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Cascade – a study in hop terroir

Note: Boak & Bailey periodically invite bloggers to post something longer than usual. This is my contribution. It includes information published in “For the Love of Hops” and results of research conducted since the book was came out. You can find more searching for the hashtag #beerlongreads on Twitter.


Conducting a study during the 2010 hop harvest in the Willamette Valley, researchers at Oregon State University’s Shellhammer Lab discovered something outside of the focus of the trials.

As well as learning about the impact harvest date has on hop oil content — considerable and important — they saw that concentration of essential oils varied in a way that did not suggest a single one of three farms involved was “best” for growing hops. Instead, the variety Cascade had a larger volume of oil at one location (Farm 2 in the illustration below) and the variety Willamette at another (Farm 1).

Willamette Valley harvest dates and hop terroir

Hop farmers long ago learned that hops well suited to one region might not do as well in another. Refugees from Flanders established England’s first modern hop gardens relatively early in the sixteenth century, planting Flemish Red Bine hops. They did not produce desirable lupulin or much of it in English soil. Brewers likewise determined that the aromas of particular varieties were more to their liking from certain regions. So the research at OSU substantiates some of what is intuitive. Watermelons grow better some places than others, as do roses, basil, and carrots. Oh, and grapes. The variations are at the heart of what winemakers call terroir.

The significant difference in oil content on farms located just miles apart has wider implications. Most of the hundreds of odor compounds hops produce come from the essential oils. They further interact with yeast, the biotransformations creating still more odor compounds. The compounds, in turn, are responsible for aroma, and what constitutes desirable aromas in beer has broadened considerably in the past 40 years.

Hop scientists and brewers still have much to sort out, and more oil itself doesn’t guarantee anything. Cracking the code on how the composition of oils in a hop such as Citra or in one like Saaz impacts odor compounds will allow brewers to fine tune the way they use varieties, or more accurately a combination of varieties, to create beers that have currently fashionable flavors and aromas.

For example, research supported by Japanese brewer Sapporo has examined how geraniol metabolism might add to citrus and related flavors in beer. In one experiment, a team headed by Kiyoshi Takoi brewed two beers, using Citra hops in one and coriander seeds in the other because both are rich in geraniol and linalool. The finished Citra beer contained not only linalool and geraniol but also citronellol, which had been converted from geraniol during fermentation. The same transformation from geraniol into citronellol (perceived as rose-like, lime, other citrus, or peach) occurred during fermentation of the beer made with coriander.

The scientists at Sapporo followed up with an investigation into the behavior of geraniol and citronellol under various hopping conditions and with various blends of hops. They identified several hops of American heritage rich in geraniol. They also looked for varieties with an excess of linalool. Some of those are shown here.

Geraniol-rich hop varieties

(Light blue is linalool, red is terpineol, yellow citronellol, green nerol, and dark blue geraniol)

Bravo is highlighted because of its high geraniol content and because in the study Bravo was blended with Apollo in one test and Simcoe in another. A test panel described the beers blended with Bravo to be more flowery, fruity and citrus-like than the unblended beers.

Blending hop varieties for fruitier flavors

Cascade, Chinook, Citra and Mosaic are all rich in geraniol, but notice that the two Cascade samples are different. They both came from Washington’s Yakima Valley. The differences are doubt larger, at least on average, between Cascade grown in Yakima and Cascade from Oregon or Idaho. And what about from New York, Minnesota, Michigan and all the other states where farmers recently began growing hops? Or from New Zealand, Germany, Brazil and England?

Some of the differences are for the same environmental reasons grapes grown in the Napa Valley are more highly valued than those from Missouri, but with hops latitude is particularly important. Researchers realized only early in the twentieth century that day length controlled flowering plants, describing them as “photoperiodic.” While plants will grow between latitudes 30º and 52º, they thrive between 45º and 50º.

In 1983, the International Hop Growers Convention conducted a study that illustrated the importance of growing cultivars with day length requirements suited to where they are planted. In the trial cultivars with a common female parent that had been bred and selected in England, Germany, or Yugoslavia, at latitudes of 51°, 48°, and 46°, respectively, were all grown in those three countries, and also in France at 47°. The cultivars flowered earliest in the lower latitudes, the difference between Yugoslavia and England being 10 to 14 days. The English and Yugoslav plants both showed a steady reduction in yield as the sites became more remote from their place of origin.

Differences such as the ones the Shellhammer lab discovered illustrated latitude isn’t the only determining factor in why the hop grown here isn’t quite like the one grown there. John Henning, the research plant geneticist at the United State Department of Agriculture offices in Oregon, explained that environment and epigenetics combine to make hops from a particular area unique. All plant species have methylated DNA, which causes some genes to be “switched on” more easily than others. Differences in soil, temperatures, amount of rainfall, and terrain all may influence the methylation process. The underlying DNA does not change, but the methylation pattern can be different.

Cascade provides an excellent opportunity to explore these differences. German farmers recently began growing Cascade and in 2012 the Society for Hop Research released three new varieties, all of which were bred as children of Cascade. In addition, German hop merchant Barth Haas included Cascade grown at six locations in its three-volume “Hop Aroma Compendium.” Two beer sommeliers and a perfumist evaluated each of the hops “raw” and in a cold infusion. The infusion is intended to emulate dry hopping.

American grown Cascade hops

New Zealand grown Cascade hops

Australian grown Cascade hops

UK grown Cascade hops

Hersbrucker grown Cascade hops

Hallertau grown Cascade hops

Mandarina Bavaria hops (spider graph)

Hop aroma descriptors

Mandarina Bavaria is pictured in the final spider graph. It is one of the varieties released in 2012 and already popular with American breweries (it is prominent in Firestone Walker’s Easy Jack). Like its mother, it is rich in geraniol. When it released Cascade as a new variety in 1972 the USDA did not have the instrumentation to measure geraniol, said Al Haunold, who was the hop geneticist at the time. Haunold has told the story many times about the role the Adolph Coors Company played in getting Cascade into the public domain.

He recently elaborated for an oral history kept at the Oregon Hops & Brewing Archives. Coors expected to be able to replace imported hops that it was using with Cascade. It didn’t work out as they expected. “The beer tasted OK, except when the beer drinker would have another bottle of beer … something would come up through the nose he wasn’t familiar with. We know now that it is geraniol.”

The European landrace hops that Coors had been using contain little to no geraniol — which on its own adds floral notes, think geranium, and can be rose-like; and of course may be transformed during fermentation.

By the late 1970s the USDA was able to analyze more components in hops (information readily available now, such as the percentage of myrcene or cohumulone), although it was be later before the lab could easily sort out linalool, geraniol and other compounds. It was in the late ’70s that Coors sent Hallertau hops to the lab to be analyzed because their finished beer had higher levels of bitterness than they expected.

“The first time I saw the cohmulone levels I thought, ‘This is Brewer’s Gold’ and sure enough it was,” Haunold said. Brewer’s Gold is a cross between a hop found growing wild in Canada and an unknown European landrace variety, so a mutt with America character and higher level of alpha acids than Hallertau Mittlefrüh, which Coors thought it was buying.

“The Germans didn’t really cheat,” Haunold explained. By law they were allowed to label any hop grown in the Hallertau region of Bavaria “Hallertau” and they had for centuries. After some negotiations they agreed to begin including the variety of hop, the year it was grown, and the region it was grown in on labels.

In the years since brewers have focused on varieties ahead of region. As Cascade illustrates, it is important to consider both.


Thanks to Barth-Haas for permission to use the spider graphs.


Beer ingredients in 2020: What about barley?

Beer production compared to barley production

Questions about barley prices in the short term keep popping up and it is no small deal for breweries. However if Brewers Association members are going to sell 20 percent of the beer brewed in the United States in 2020 there’s a bigger conversation at hand.

Bart Watson and Chris Swersey only mentioned malt production in passing during their presentation at the American Hop Convention, because they were there to talk, obviously, about hops. They drew a contrast to how quickly hop farmers have reacted to growing demand from all brewers for what they refer to as “aroma” hops. They are planting different varieties and building out infrastructure. Swersey and Watson added considerable detail about both hops and barley in the current issue of New Brewer magazine, the publication for BA members.

… there is already increasing evidence that the demand for malt grown and malted specifically for all-malt beer production has not been met by domestic malsters. … Further, much of the malting capacity developed during the 20th century was capitalized and owned by large brewing companies and this continues today. This makes the malt industry less flexible than the hop industry.

What they refer to as the disconnect between BA member demand and U.S. malt supply can be seen in the increasing share of imported malt used by domestic brewers. There are several reasons for an increase in imported malt, shown in the chart at the top. Much of the malt is coming from Canada, in part because barley growing has moved north as a result of climate change. American brewers would much prefer to use malt grown somewhere in North America, and to have input on what is grown.

Processing will be just as big a deal. Like with hops, the investment extends beyond the fields.

Current estimates of U.S. malting capacity show the ability to malt between 2.2 and 2.3 million metric tons annually. given that the U.S. malting infrastructure is used not only to supply domestic demand but also Mexican brewers, industry insiders see total production as using 95 percent of that current annual capacity, but much of that capacity is committed and unavailable to craft brewers. Our analysis of consumption and production confirms that current uncommitted U.S. malting capacity is unable to meet current craft demand.

They project that brewers of all sizes will use 25 percent more malt by 2020. They figure the cost of expanding capacity will be $500 million at a minimum.

I remember attending a seminar at the 2007 Craft Brewers Conference, so we are talking not quite eight years ago, where the discussion focused on the cost of stainless steel and what it would take to build enough brewing capacity for BA members to reach ten percent market share. Simpler times, I guess.


Where are we going to grow all the hops we need?

Hop growing in the United States

A few post American Hop Convention thoughts, because I really should get back to research on the “not hops” book.

@LoftusRanches unleashed a spectacular seven-minute tweet storm yesterday that illustrates how quickly farmers in the Northwest have recognized a shift in hop demand and adjusted. This is not simple or risk free. Land, new trellis systems, getting plants in the ground is only the beginning. Adding picking, drying and processing capacity is expensive. We’re talking multiple millions of dollars, every year for the next several years.

But, wait, isn’t worldwide beer production flat? Yes, but this isn’t a matter of selling different varieties of hops to a new set of brewers. The big guys over there brew 3 million less barrels and the new guys here make 3 million more. Different varieties, but the same land and processing equipment. That’s because the members of the Brewers Association and breweries, in the United States and elsewhere, that makes similar beers don’t use hops like the ones brewing pale colored, lightly hopped beers.

It is not as simple as this math, but the conclusion would be the same if we used more precise numbers. Alex Barth, president of hop merchant John I. Haas, showed a chart that illustrated how hop usages has shrunk for more than a century. Brewers worldwide use about .15 pounds of hops per barrel. Chris Swersey of the Brewers Association showed one that indicated members surveyed used 1.43 pounds per barrel in 2014 (steadily growing since the rate was .95 in 2008).

So if BA members brew 3 million additional barrels in a year, and they came close to that in 2014, they might use 4.3 million more pounds of hops. Considering the yield of the varieties they want that takes almost 2,400 acres of land. The guys making lightly hopped beers actually brew them with varieties that yield more per acre. So not only might they need only 450,000 pounds of hops to brew 3 million barrels, but those hops could be grown on about 200 acres. Even rounding down we are talking about more than a 2,000-acre difference.

Swersey and BA economist Bart Watson have done the calculations on what quantities of raw materials association members will need if they are to reach the BA’s goal of selling 20% of the beers brewed in the U.S. by 2020. American brewers used about 22 million pounds of hops in 2014. They’ll need 50 million if they are to reach their goal in 2020.

That’s a lot of acres.

– To give you an idea of the speed with which farmers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho have reorganized their hop portfolios:
         * Cascade production has basically doubled in three years.
         * Centennial production has almost doubled in three years.
         * Citra production is up 3.75 fold in three years.
         * Simcoe production almost doubled in three years.
         * This was Year 2 for Mosaic and production already reached almost 1.5 million pounds. It took Centennial 23 years (until 2012) to reach that level.

IPA as share of beer growth- Farmers in the Northwest and in Germany grow 75 percent of the hops in the world, and that’s not changing. They are good at it. Plus they are growing the varieties popular in hop-forward beers, and Watson showed this slide as a reminder of how important beers with IPA in their names are to sales.

However, what’s going in across the country is dang interesting. Just 71 farming entities (those may include multiple farms) in the Northwest produced about 71 million pounds of hops last year, and they will grow about 10% additional acres this year. Hundreds of farmers across the rest of the country grew hops on roughly 1,000 acres, producing less than a million pounds.

What is their impact going to be? I haven’t found anybody to answer that question. If they are successful then they may solve a part of the acre problem. They’ve certainly drawn more attention to hops. It seems like every time a farmer in Kentucky or North Carolina or Maine plants hops it merits a story in the local paper. It reminds me of 20 years ago when brewpubs were a novelty. You’d walk into a new place and there would be a wall full of newspaper stories about it. That really hasn’t changed much. Newspaper people like to write about beer.

First there is the matter of growing the hops. Then there is the rest. “I get these calls every day (from would be hop growers),” said Sean McGree, hops manager at Brewers Supply Group, whose office is located in the Yakima Valley. “All they are worried about is getting their trellises in and hop going. They don’t realize that 60 percent of the quality that brewers see comes after the hops are picked.”

They’ve still got to be able to distribute (sell) what they grow. That infrastructure is a work in progress. Spencer Gray of Sugar Creek Hops in Indiana was part of the “Opportunities for family farms and smaller marketing operations” panels at the hop convention. His family planted five acres this year and to plans to sell hops from around the world as well as their own. “I saw an underserved market. The industry is so centralized,” he said. His plans are ambitious, including establishing a breeding program that incorporates native American hops, and he expects Sugar Creek will begin processing (pelletizing) hops for the next harvest.

Gray’s is one of dozens of interesting stories. For instance, several New York farms are marketing some of their hops as heirloom varieties that have a direct link to the nineteenth century. Pedersen Farms simply calls its own, “New York.” (I’m still waiting for a Double IPA called New York, New York.) Others are growing found varieties, natural crosses between hops imported from Europe up to 400 years ago and native American hops. “It’s like finding wild apples,” said Steve Miller of Cornell Cooperative Extension services. “A majority are so-so.”

Stay tuned.


Map at top courtesy of John I. Haas, Inc.

Hop stat of the day: Cascade vs. Saaz

In 1982, 10 years after it was first released, farmers in the American Northwest planted Cascade hops on 6,111 acres. Twenty five years (2007) later they planted 1,303 acres.

I don’t think trendspotters would have predicted that growers would harvest 11,601,500 pounds of Cascade from 6,519 acres in 2014.

To put that in perspective, Czech Republic farmers harvested 11,346,280 pounds of Saaz hops in 2014.

In 2005, farmers in the Northwest produced 2,378,000 pounds of Cascade and Czech farmers harvest 14,995,860 pounds of Saaz.

So, a) Cascade production increased almost five fold since 2005, and b) last Cascade production in its primary area of production surpassed Saaz in its primary area of production (both are grown in other areas as well).

Hop contracts cover homebrewers, too

Before I finish a more complete report from last week’s American Hop Convention and the Hop Growers of America annual statistical report one quick bit of calming news for homebrewers. You will be able to buy hops this year and next and the one after. Really.

It appears there were some shockwaves when I reported the 2015 crop was basically sold out. Even though I wrote That does not mean homebrewers or new breweries or operating breweries that didn’t plan ahead won’t be able to buy hops.

A decent chunk of the hops already spoken for are committed to homebrewers. For instance, those one-ounce and one-pound nitrogen flushed bags from Hopunion account for about 10 percent of its sales. (A quick aside – the American Homebrewers Association estimates that homebrewers make 1% of beer brewed in the country, but they are 10% of Hopunion’s business. And the rest of the world thinks America’s small brewers use hops at a crazy rate.)

It still makes sense to plan ahead and pick up the varieties you want when you see them available – the plus being they’ll be shipped cold this time of year and you can monitor your own storage. Shortages may be surprising. For instance, U.S. Golding is already planted on limited acreage in Washington and the crop was a disaster. And although production of Centennial grew by a healthy amount it was still less than expected. The good news is yield was up for proprietary varieties like Citra, Mosaic and El Dorado.

There’s still an infrastructure problem that will affect everybody using hops, but more about that on Friday.

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