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Not all hop acres are created equal

The expanded hop acreage report released this week by Hop Growers of America indicates that acres strung for harvest in states outside the Pacific Northwest increased almost 58 percent between 2015 and 2016 to nearly 2,000 acres. And what does that mean?

American hop growing regions 2014

I pose this as a question I am not prepared to answer. I hauled out this map, which represents where hops were being grown in 2014, for my Zymurgy Live presentation last month. Look at it and you might think brewers in much of the country have access to locally grown hops. But in 2014 only 2 percent of planted acres were in those red circles. In 2015 the number increased to 2.8 percent and in 2016 to 3.7 percent.

Right now those acres are not nearly as productive as the ones inside the blue circle. It will be several years before we can measure how productive, or not, they are. If you look at the numbers you will see acres in Michigan doubled in 2016. Outside the Northwest it will be three years before a hop plant reaches maturity. Yields will be less until then, and of course less in years when growing conditions are not favorable. This is agriculture.

Right now it doesn’t look like most non-Northwest hop yards will manage yields equal to those in the Yakima Valley. So farmers in New York, Michigan and elsehwere will not be able to compete strictly on price. Can they in other ways? Steve Miller, hired by the Cornell Cooperative Extension in 2011 as the state’s first hop specialist, thinks so. “I think five years from now we’ll be in that (competitive) position,” he said last year. “(Brewers will say) this Fuggle or this Cascade is not just local. I actually like it better than I can get elsewhere.”

Another wild card is interest in neomexicanus varieties. So a bit of background. The genus Humulus likely originated in Mongolia at least six million years ago. A European type diverged from that Asian group more than one million years ago; a North American group migrated from the Asian continent approximately 500,000 years later. Although there are five botanical varieties of HumulusH. lupulus (the European type, also found in Asia and Africa; later introduced to North America), H. cordifolius (found in Eastern Asia, Japan), H. lupuldoides (Eastern and north-central North America), H. pubescens (primarily Midwestern United States), and H. neomexicanus (Western North America) — the first and last are of interest to brewers.

Hops of American heritage, which include some grown in Australia and New Zealand (and now even England and Germany), contain compounds found only at trace levels in hops originating in England and on the European continent. Among them is a thiol called called 4-mercapto-4-methylpentan-2-one (otherwise referred to as 4MMP), a main contributor to the muscat grape/black currant character associated with American-bred hops such as Cascade, Simcoe, and Citra. It has a low odor threshold and occurs naturally in grapes, wine, green tea, and grapefruit juice. It is one contributor to what were described as “unhoppy” aromas not long ago and today as desirable “fruity, exotic flavors derived from hops.”

Interest in native American hops is twofold. First, they have had hundreds or thousands of years to adapt to their environment and develop resistance to local diseases. They may well be better suited to growing in new regions than varieties bred for the American Northwest. Second, they may contain compounds that yield new aromas and flavors

I mentioned Todd Bates’ breeding program and the “Frank Zappa hop” last month, but it is worth adding that varieties Eric Desmarais at CLS Farms chose not to grow are showing up elsewhere. The names to look for are Neo and Amalia. A story in Local Flavor magazine indicates Santa Fe Brewing bought the entire stock from CLS, but the rhizomes were previously available via mail order and got shipped to all sorts of locations.

At Homebrew Con week before last a homebrewer showed my a photo of his Neo plant climbing right up a wire attached to the roof of his house. That’s local.


Some Monday beer links that just read better


Why Czech lager is just better.
Joe Stange has written a love letter to Czech pale lager. It is wonderful and were I a Czech pale lager and he followed this up with a proposal of marriage I would accept. I cannot argue with much in it, but I do have a problem getting past Exhibit No. 1 — that “It just tastes better” — which also became the headline for the post.

I read this Saturday morning, sitting on our back patio after a bit of yard work and before the sun reminded me it was summer in the city (cut The Lovin’ Spoonful). The evening before we walked three short blocks to have dinner at Manchester Public House. The first beer I drank was Katy from 2nd Shift Brewing, currently made several miles west of St. Louis, but soon to be produced 1.3 miles up the road from MPH. The second beer I had was Odinson from Modern Brewery, a few hundred yards more along the road.

I would be delighted if MPH were to offer a fresh Czech lager on tap — OK, that’s a fantasy — but it wouldn’t taste any better to me than those two local beers did Friday evening. [Via DRAFT]

Crafty Beer Girls.
A report from the front, with more reports if you dive into their blog. [Via Salt Lake City Weekly]

Beer and (industry) loathing with Stone Brewing’s Greg Koch.
Koch’s answers to Jason Notte’s questions are not always straightforward, so put your translating and thinking caps on. And there’s also this. I’m a fan of beer and music analogies, but sometimes I’m not sure how well they work.

As we move through this, there are going to be some people who are thrilled with our decisions, and there are going to be some people who are going to want us to not change. They’re going to want us to come out with our second album again … and then again … and then again. And we don’t want to come out with our second album again. We want to come out with new albums and make new music …”

[Via MarketWatch]

World’s oldest beer brought back to life, scientists claim.
Scientists claim? What is this, skepticism? This story popped up everywhere last week, and this was the most in depth version. It seems brewers/scientists are attempting to take history recreations to a new level these days. And I’m not sure how we might measure if they are succeeding. [Via Catalyst, ABC Australia]

Soured: Craft Beer’s Misplaced Obsession With Bugs and How to Deal With It.
Josh Weikert’s rant was provoked by beers he tasted during Homebrew Con, both from homebrewers and commercial breweries. I didn’t seek out sours during Homebrew Con, so I can’t comment on their quality there. He wrote: “The sour beer I’m drinking these days isn’t good. When sours were much more rare in the marketplace, I’d say that three out of four were definitely worth a try, and even that fourth was usually good-but-not-what-I-wanted.” My experience past and present has been different. When sours were less abundant there were still plenty that would take the enamel off your teeth. While there are still too many of those a larger percentage of brewers have figured out what they are doing. There are still plenty of examples of poorly made beers, but that is because there as so many more overall. [Via Beer Simple]


The 2016 MW examination papers.
If you write about wine there are a year’s worth of blog topics here. And I agree that Question A1 on Theory Paper 5 is a great one: “‘The consumer’s limited knowledge is a blessing for the wine industry.’ Discuss.” [Via Jancis Robinson]

Delusion at the Gastropub.
[Via The Baffler]
The Fed Is Worried About Worker Productivity.
[Via FiveThirtyEight]
From the Baffler: “Viewing our foodie status as a badge of honor makes sense only if we’re prioritizing food advocacy—from promoting sustainable farming practices to reducing food waste to embracing and popularizing more sustainable crops to making healthy food more affordable to the poor—over our indulgence in wildly expensive plates of exotic fare.”

I’ve been repeating something Left Hand Brewing co-founder Eric Wallace once said for almost 20 years ago: “The large brewers are not tooled to do what we do. They’ll have to build less-than-efficient breweries to make beer like we do.” I like this idea. But sometimes I remember there’s a downside to inefficiency. It wouldn’t be much of a world if we rewarded only the efficient, but there’s the quality of my life, the quality of your life, and the quality of the life of the guy down the road to be considered.


Click on the date to open the thread.


Who brews the ‘Walmart beer’?

This was a silly headline: “Is Walmart Looking to Dethrone Budweiser as King of Beers?” The story itself does not suggest Walmart will be getting into the brewing business. Instead it is about still another foray the retailer is making into selling beer.

You’ll recall that about three years ago there was chatter about Walmart’s plan to become America’s biggest retailer. This included selling brands such as Budweiser and Coors at low, low prices and broadening their overall selection. At the time I visited Walmart to compare both prices and selection. I’m not going to run another price check, but last time I looked (granted, several months ago) the overall selection had shrunk since September of 2013.

But now there are these beers from Trouble Brewing, which is not exactly a brewery (but more on that in a moment). Details are in the “Dethrone the King” story.

We want to bring craft beer to the masses,” said Walmart senior vice president of adult beverages Al Dominguez. He spoke at an event at the company’s culinary innovation center in its home state of Arkansas. Dominguez was quick to point out that due to alcohol laws, it’s not calling the beer “private label” but rather “distinctive label” beer.

But what is this Trouble Brewing in Rochester, New York, they speak of? It must be pretty good size to produce beer for 2,200 of Walmart’s 4,600 stores. It doesn’t take much detective work to figure out it must be Genessee Brewing.

Why don’t they just put that on the label?


More Citra, more Mosaic, more Comet – wait, more Comet?

The United States Department of Agriculture reports farmers in the Northwest have strung a record number of acres for hop production in 2016 — 17 percent more than in 2015. Much can happen between now and harvest beginning in late August, but a record crop seems likely.

The varieties that British hop breeder Peter Darby describes as “impact hops” — boldly American, often with fruity aromas and flavors — continue to drive growth. Farmers planted 51 percent more Mosaic (increasing acreas from 1,800 to 2,717) and 48 percent more Citra (from 2,993 to 4,430). For sake of comparison, farmers in the Northwest strung 7,371 acres of Cascade this year.

The Hop Breeding Company released Citra in 2008, Mosaic in 2012, and Equinox in 2014. Equinox acreage was not reported in 2015, but grew to 996 in 2016.

Equally impressive, if on a smaller scale, acreage for Comet more than doubled from 108 to 231, and Azacca nearly tripled, from 175 to 501. Azacca is a relatively new hop from the American Dwarf Hop Association, but Comet came out of the USDA public breeding program in Corvallis, Oregon. It was released to farmers in the mid-1970s as a high alpha (for the time) hop, intended for efficient bittering. Acreage peaked at 635 in 1980 and declined as higher alpha hops became available. It was barely kept alive, perhaps on only one farm (Brulotte Farms in Toppenship), until a couple of years ago. Now several farmers in the Northwest are growing it because brewers like it for its aroma — you guessed it, boldly American and citrus — and some German farmers have planted it as well.

The USDA reported estimates only for the Northwest, where until very recently farmers grew almost all the commercially harvested hops in the United States. Best estimate is that farmers beyond the Northwest harvested 1,250 acres of hops in 2015. That number will likely grow faster than in the Northwest, but yields are much lower and comparisons are difficult.

Overall acreage in the Northwest is up to 51,115. Acres in Oregon increased to 7,669, the most since 1997.


Monday beer links: Who should be mayor of Homebrew Con 2017?


U.S. craft beer pioneer New Belgium has some lessons for old Belgium.
I’m am going to cheat and flip right to the end: “The consumer really has started to be the person asking for new beer. I always used to say: ‘We’ll make it, they’ll drink it anyway.’ It was brewer-led brewing. Now it’s more consumer-led.” [Via MarketWatch]

14 Breweries Split from Colorado Brewers Guild.
Some numbers might add context. This group includes Colorado’s five largest small brewers (small being every brewery other than the massive MillerCoors plant in Golden and the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Fort Collins). Those five (New Belgium, Oskar Blues, Left Hand, Odell, and Great Divide) produced about 70 percent of the 1,775,831 barrels of beer Colorado’s craft breweries made in 2015. Avery (52,805 barrels) and Ska (32,187 barrels) are the largest breweries that did not join the group of 14. [Via Porch Drinking]

Postcard from Forchheim, Upper Franconia.
“Sadly, younger Germans are less interested in traditions like Stammtisch and Frühschoppen, or less able to keep them. I worry that in 20, 40, 60 years these things become mere anecdotes: My opa used to drink there every Sunday morning.” [Via DRAFT]

A craft beer revolution brews in Paris.
Yes, your first thought might be, Not another craft beer in Paris story. But I find it interesting to consider what it can mean to be local in the twenty-first century, no matter the location. [Via SFGATE]

Craft Beer Drinkers are Interested in Healthy Habits and Alcohol Abstinence, Nielsen Survey Finds.
Introducing The Weekend Warrior Craft Drinker. [Via Brewbound]


Wine Critics – Everything Old Is New Again.
Beer drinkers who know of Pliny the Elder the Person mostly do so because of Pline the Elder the Beer. But his influence on wine is somewhat larger. And not only because he wrote things like this: “The wine produced (nascitur) at Signia—useful as an astringent because it is just too harsh—counts as a medicine.” [Via Huffington Post]

Into the tall weeds of the critic: Kramer and being “captious.”
“I guess I’m thinking politically — critics are rather like politicians running for office. You have to talk, talk, talk to convince people to listen to you and believe in your views.” [Via Steve Heimoff]


I pass this along because Minneapolis-St. Paul is hosting Homebrew Con in 2017. The first time I saw Steve Fletty in Baltimore this past weekend I told him I think he should be declared the official mayor of Homebrew Con next year. A grassroots movement seems in order.


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