MCC students, alum team up to create, sell pale ale from hops grown on MCC farm

The Center for Agrarian Learning at McHenry County College and Holzlager Brewery in Woodstock have teamed up to create the “Agrarian Pale Ale,” a refreshing brew featuring a blend of earthy and citrus notes. The beer, which is now being sold at Holzlager for a limited time, uses hops grown and harvested by horticulture and agriculture students on MCC’s Student Farm.

“The partnership was born out of a connection between MCC’s Center for Agrarian Learning staff and the owner of Holzlager Brewing, Travis Slepcevich, who is also an MCC alum,” said Sheri Doyel, director of the Center for Agrarian Learning at MCC. “We collaborated with him throughout the process, and reached out to him for advice on how to tell when the hops were ready to harvest.”

The hops were planted on the MCC Student Farm the week of May 15, 2023. A trellis system was also installed, demonstrating best practices for commercial-scale hops production. The varieties planted included Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, and Willamette.

After an unseasonably hot and dry June, which required the hops to be watered weekly, Slepcevich met CAL staff on the farm to talk about his impressions of the first year of growth. It was determined that there was enough to do a small batch, even with the young one-year-old bines. Together, a decision was made to make one wet-hopped beer and one dry-hopped beer.

On Sept. 6, 2023, the hops were harvested.

“We spent the day under the tent, cutting the bines down and laying them out on long tables,” Doyel said. “Two horticulture classes came out to help and the Garden Club met on the farm to harvest as well. We tracked all four varieties and weighed the harvest.”

Half the freshly harvested hops were delivered to Holzlager Brewing the day of harvest, equaling over five pounds. The wet hops were brewed to make the MCC Wet-Hopped American Light Lager, which was served on draft and from an English Cask, and debuted at the Woodstock Ale Fest on Oct. 7. The hops made 217 gallons, or seven beer barrels of lager.

The remaining hops were dried inside the MCC Student Farm pack shed. It took over one week for them to dry. The dried hops were bagged and stored until delivery.

The dry-hopped beer, Agrarian American Pale Ale, was brewed on Jan. 18 and packaged in kegs and cans on March 4. This supply of hops also made 217 gallons, or seven beer barrels of ale.

The project involved collaboration with other departments at the College as well. Students in MCC’s Advanced Graphic Design courses, led by instructor Violet Luczak, were given the beer label design project as a graded assignment. The students were given three weeks to complete their submissions, and a panel of judges were invited to vote on their favorite. In early February, MCC student Declan Beahan (Woodstock) was awarded the winning design and the label went to print.

The Agrarian American Pale Ale is currently available for purchase at Holzlager Brewing for a limited time. It will also be available at MCC’s student-run restaurant, Tartan Bistro, when it reopens on April 10.

“We hope to rekindle the hops industry in the area, and this partnership is an example of what is possible in specialty crop production,” Doyel added.

The Center for Agrarian Learning, which includes the MCC Student Farm, has a focus on specialty crops, including vegetables, cut flowers, wine grapes, small fruit, tree fruit, elderberries, and hops. CAL programming supports farm business viability, which often requires farmers to extend their season of sales by creating "value-added" products. These products include things like jams and dried fruit, chopped and frozen carrots, fruit juice, and other beverages.

For information on the Center for Agrarian Learning at MCC, visit

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