No Bitterness Here: Craft Beer Boom Boosts Spain's Hops Growers : The Salt When Germany halted exports in WWII, Spanish brewers asked farmers in a town in northern Spain to plant hops. Now, the town produces 99 percent of the country's hops used by the craft beer industry.
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No Bitterness Here: Craft Beer Boom Boosts Spain's Hops Growers

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No Bitterness Here: Craft Beer Boom Boosts Spain's Hops Growers

No Bitterness Here: Craft Beer Boom Boosts Spain's Hops Growers

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Spain is known for wine - really good wine. The country's one of the world's biggest wine producers. For centuries, though, there were only a few types of Spanish beer. But craft beer is now booming there, and this is good news for one tiny region that grows 99 percent of Spain's hops, a key ingredient in beer. Let's travel there with reporter Lauren Frayer.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: The village of Villanueva del Carrizo sits on fertile riverbanks in the province of Leone in northern Spain. Only its oldest residents remember the day just after World War II when all of the farmers here were called to a meeting. Spain's tiny beer industry was in a bind. It could no longer import hops from war-devastated Germany. But wild hops had been spotted along the Orbigo River, and brewers had a hunch it could grow on farms, too.

BERNARDO LLAMAS: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "Nobody knew what it was, this plant with flowers," says Bernardo Llamas, who was just 8 years old at the time. His father was one of the first to switch his wheat fields to hops.

LLAMAS: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "It was a gamble," says Llamas, "but it turned out to be profitable."

BENITO PAZ FERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "Fifteen or 20 times more profitable than growing wheat or corn," says fellow farmer Benito Paz Fernandez. Local farmers got rich, and Spain's fledgling beer industry was saved. Fast forward 66 years, and the craft beer craze has sent demand for local hops through the roof.

IGNACIO CAMPILLO: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: Ignacio Campillo is director of Spain's only hops factory, churning out a million kilos a year.

CAMPILLO: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: He shows me where hop flowers are dried and peeled back to reveal yellow powder that's compressed into pellets and dissolved into beer. But they can't make those pellets fast enough. Spanish brewers have had to supplement with imported hops. Craft beer production jumped 33 percent here last year. Some of that demand is from Jose Maria Vazquez, who grew up in these hop fields and opened the Kadabra Brewery here two years ago.

JOSE MARIA VAZQUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: It's the first Spanish brewery to use all local ingredients - local as in from his backyard.

VAZQUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "It's so timely. We're in a craft beer boom," he says, giddy. The labels on Kadabra beer are in English. The idea is to deliver an American-style hoppy craft beer.

(CROSSTALK IN SPANISH)

FRAYER: Back outside in the hop fields, elderly farmers use long bamboo rods to pick hops that grow more than 20 feet high, strung up on pylons. It's grueling work.

LLAMAS: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "It's easier to drink beer than to grow its ingredients," the farmers tell me, laughing. Most of their children have moved to cities with no interest in farming. They're looking for a new generation of farmers willing to take a chance on growing hops like they did and help feed this fast-growing industry. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Villanueva del Carrizo, northern Spain.

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