It was not long after John Henning at the U.S. Department of Agriculture explained the science behind terroir to me.
We were sitting in his office on the Oregon State University campus eight years ago and I had more questions to ask than we had time for. This one wasn’t even on my list. It was a frivolous passing thought.
“Is BB1 the most influential hop ever?”
He paused for a moment. I don’t recall his exact words and they aren’t in my notes. But he said that might just be true, because the release of Brewer’s Gold (a daughter of BB1*) set hop breeding in the direction it would take from early in the twentieth century into the twenty first century.
I think I’ve only asked a variation on that question one other time — in this case the more open ended, “What is the most important hop ever?” — and Jason Perrault of Select Botanicals and Perrault Farms said to give him a little time to think about it. I haven’t pressed him on it since, but now might be time.
Meanwhile, I’m asking readers the same question.
Here is why. I’m going to be talking about hops at Homebrew Con 2019. The presentation is titled, “7 Hops: Bitter Sisters Who Reveal the Secrets of Humulus Lupulus.” Here’s the description: “How should you use a hop you’ve never heard of? Why are New World hops different? What’s a thiol? How come nobody warned us about hop creep? We’ll consider these questions, talk about the latest scientific research, and vote for the most important hop ever after getting up close and personal with seven varieties chosen by attendees.”
The premise is that it is possible to use only seven hop varieties to tell the story of hops, from how cones from the plant became an essential ingredient in beer to the insane levels of dry hopping currently in vogue. Terroir, biotransformation, and hop creep may also get discussed. My goal is to see all the attendees, be they homebrewing novices or experts, walk out of the room knowing more about hops than when they walk in.
The fun part is that a few randomly chosen attendees will pick the varieties I talk about. Offering a wide range of choices and linking them to all the other things to be discussed presents a logistical challenge in assembling a presentation, which is why audience members won’t have the entire universe of hops to pick from. I’d appreciate your help deciding what 40 or so ones to let them choose from.
Please leave a comment here or email me a list of one, two, three, up to seven hops you consider the most worthy, the most influential, the most historically important, whatever criteria you please. I want to hear from you either way, but should you be attending Homebrew Con there is a possible prize. Randomly chosen attendees will pick five of the varieties when the presentation begins. I’ll reserve one other choice for an attendee who participates in this first round. That could be you, so be sure to let me know if you will be attending Homebrew Con. (In case you are doing the math, the seventh choice will be mine. It’s my talk.)
Don’t be shy. Leave a comment.
* In the spring of 1917, Ernest S. Salmon, a professor at Wye College 60 miles east of London, placed a female hop plant in hill 1 of row BB of the Wye nursery. Salmon designated all his breeding material based on its position in the hop garden. He labeled the rows A, B, C and so on; then AA, BB, CC. When he planted a wild Manitoban hop in hill 1 of row BB its name became BB1. BB1 matured early in the summer of 1918, flowering in July, forming large course, somewhat pointed cones. In the fall, Salmon harvested the seeds the cones produced. One of those seeds became Brewer’s Gold.
Earlier in 1917, Salmon had presented a paper to the Institute of Brewing in London that revealed his main objective in breeding was to combine the high resin content of American hops, some found growing wild, with the aroma of European hops. This plan would take hops in a new direction.
At one time, Salmon’s cultivars accounted for about one third of the world hop acreage. When he began at Wye College hops contained 4 percent alpha acids on average and 6 percent at the most. Breeders have since released hops with more than 20 percent alpha acids, almost always using cultivars that lead back to Salmon. For most of the past century the focus remained on increasing alpha and replicating established aroma profiles. More recently, the definition of what constitutes a pleasant “hoppy” flavor broadened to include fruity and exotic flavors Salmon likely never envisioned. Yet almost every new popular variety contains a bit of American wild hop, sometimes BB1.