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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.

1

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.

2

Yes, there’s a hop named after Frank Zappa

What’s this about a hop called FZMR2?

It has a “peppery citrus and melon” character according in a story about how the collaboration process involved in creating the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic beer (Pat-Rye-Ot) in the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Across America 12-pack.

It is described as a wild hop found growing in New Mexico, which is not quite correct. It is a cross between neo-mexicanus varieties collected in the wild, then bred in the same manner as hops are elsewhere. Medusa, the hop in Sierra Nevada’s Wild Hop IPA, was “born” the same way. Details here.

Todd Bates, who did the breading, explained that FZMR2 came out of the “Frank Zappa breeding group, which are an F2 generation of a breeding between Multihead (Medusa) and a nice Rio (it’s own breeding group) male, and this is plant 2 of the FZRM group.

“Why the Zappa name? Well, I do love and respect Frank Zappa’s music. I grew up on it and still love it, but that’s not the only reason. I looked at how people have historically named hops. Early on, it seemed the place the hop came from gave rise to the names, out of some form of respect of place. Later, I saw names of hops being after the researchers that developed a given hop, a sort of respect or self lauding gave importance to a person’s name. Later, I saw people naming hops all kinds of marketing names meant to look cool on a label, or attract a brewer/hop buyer. I wanted a different type of name for a hop. With music and beer being so intricately linked, I wanted to honor and show respect to a great American musician by putting that name to a hop, that will go on a label, and I wanted that hop to kick ass like an American musician, and Zappa was the clear winner of my choice. Zappa rules!”

Eric Desmarais at CLS Farms in Washington’s Yakima Valley began growing rhizomes he acquired from Bates in 2011. Desmarais has only an acre of FZRM2, and Sierra Nevada bought the entire 2015 crop, but it appears to be agronomically superior to Medusa. If it continues to grow well, and if drinkers respond positively to it (Pat-Rye-Ot it its first real test) then Desmarais will expand acreage in 2017.

*****

One related note: I’ll be hanging at Right Proper Brewing in Washington, D.C. on June 7. That’s the day before the National Homebrewers Conference begins in Baltimore. I’ll be brewing a beer with Nathan Zeender in the morning, and we plan to include Medusa hops in the recipe. Stop by the Brookland (production) facility in the afternoon for something of an open house. You can buy me a beer and shoot the breeze. If there is enough interest, Nathan will even be giving tours.

Monday beer links: Millennials, hops, ‘True Craft’ & other delights

MONDAY BEER LINKS, MUSING 5.02.16

The big news of last week (at about the 17-minute mark) may well generate the same flood of comments that we used to see when Anheuser-Busch bought another brewer, but occurred Friday evening so I haven’t drowned yet. Expect the aftershocks related to “True Craft” to be felt at the Craft Brewers Conference this week in Philadelphia. By chance — or maybe it wasn’t chance, only he can tell us — Greg Koch, who is at the center of this news, is speaking Saturday at a North American Guild of Beer Writers symposium. Keep end up being a sort of press conference. Short term, I put a couple of items related to the announcement at the end, because expanding the Twitter links makes this post very long.

Is Moderate Drinking Even Moderately Good For Us?
Every comment I come up with seems to include a bad pun, so just read it (please). [Via National Geographic, h/T Maureen Ogle]

Millennials Love Craft Beer, But Will A Hops Shortage Leave Them Thirsty?
[Via Forbes ]
2016 Hop Stocks Report – looking forward to a great year for hops.
[Via Washington Beer Blog]
The Forbes story, or a version of it, keeps reappearing in my Twitter feed. Up to date information about the overall hop supply and indications that water rationing should be less of a problem in the Yakima Valley than last year suggest the sky is not falling. Of course, at this time last year it looked like 2015 production would be higher than it turned out to be. In addition, hard-to-get varieties are going to continue to be hard to get, probably for years. Brewers Supply Group has begun keeping a very current list of hops it has for sale at the moment (for instance, Huell Melon was on the list early in the week and gone on Friday). I plan to spend a lot more time this week in Philadelphia asking questions related to hops than I do talking about “True Craft.”

How to brew like an 18th century Virginian.
[Via Zythophile]
Who Will Debunk The Debunkers?
[Via FiveThirtyEight]
Martyn Cornell nicely summarizes the fun we all had during Ales Through the Ages in Williamsburg, Virginia. The last evening before we all headed home there was a certain amount of conversation about similar events in the future, and I’ve been involved in related email exchanges with still more people since. I’m not certain what might result. We are often tugged in multiple directions. I want to see more research like Travis Rupp is doing, but I also know an awful lot of energy is being expended refuting bad history. The second link here has no apparent tie to beer — don’t read to the end expecting some beer payoff. Instead, there is this: “Is there any way to escape this endless, maddening recursion? How might a skeptic keep his sanity? I had to know what Sutton thought. ‘I think the solution is to stay out of rabbit holes,’ he told me. Then he added, ‘Which is not particularly helpful advice.'” Beer can be one big ole rabbit hole.

Mrs Mullis on Types of Pub Customer, 1972.
This made me smile more than any other beer thing — OK, the possible exception would be of Martyn Cornell’s answer to a question I asked on Twitter — I read last week. [Via Boak & Bailey’s Beer Blog]

‘Craft’ Beer Sabermetrics: the BCQ (Brewery Capacity Quotient).
Creative. [Via Yours In Good Fermentables]

Firm joins with iconic brewer to become a big player in craft beer business.
Warning: Includes a discussion of “exit windows.” Which leads us to the story of the week. [Via Boston Globe]

Greg Koch’s Answer to “Big Beer” is a New Platform Called “True Craft.
To get you up the speed before you read … [Via Brewbound]

This Is Reasonable Proof That Big Craft Is Losing It.
… Alan McLeod’s take. [Via a Good Beer Blog]

FROM TWITTER (AND RELATED)

Click on “29 Apr” to expand and for complete context.

What would a hop named Elvis smell like?

Yesterday I asked this question on Twitter: Which one of this is not a hop variety?

Ariana
Denali
Elvis
Monroe
Record

Sadly, voter turnout was low, but curiously the oldest variety here was the one selected most often as the invention and it took a while before Joshua David Hicks came up with the correct answer. Best I can tell, nobody has trademarked Elvis as the name of a hop variety.

I asked the question because this week a) Saint Arnold Brewing in Texas released a beer made with Ariana and has invited drinkers to provide feedback, and b) Sierra Nevada Brewing announced this year’s German Oktoberfest partner will be Mahrs Bräu and the beer will be made with the “nearly forgotten Record hop varietal.”

Saint Arnold calls its new beer Icon Green – 7220 Pale Ale, in part because the Germans only named the variety Ariana a few of weeks ago. German hop growers will be serving samples of beers made with this hop (its full name until last month was 2010/72/020) as well as 2010/08/033 next week at the Craft Brewers Conference in Philadelphia. Evaluating the hops raw members of a German panel found 2010/72/020 “pleasant and mild with slight nuances of berries like blackcurrant (cassis) and sweet fruits (peach, pear, tropical) and slightly resinous.” And they described 2010/08/033 as “hoppy, sweet fruit impressions like apricot and passion fruit. These are joined by one or two spicy and vegetable-like notes (bell peppers, olives).”

Texans who drink Icon Green can make up their own mind and provide feedback online. There are five essay questions:

– How would you describe the aroma of Hop 2010/72/20?
– How would you describe the taste of Hop 2010/72/20?
– Is there another hop you would describe as having a similar profile?
– For which beer styles would this hop be appropriate?
– What are your overall feelings toward this hop?

I can guarantee you German hop growers are looking forward to seeing the answers.

This is the second year that Sierra Nevada has collaborated with a Germany brewery to make an Oktoberfest beer. Last year’s partnership with Brauhaus Riegele resulted in one of my favorite Oktoberests of 2015. It was a malt forward beer, and the 2016 will be as well. So I’m not sure what mentioning the hop variety in the press release means. I’d like to know, and have already dashed off email enquiries, about why Record was chosen and where it is being grown now.

The variety resulted from breeding in Belgium — a Northern Brewer mother was open pollinated by a Saazer male — in the 1960s, intended to create a higher alpha hop that was relatively disease resistant. It was a high alpha hop in its day, about 6.2% alpha acids in 1981, and grown in what was then West Germany (almost 1,000 acres in 1978) as well as Belgium.

In case you are wondering, Denali is a variety from Hopsteiner first known as experimental variety No. 06277 (and unofficially as Nuggetzilla). Monroe is a relatively new hop from Germany (although its heritage is “American wild”) named after Marylin Monroe. The description from hop broker Barth-Haas suggests, “When you add the hop to a beer, then she shows her true colors: exactly like everyone remembers Marilyn Monroe in a red dress. A guise full of red aromas. In the nose, there are wonderful raspberry notes supplimented with orange syrup and added to this in the taste is the sweet taste that reminds one of summer and cherries.” I did not experience that at the 2015 Craft Brewers Conference when I had a beer brewed with Monroe, but I’ll seek out another sample next week at CBC in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, I am left wondering what we would expect a hop named Elvis to bring to a beer.

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