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Hopstate NY: 2015, not 1879

Imagine Iowa without corn, or Illinois without soybeans.

That’s what it would have been like in the 1870s to think of New York without hops. By 1879 New York grew 80 percent of American hops. Four years later, The Western Brewer provided an industry overview: “It will be seen that in 1850 hops were raised in 33 States and Territories; in 1860, in 37; in 1870 in 36; in 1880 but 18. … It remains to be seen whether California, Oregon, and Washington Territory will increase their production; or, in a few years, drop off as so many others have done. It is probable that New York will always remain the banner hop state.”

Instead, within 10 years the Pacific Coast produced more hops than New York, and by the time Prohibition began New York farmers grew less than 4 percent of the national crop. This happened for multiple reasons: lower yields in New York than on he West Coast, hop disease issues, higher labor costs, and small inefficient operations.

Hop Growers of America estimates New York farmers strung 250 acres of hops in 2015, two-thirds more than in 2014. That’s considerably less than the 39,072 acres in 1879, when 10,000 New York farmers harvested 21.6 million pounds, but the pace of expansion has picked up. The first commercial field to operate since 1954 was planted in 1999, but 11 years later farmers harvested only 15 acres.

“We have a real mix of people,” said Steve Miller, hired by the Cornell Cooperative Extension in 2011 as the state’s first hop specialist. “There are only a couple of growers who’ve had hops in for more than 10 years in the state. The vast majority of growers have only had them in for a year or two.”

Last year, Miller estimated there are now about 75 farmers there with two to five acres of hops, and most have the potential to expand. Yields on farms with mature plants have topped 1,500 pounds per acre. In 1879 the average was 554. “It’s based on people becoming growers, not hobbyists,” Miller said. “People who have knowledge and equipment and barns.”

The state of New York supports this revival in a variety of ways, including funding Miller’s research. So has Brewery Ommegang outside of Cooperstown. From the time Ommegang opened in 1996 its press releases mentioned it is located in the former center of U.S. hop growing. This always seemed a bit curious, because at the time nobody in New York was growing hops and you wouldn’t describe any of Ommegang’s beers as hop focused. Although the brewery recently released its first IPA and brews a range of hop forward pale ales, hops still aren’t what you think of first when somebody says Ommegang.

Ommegang posted the photo above last month, showing the small hop yard at the brewery. It is growing test varieties for the Cornell Extension program and will trial them in beers. The brewery also bought one and a half tons of New York hops last year. A good portion of those went into Hopstate NY, a pale ale released only in New York state a couple of weeks ago. It is brewed with Cascade, Nugget and Chinook hops, so it is brimming with citrus aroma and flavor, its resin character lingering beyond the finish.

No melon or blueberry or other exotic New New World aromas or flavors, but something different than New York hops offered in 1879.

A bit of disclosure: We don’t live in New York. I was able to taste the beer because the brewery sent me some. I certainly would buy it if I lived in New York. I won’t claim that at first sip, or third for fourth, that I thought, “Oh, this tastes of New York” (or the rolling hills around Coopertown, of which I am quite fond). But I could see it becoming a familar taste. One of place.

Last month when I was in California I had a lengthy — rambling, you might say — conversation with Brian Hunt at Monnlight Brewing about what makes a beer relevant. I’m going to be a while sorting that out, but I’m pretty sure than Hopstate NY is an example of relevant.


Hops 2015 update: The bigger picture

If you haven’t memorized the details within the June Hop Acreage Report you might want to read that first, but now we have the world Hop Market and Crop Development Report from the Barth-Haas Group, the world’s largest hop broker.

So here’s what’s new since last week:

– “Worldwide hop acreage surpasses 50.000 ha (123,500 acres) for the first time since 2010; continued shift towards aroma/flavour in the US and more varietal changes in Germany. Favourable growing conditions in Europe to date; some concern about unusually high temperatures in the Yakima Valley in early June coupled with rolling water rationing in some locations.”

In fact, mandatory water rationing in the Wapato Irrigation District means a good chunk of hops receive water for 10 days, then don’t for 5. A friend sent me this photo of plants after three days without water at 90 degrees (Fahrenheit). Write your own caption. I like, “Beer is an agricultural product.”

Yakima Valley hops, 3 days without water

More from the report: “Overall, at this stage, the crop appears to be average. The unusually hot days and warm nights have moved the plants well ahead of a normal schedule. Some growers have been struggling to maintain sufficient labor force to complete certain tasks on time and there are some concerns about water availability in junior water districts, which have curtailed deliveries at a time when temperatures have spiked. The excessive heat has increased spider mite populations. Control measures are being applied. Some powdery mildew is showing at this time. Fungicide applications are being applied for control.”

– As promised, German growers have planted more of the three new varieties with “New World” aroma character that so many brewers (and presumably drinkers) want. Mandarina Bavaria acreage is up 109%, Hallertau Blanc 127%, Huell Melon 82%. Of course, it will be 2017 before rhizomes planted this year produce a full crop.

This news is a drag: “The structural change among German hop growers continues: 21 operations ceased after the 2014 harvest leaving 1.171 active hop farms for 2015. The average farm size has increased to 15,2 ha (up from 8,5 ha in 2000).”

– “The Czech Republic reports a modest increase of 3.5% to a total of 4.617 ha. Slovenia increases by 110 ha, mainly in the Celeia variety, to reach 1.406 ha. Poland also expands acreage by some 100 ha to 1.510 ha. China reduces hop acreage by 255 ha and drops to 2.400 ha.”

– The market outlook: “2015 is fully contracted out in both the fine aroma and flavour categories. The availability of spot quantities will depend on the outcome of the crop. The market is considerably softer in standard aroma varieties (mainly Perle and Hallertau Tradition) as well as high alpha hops where supply and demand are more or less in balance.”

And: “The 2015 spot market is set to be a challenging one again for the industry.”

In which case you could be reading a lot soon about soaring hop prices. Those won’t affect brewers who have contracts, so short term are not an excuse for big time increases in hop prices. Long term, some sorting out to do.


Tired of hops? Consider featherbowling


Believe in featherbowling.
My favorite read of the week, maybe month. I’ll admit the beer connection is minimal, but the Cadiuex Cafe was an early outpost for flavorful beer in Detroit. Delightful on the cafe side, fascinating on the bowling side. [Via ESPN the Magazine]

Doom Bar and the Question of Origin.
The quick summary: the popular UK beer Doom Bar is brewed outside of Cornwall as well as in Cornwall, which is not what the brand’s owner Molson-Coors would have drinkers believe. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, Boak & Bailey write, what does that mean? Among other things they “suspect it will take months for most people to clock this news and, even then, many won’t care — it’s a popular beer which presumably sells to the trade at a competitive price and it’s still Cornish-ish, right?” I wish they weren’t right, but I figure they are. [Via Boak & Baley’s Beer Blog]

June Hop Acreage Report.
If You Drink It, They Will Grow: A Changing Landscape for Hops.
More on Hops: Prices and Future Growth.
Peak hop: Obsession with flavour may be dulling our beer palates.
Hops are giving you man boobs? Poppycock.
As I noted last week on Twitter, a few years ago hardly anybody beyond hop farmers paid attention to the USDA June Hop Report. That’s changed. Bart Watson of the Brewers Association analyzes it in depth (first link), the Bryan Roth goes deeper (next two). The fourth link isn’t about production, but beyond reminding us of the new interest in hops dredges up the notion that an obsession with hops keeps drinkers from exploring other flavors in beer. I disagree. The last link is to something I posted Friday, about the silly statement that hops give men man boobs. You’d be dead from alcoholism long before you could consume enough 8-prenylnaringenin to result in estrogenic effects.

Should I be drinking local or sustainable beer?
“Which is greener: beer brewed on wind energy that is trucked 1,000 miles to the consumer, or beer brewed on coal energy with minimal transport needed?” [Via Grist]

New Chinese Beer Saves Rhinos By Using Fake Rhino Horn.
Ingredient of the Week No. 1. [Via Eater]

Carrot craft beer is being brewed in Australia.
Ingredient of the Week No. 2. The beer is called Wabbit Season. [Via Mashable]

How Solid Are The Breweries In Your State?
“The question was which states have the breweries that have the most above-average beers, and which states have the breweries that make the most superlative beers.” Hop science I get, this I don’t. [Via BeerGraphs]


Hops are giving you man boobs? Poppycock

Yes, drink enough IPAs and you could end up with man boobs — so the headline on Wednesday’s much passed around story is, technically, a bit more accurate than the second paragraph: “Yes, you read that right: Hops are giving men man boobs.”

The article relies on “Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers” to demonize hops. The book drew controversial conclusions in 1998, and there considerable research since, unearthing plenty of contradicting evidence.

The villain is 8-prenylnaringenin, a phytoestrogen mentioned in the story. Maybe the villain; not even that is exactly clear. But there is a bottom line; 8-prenylnaringenin is “abundant” in hops only when compared to the average plant. Research in Germany, cited in this 2004 Brauwelt story, notes that “levels in hops are very low. The concentration is below 0.01% and thus e.g. about 100 times lower than that of xanthohumol.” Hop researchers have been studying xanthohumal for some time, trying to promote its health benefits. The problem is you’d have to drink so much beer to enjoy to get the benefits you’d probably die from alcoholism.

Various studies found that between 0.02 and 0.24 mg/l of 8-prenylnaringenin end up in finished beer and that “humans would have to consume more than 1000 liters of beer daily to achieve detectable estrogenic effects.”

Hops add no calories to beer. But drink enough 200-calorie IPAs and you’ve got a good running start on man boobs. Just don’t blame the hops


Whither the German Pilsner?

German pilsner bitterness unitesHere is a chilling thought: “If this trend of reducing the hop-content in (German) Pilsner beer continues, by 2030 the Pilsner beer will have similar composition to today’s export or lager beers.”

The Journal of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling recently published a study that indicated the bitterness level of German pilsners had remained relatively constant between 1983 and 2006, but since then has dipped, now brewing with about 27 International Bitterness Units (IBU) rather than 30. Just in case you thought hops were making a comeback everywhere.

The report suggests there are several possible reasons for the results. “One may be purely economic reasons in times of a declining beer market in Germany. This is probably true for so-called ‘discount’ beers, which are regularly at the lower end of the legally permissible range regarding original gravity but also regarding (bitterness units). Another reason may be a change in consumer preference towards less bitter beers (a statement that
has often been made during our contacts with industry but which is currently not scientifically verifiable). Or is this an apparent case of consumer deception, because the consumers’ expectations may have been intentionally changed by the subtle decline in hop-dosage during a 40 year period? Clearly, a German Pilsner beer today is not what is was in the last century.”

The story concludes with a discussion about German food laws and if there should be a way to legally enforce the bitterness level of pilsners. That’s not going to happen.

The chart at the top compares four single breweries to the overall trend. The dark blue band on the left represents 1986-2003, the middle band 1998-2004, the one on the right 2005-2013.


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