Despite Texas heat, local entrepreneur found way to commercially grow hops

Hops being used in an all-Texas beer, brewed at Southerleigh

By Justin Horne - Weather Authority Meteorologist/Reporter, Adam B. Higgins - Photojournalist

SOMERSET, Texas - For Mark Koehler, when one door closed, another opened.

As a one-time airplane mechanic and oil field worker, it was a leg injury that caused a shift in career paths.

"I couldn't walk for about 10 months, and I saw a story on a hops shortage in the U.S. and I was just sitting there, couldn't walk, and I started doing research and YouTube,” said Koehler.

“That became this, eventually,” said Koehler, as he walked through his self-built greenhouse. “It’s been like a three-year process."

Learning by trial and error, Koehler has become a hops grower and expert.   

His business is called Hank's Hops, named for his grandfather. 

Hops are a preservative and common ingredient found in beer.

EXTRA: KSAT News at Nine featured the new Texas Born and Bred at Southerleigh. It's the first ever All-Texas ingredient pale ale, which uses Hanks Hops. Watch the full story Wednesday at 9 p.m.

It is also a line of work that happens to run in the family. He is related to the Koehlers of Pearl Brewery fame.

"These are centennial hops, and these are mainly used in IPAs,” he explained.

Inside his greenhouse, located in South Bexar County, hops are growing in large numbers. 

"These are getting very close to being ready to harvest,” said Koehler, pointing to a mature vine.

What Koehler is doing is somewhat rare. While small-scale hops gardens can be found around the area, a commercially-grown hops harvest in South Texas, according to Koehler, has not been attempted. 

There's good reason for that.

Historically, hops have been grown almost exclusively in the Pacific Northwest because it's cooler there and they have longer days during the summer; a perfect environment for the plant.

Koehler circumvented the issue by configuring his own greenhouse and cooling it using a wet wall. 

Fans draw air through the greenhouse, keeping temperatures cool.

He hopes to grow year-round, something that is not possible with hops grown outdoors.

Lights hung above the plants trick the hops into thinking the days are longer. Still, the process has not come without trials.

“I had a crop about this size last year that I lost the whole thing to caterpillars in a matter of a week and half,” said Koehler.

This year, however, has seen a good harvest, and Koehler has started selling the fresh hops to the Southerleigh brewery at the Pearl. The hops will be part of the first-ever beer with all-Texas ingredients.

As time goes on, Koehler hopes to produce a 1,000 pounds of fresh hops per harvest, with three harvests a year.

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