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When American hops sucked . . .

The United States became a net exporter of hops in the 1870s, so somebody must have liked varieties grown in America. In fact, exactly 100 years ago the U.S. exported 10.5 million pounds of hops and imported 3.2 million. Eighty percent of the exports went to England, while almost all the imports came from Germany and Austria-Hungary (thus Bohemia, where Saaz hops were grown).

Yet consider this from article in The Edinburgh Review from 1862, only a few years before the U.S. began exporting more hops than it imported:

“American hops may also be dismissed in a few words. Like American grapes, they derive a course, rank flavour and smell from the soil in which they grow, which no management, however careful, has hitherto succeeded in neutralising. There is little chance in their competing in our market with European growth, except in season of scarcity and of unusually high prices.”

Think how you’d feel if you were a grower and read that at Rate Hops or Hop Advocate?

This one’s for hops lovers

Deschutes Hop Henge Premium beerBoth the beer and the details herein.

The press release Deschutes Brewery sent out for Hop Henge Experimental IPA describes the beer as “our annual exercise in IBU escalation, combining several new hop processes and techniques to create a unique and unexpected beer.”

Notice that although Hop Henge checks in at 8.75% and includes, according to the press release, 95 bitterness units that it is labeled neither Imperial nor Double. But it is one big ass beer, and were it entered as an IPA in a competition would surely be kicked for its big-assedness.

Deschutes first brewed Hop Henge in 2006, some years calling it an Imperial IPA, and jamming a boatload of hops into a beer is hardly new. So what’s this about experimental? I asked and lickety-split the answer arrived in an email from brewmaster Larry Sidor:

“As always, hopping is an adventure with Deschutes Brewery. We kicked off this year’s Hop Henge Experimental Ale by milling 1.0 pounds of Amarillo and Centennial hops per barrel in our grain mill. Yes, you read that right, the hops went directly to the mill along with the grain! So, we ended up with a green mash. Never fear, lautering went fine with a high performance German lauter tun.

“The next hop stop was at the Kettle. We added Millennium, Herkules (more German influence) and Northern Brewer at just at 0.99 pounds per barrel. The next wort hopping was in the hop back using Northern Brewer, Citra and Brewers Gold at 0.6 pounds per barrel.

“Drum roll please, the final wort hopping was with Cascade and Amarillo in the whirlpool at 0.8 pounds per barrel.

“Let’s see, we’re now up to 3.39 pounds per barrel just in the wort. We’re not stopping here.

“So, off to the fermenter where we added Centennial, Cascade and Amarillo at 1.32 pounds per barrel. These were hop pellets, very unDeschutes!) So next, we added 0.3 pounds per barrel of Citra in the bright beer tank. I can finally relax and get those damn pellets out of my tank and back to leaf hops! So after seven days on dry hops we called it good with a grand total of 5.01 pounds of hops added per barrel.”

Blame the power of persuasion but it seems you can smell a blend of citrus fruits — grapefruit, clementines — northwest pine trees, pineapples, and on and on through the cap. Really.

Besides they had me from the point when they milled the hops.

Hops: Ugh, the saga continues

HopsPart of it is pure chance because several beer periodicals just hit the streets, but this seems to have been particularly dreary week for hops news.

The newest issue of All About Beer magazine devotes a chunk of its news section to the hops shortage. Every regional edition of the Brewing News family of “brewspapers” has a story about hops, with the word crisis appearing way too much. Some of it is just print lagging behind what we already knew.

But I also heard a couple of nasty rumors this week that need investigating. It’s starting to look like a visit to the Yakima Valley in May and to the hops fields in Bavaria and Slovenia later this year will be fact-finding missions.

Alpha apparently trumps aroma these days, so it’s not just the future of IPAs we’re discussing.

At mid-week Bill Brand delivered a double whammy with a story for the Bay Area newspapers about beer prices going up, with more details from brewers in his blog.

Many of the horror stories you’ve read are about smaller breweries that didn’t, a perhaps still don’t, have contracts. They were left to buy what they needed on the spot market, which has been just plain ugly. But Brand talks to brewers who have contracts for this year, and they aren’t feeling too comfortable.

They shouldn’t. Consider, for instance, the recent story that India’s beer market will soon rival China. Those guys are going to need a lot of hops.

China already does. China produced 1.2 million hectoliters of beer in 1970, 251 million in 2003. That’s right, from one to two-hundred and fifty-one. In contrast, between 1992 and 2006 world hop acreage dropped from 236,000 to 113,000. Granted, farmers have become more efficient but that’s a lot of acres.

(It’s really an aside, but such a stunning number it merits passing along: UK hop farmers worked 53,500 acres in 1850, but tend to 2,400 today.)

Yes, China and India also will need a LOT more barley malt, and higher prices for malt are a major reason you are seeing $1 a six-pack prices increases as the pump. But — so far, at least — nobody is talking about the same sort of fundamental shift in what varieties of malt are available as they are when discussing hops.

Does anybody know where I can buy a “Save the aroma hops” T-shirt?

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