm offices will be once they are completed.

“We split the facility into two sections to keep the ‘dirty’ side of the process (picking) away from the clean side of the process,” Hammer said. “This will also allow us to double our production capacity if we choose to do so in the future.”

Hammer said the new facility is 90 percent complete. The offices and some of the final portions of the Wolf drying system still need to be completed.

The Crazy Horse team hopes to take the winter off from prepping the fields so they can focus on finishing construction.

“Now that we are past harvest, we are taking our time to make sure that this facility meets and surpasses any of the other facilities in the Midwest,” he said. “This may seem like overkill but for our brewing customers, quality is paramount. So in that department, we want to be second to none.”

Up to this point, Crazy Horse Hops have processed their yields on the small scale. The new building and equipment represent an investment of $2.5 million in the Knightstown farm.

With the new system and facility, they can bring the hop from the field in its most raw form and take it all the way to a food-grade Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) packaged pellet.

“Part of our capabilities at this new facility is to be able to custom process for other growers as well. We can pick, dry, bale, pellet, package or any combination of those for other growers in the state,” Hammer said.

Crazy Horse Hops is currently at 68 acres. The leadership team plans to install another 35 acres through next year. Hammer said they will start building the trellis for that field in the summer.

The Crazy Horse team is also working with some propagators, as well as their own cross-breeding to find the right varieties to fit into the new field. By creating their own hop breeds, Crazy Horse can also offer new and interesting flavors to their customers, Hammer said.

The craft beer industry in Indiana and in the Midwest in general is looking great, he said, noting he expects to see more “hometown” breweries popping up in Hoosier communities.

“That is not to say that the larger breweries are not expanding as well, but that seems to be the general trend right now,” Hammer said.

Crazy Horse Hops is positioning itself to be a direct provider of Cascade, Chinook, Crystal, Michigan Copper and Sorachi Ace hops to those micro-breweries.

By expanding their operations, the Knightstown facility is also now Indiana’s largest processor and broker of hops to the Indiana brewing industry.

“Building this facility has certainly been an exciting process for everyone involved,” Hammer said. “From the barn builders to the concrete guys, the electricians and everyone involved with the day-to-day operations, everyone is really excited to be the first in the State of Indiana to have something like this be built here.”

Crazy Horse Hops farm is also diversifying agriculture in an are that has not seen much new development in the last 60 years.

“We are blessed to be able to do what we love and also have people in the community and around the state be excited for us and cheering us on as well,” Hammer said.