Union County

Growing hops is a family tradition

Peter Hans, left, and Phillip Davis in Germany, in front of a hops field. Davis traveled to Germany to learn more about the hops he planted on his family farm.
Peter Hans, left, and Phillip Davis in Germany, in front of a hops field. Davis traveled to Germany to learn more about the hops he planted on his family farm. COURTESY OF PHILLIP DAVIS

Phillip Davis was born in the North Carolina mountains. He and his family now live in Stallings but, in a way, he has returned to his roots.

Years ago, during the Depression, Phillip’s grandmother, Nita, brought a hop plant from her home in Cashiers, when she and Mac Davis, Phillip’s grandfather, moved to their farm.

Nita used to make pillows for neighbors stuffed with hops.

“Hops have a natural sedative effect,” Phillip, 52, said. “If you pick them you can actually feel the effects.”

The homestead consists of 60 acres of farmland in a valley near Pisgah Mountain, not far from Asheville. The farm is rich in family history.

“The entire area is full of Davis kin,” he said.

Phillip’s grandfather cut timber on Pisgah Mountain to get enough money to buy the farm. Phillip’s dad, John Davis who is 88 years old, was born in a train car the family lived in on the job site. He and Phillip’s aunt, Ellen Davis, who is 85, still live on the farm.

Where cattle once grazed, 1,000 hops plants grow on about 10 acres. Phillip had the hops tested at N.C. State University and found that it was suited for brewing beer. Phillip said hops provide flavor while balancing the sweetness in barley.

“No one is sure where the hops (originally) came from. It would be considered native by now,” Phillip said. “Catawba Brewing has used it in some tests and believe it is German in origin.”

So, he traveled to Germany to the Hallertau hop growing region of Bavaria, which is north of Munich to learn more.

“The region has weather very similar to here and is the largest hop growing region in the world,” Phillip said. “Most farms are less than 10 acres and are family owned.”

The Davis family helps with the farm.

Phillip and, his wife, Terry, have three sons: Parker, 24, Sean, 21 and Chase, 19. Parker helped erect the trellis and named the company Sticky Indian Hops. The name came from picking hops, which Phillip said is sticky. The hops field is between two springs where an Indian campground used to exist. They have found numerous hatchets and arrowheads on the property.

Sean and Chase put in telephone poles, put up string every spring and help pick the hops every summer. Harvesting is usually done in August. Family members from Alabama also come to pick.

Phillip met with Birdsong Brewery in Charlotte’s NoDa district, three years ago when he attended the Charlotte Beer Fest. After a conversation, 10 employees from Birdsong visited the farm and had a picnic. The brewery started using the Sticky Indian Hops for their beer, called Sticky Situation.

“We have more interest than production but will be supplying other breweries this summer,” Phillip said.

And this is only a side business for him. He works full-time in industrial construction and maintenance.

Phillip said the hop industry is fairly new in North Carolina. Most breweries get their hops from West Coast growers in Oregon and Washington, he said.

“Fresh hopped beers are unique because the cones are still green and are used within hours of being picked,” he said. “Charlotte breweries did not have access to this until now.” The cone is a green flower that looks like a pine cone and smells like a beer.

Kim Becknell Williams is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Kim? Email her at kbwjcw@infionline.net.

Learn more:

For details, go to www.Stickyindianhops.com.