Florida-grown hops is the feature of this brew

Apopka is a city in transition in many ways. Once known as the indoor foliage capital of the world, Apopka is now on the front end of developing a long-awaited City Center to refurbish its downtown sector, and the emergence of a state-of-the-art hospital taking the place of a 40-year-old hospital with limited services.

But is it possible that Apopka could one day be known for beer?

The First Magnitude Brewing Company in Gainesville hosted a release party Thursday for its newest beer, Apopka Hop Pale Ale. This unique brew was created from hops grown at the University of Florida IFAS Center in Apopka.

The first-ever beer made with Florida-grown hops.

Dr. Brian Pearson, an assistant professor at the Center, partnered with First Magnitude to produce the limited-edition beer (they brewed one barrel, which is approximately 31 gallons) to be packaged with the label “Fresh from Florida, Made with Florida Hops.” The first batch yielded 150 bottles, plus enough to have on tap for the release event Thursday.

Pearson, a 1999 graduate of Apopka High School, has experimented with growing hops in Florida for five years. It started as a hobby and evolved into his research program.

His team received a two-year, $158,000 grant from the USDA that expires at the end of 2017, so they are pursuing additional funding sources. “Getting research dollars to expeditiously continue this effort is the missing piece right now,” he said.

Pearson, who brews his own batches of beer at home, reached out recently to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services and Brewers at First Magnitude to create a distinct beer from his Apopka-grown hops. He delivered about 3 and a half pounds of whole hops – something new for First Magnitude, which typically uses pellets processed from hops.

Despite the irregular hops delivery, Pearson is thrilled with the end-product.

“Florida has experienced rapid growth in the last three years in craft beer products,” Pearson said. “I worked with First Magnitude on other research projects being so close to the university (in Gainesville). They were elated to brew a beer with these hops. And they brewed a special beer.”

Head brewer John Denny said he is pleased how the first batch came out: “It is an American pale ale with a biscuit malt character. It also has a citrus character, and a unique earthy quality as well.”

Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer made the drive to Gainesville to attend the event. He ranked Apopka Hop Pale Ale in a particular category of noteworthy events in Apopka’s recent history.

“There are a lot of exciting things happening in Apopka,” he said. “But this is probably the coolest thing to happen in Apopka in a long time.”

Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson was also at the event and was impressed with the new Apopka beer.

“It was great to be in Gainesville for the Apopka Hop Pale Ale introduction,” he said. “Thanks to Dr. Brian Pearson and the folks at First Magnitude for a great event. Apopka Hop Pale Ale is a great Florida beer.”

Nelson is offering a bottle of Apopka Hop Pale Ale for charity on his Facebook page. In a post he writes:

“Bid for a bottle of Apopka Hop Pale Ale which was brewed by First Magnitude Brewery in Gainesville using hops grown by Dr. Brian Pearson of IFAS. All proceeds will go to Debbie Turner’s Cancer Center. BID HIGH my thirsty friends.”

To bid on the bottle, go here.

Mary Anne Sanders from the University of Florida contributed to this report. Several of the photos courtesy of Dr. Brian Pearson and John Denny.

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