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Hop harvest has begun, and talk of a ‘hops bubble’

Hop farmers haven’t started harvesting in the American Northwest, various parts of Germany, or the Czech Repubic, where most of the world’s hops are grown, but they have some places. Thus this picture from Indiana.

So let’s begin this hops link-o-rama with a story from Indiana and go from there.

Indiana Hops Farmers Pin Financial Hopes To Craft Beer Trend
“Small farms are not gonna be able to make it on corn and soybeans,” said Purdue horticulture professor Lori Hoagland, who advises hops farmers for the school extension. “So diversifying into some of these more niche crops is gonna be important.”

As Michigan adds hop acreage, concerns of oversupply emerge
How fast is this happening? There’s already talk of a Hops Bubble™. In Michigan, acreage is growing so fast the state may soon have more land devote to hops than countries such as Belgium and New Zealand. And Brian Tennis, I think the first guy in the state to establish a commercial hop farm, suggests some caution may be in order. “Hops are still risky. It’s an agricultural crop and it depends on what the price is at,” he told MiBiz. And Rob Sirrine of the Michigan State University Extension says this “will serve as a telling year” for the state’s processing infrastructure.

Despite craft beer boom, not much hoppin’ on Illinois farms
“In Illinois, unlike in neighboring Michigan, there’s no state university-coordinated effort among brewers and growers to break down potential barriers to business. There’s no research underway to determine the best varieties for Illinois farmers to grow that might give them a competitive edge.”

German hop growers target the massive Chinese beer market
Beer production and consumption in China continues to grow, but hop acreage is shrinking. Seems to be an opportunity here.

Craft beer craze drives demand for hops in Australia
Craft beer boom brews expansion for Australian hop farmers in Tasmania, Victoria
Harvest down under wrapped up months ago. There’s more demand for hops both within the country and from elsewhere, Hop Products Australia is increasing its hop fields by half.

Hops take off in Ontario thanks to booming craft beer market
There are 80 hop yards in Ontario. Four years ago there were only five.

Pacific Northwest crop update
An optimistic report from YCHHOPS.

The Most Popular Beer Hops of July 2016
From hoplist and based on one set of criteria, but you will recognize the names.

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Hops: A hundred year trend reversed

Hops usage (alpha acids per hectoliter)

This chart is actually one that Alex Barth, president of John I. Haas, showed at the 2015 American Hop Convention. It’s relevant right now because today the Barth-Haas Group released its annual hop report. And it confirms the projection Alex Haas made 18 months ago.

The chart tracks hop usage since 1971. One hundred years ago brewers used the equivalent of 12.6 grams of alpha acids per hectoliter (26.4 gallons or 85% of a barrel. The had fallen to 9.1 grams in 1971 and continued to drop regularly until it was just over 4 grams in 2011. It ticked up to 4.5 grams in 2011 and will reach 5.4 this year.

This doesn’t mean that beers are getting more bitter. It means that brewers are using hop differently and using more of them.

Because of heightened interest in hops much of what is in the report has already been reported. The archives are invaluable if you want to look up how much Strisselspalt the French grew 20 years ago, or if the hop called Record (which is in this year’s Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest) was ever very popular, or what spot prices were in any particular year.

This year’s report begins with a discussion of “How hops have changed the world of beer, and vice versa…”

The central task of hop research used to be “quite simple.” The breeding of new hop varieties focused on yield, alpha acid content and resistance to diseases and pests. This met most of the requirements of both the hop and brewing industry. When, after many years, a new hop variety was finally licensed, the brewing industry accepted it and brewed its beers with it – mostly with success. This went on for years – until a completely new generation of brewers grew up in the United States. More and more breweries were built and more and more people took an interest in brewing beer – not only on a small scale for their own consumption, but also on a large scale for sale to others. Suddenly, hop aroma acquired a totally new standing. The craft brewers had taken a fancy to the aroma varieties in particular. Gradually, they developed their own ideas, philosophies, techniques and innovations with regard to brewing which have meanwhile found their way into the world at large. … At the same time, there arose a growing desire for unusual hop aromas, and within a relatively short period of time new hop varieties with a wide range of flavours appeared.”

That’s why, by their count, in 2012 the number of hop varieties worldwide stood at 180; today there are 250 varieties. That doesn’t include hops been reconsidered when they grow in different regions. For instance, Gorst Valley Hops has renamed Chinook, calling it Skyrocket, because in Wisconsin the hop is less piney and resinous and smells more tropical. And in New Zealand the new name for Cascade is “Taiheke.”

Of course, the most popular varieties are driving growth.

Variety20112015Growth
Cascade1,0022,748174%
Centennial3081,807487%
Simcoe2001,338569%
Citra971,2111148%
Amarillo185683269%
Crystal54245354%

The acreage here is measured in hectares (I know, maybe it should be called hectarage), and there are 2.47 acres to a hectare. A couple of varieties not in the chart because acreage was not reported in 2011: Mosaic 36 ha in 2012 and 728 in 2015; and El Dorado 39 in 2013 and 181 in 2015.

2016 hop crop still looking good & other lupulin news

Catching up on hop news from various outposts:

– The Barth-Haas Group has released its 2016 Hop Market and Crop Development Report, and the news continues to be pretty good.

“Growing conditions in all regions has progressed as planned, with most countries expanding their hop acreage for 2016. Specifically, Australia alone has increased their acreage from 488 ha in 2015 to 545 ha in 2016. A total change of 57 ha (an 11.7% increase). [1 hectare=2.47 acres]

“The US has now become the largest hop producer in the world, adding a total of 3,110 ha in 2016. China is the only country amongst the larger hop producers with a declining acreage, estimated to be down by 324 ha from 2015 due to local industry conditions.”

– Hopslist founder Julian Healey sent me a copy of his Kindle book, The Hops List: 265 Beer Hop Varieties From Around the World. It is astonishingly comprehensive, including varieties I had not heard of. It’s going to take me a while to get through it. As Healey explains at his website, he’s “not a hop farmer and he’s certainly not an agricultural scientist. He’s just a 32-year-old guy that really loves brewing his own beer.” He’s a digital marketing consultant and writer by trade who has mined the internet for a surprising amount of information about these varieties. He also keeps a list of the most popular varieties at his website.

Because it is a Kindle book he’ll be able to update it more easily. You may be thinking “new varieties” but I am thinking additional information, like 4MMP content and the percentage of geraniol, linalool, etc. (once, of course, hop scientists better understand which of the 500-plus compounds in hops are a precursor to various aromas and flavors).

– This would appear to be a sign of how interested brewers are in finding just about any aroma new and different. YCHHOPS is selling eight varieties of experimental hops. One of these, previously known as HBC 291, recently got a name. Expect to see a lot more of Loral by the end of the teens.

Michigan hop scouting report. Remember, growing hops is agriculture. Reacting to Michigan State University Extension’s report that “Japanese beetles have begun emerging in hopyards as far north as west central Michigan” is all in a days work.

– One of the challenges for would-be hop growers outside the Northwest is infrastructure. Michigan, New York and Wisconsin reached that tipping point a few years ago. Now Minnesota is as well.

Hydroponic hops? Beer Advocate had a story on this as well. It works for marijuana, but isn’t that more of a cash crop?

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.

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