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Hops Brings Beer To Life Growers Bring Life To the Hops
Arguably, growing beer is a dirty job. dirty job, a show on the Discovery Channel, aired a 2017 segment featuring harvesting hops. The show visited a 4th generation hop farm operation in Yakima, Washington during the hops harvest in September. Hops are an essential ingredient in brewing beer and premium hops are essential in brewing premium beer. Many average beer drinkers don’t think much of hops, preferring a specific aroma and/or flavor profile that gives a beer its personality and not recognizing it.
From the hundreds of hop varieties, the selection of specific hops and how they are used in the brewing process is what separates a premium craft beer from a “slam ’em down” beer. Ultimately, consumers vote with their dollars. So far the polls favor craft brewers, as today’s beer consumers are big on all beers loaded with hop flavor and aroma; “Umami” in beer.
What can make a craft beer experience even better is some understanding of the people and processes that make the hops. Mia Hwang in the Yakima Herald says it best, “People want to buy beer made by people they know, even if only tangentially.”
It has been a long journey to where the industry is today. In fact, over the last 100 years the industry has experienced significant progress in terms of increasing technique and innovation in terms of hop varieties and terroir. Beer as we know it has been around for about 12,000 years. By comparison, wine has been around for 9,000 years. Perhaps beer came first because grains were domesticated long before grapes. Hops in beer were actually inventions that were developed around 736 in Germany. Before 736, bitterness was added to beer by plants and flowers, some believe even dandelions. Today, some homebrewers experiment with pine to add bitterness to beer.
The three functions of hops are to balance the beer with the natural sweetness inherent in the mash while adding aroma and complex flavor characteristics. Some look to hops to add mouthfeel.
The hops capital of the world is Washington State’s Yakima Valley, and the world’s largest company supplying premium hops to brewers is Yakima Chief Hops (YCH). It is a company owned by 15 hop growers. In 2019 YCH sold more than 27 million pounds of hops to brewers in 108 countries and the United States.
Hops became a crop in the United States in 1629. This is probably why New York State became a major hop producer – initially the population was concentrated in the Northeast. However, in the intervening three centuries, two contemporaneous events destroyed New York hops—prohibition and a disease. By the early 1900s, hop growing was well underway in California, Oregon, and Washington. In the 1880s California exported some hops to Ireland for the Guinness Brewing Company. Today no one can dispute that Washington State survived Prohibition and became a major force in hop growing. Mostly due to terroir, extensive research and development of new hop varietals that also target disease cures.
The epicenter of all things hops is the Northwest: Washington-Yakima Valley, Oregon-Willamette Valley, and Idaho-Treasure Valley. But the elephant in the room is Washington state. As mentioned above, Yakima Chief Hops (YCH) is a significant factor driving hops awareness worldwide, with 15 owners and 37 associate growers. It is an organization that adheres to the strict standards set by ISO 9001 product and process quality certification and ISO 1401 environmental standards. Yakima Chief Hops is certified organic by the Washington Department of Agriculture and works with 6 major organic hop growers to sell their organically certified hops. As with most agricultural products, organic labeling is really important.
The EU also requires imported agricultural products to be organic with guaranteed production standards. Attention to quality certification is relevant to YCH because of its global reach. YCH has offices and sales presence all over the world with a significant brewing industry.
The markets that Yakima Chief Hops (YCH) serves are not limited to large macro-breweries. They are committed to a full range of brewers, even home brewers. The micro-brewery segment represents 51% of Yakima Chief Hops’ total sales. Their sales were built across 8 distinct products namely: Whole Leaf, T-90 Pellets, Hop Blends, Aged Hops, Cryo Hops and Extracts.
About 70 different hops are produced, according to Craft Brewing Business. Each variety sold by YCH is tested for quality standards during the growing season as well as directed from the brewer—aroma, flavor, alpha and beta acids and oils. Hops distributed by YCH are grown by 52 hop farms comprising 21,600 acres.
As reported by the USDA, there are approximately 59,000 acres of hops in the United States with Washington and Oregon comprising 57,000 acres (represented by 21,600 Yakima Chief hops). About 90% of the hops used to make craft beer in the US come from Yakima Chief Hops/Northwest. Germany is the second largest producer of hops. Germany produced 48,000 tonnes in 2019 compared to the US production of 54,000 tonnes.
In addition to sales and marketing, Yakima Chief Hops is heavily involved in the research and development of new hop varieties that allow YCH to be the leading supplier of edge aromas and flavor hops. YCH has a partnership alliance arrangement with Yakima Chief Ranches (YCR), working together on projects ranging from growing practices, disease control and new hop varieties. These efforts provide new hop varieties to ensure quality, improved yields, and respond to brewers’ needs.
Four of the top 10 varietal hops sold by Yakima Chief Hops (YCH) are developed and marketed by Yakima Chief Ranches (YCR). For the record, the top 10 hops produced in the Northwest are: Citra, CTZ (Columbus, Tomahawk, Zeus), Cascade, Simcoe, Mosaic, Centennial, Amarillo, Chinook, Pahto and Summit. If you drink craft beer, you’re sure to taste one of these top 10 sellers.
Research is not cheap, productive research is a function of time and money. It takes about 8 years to bring a new varietal of hop to market, so the commitment to a new variety is a gamble on market trends which is why YCH maintains a strong relationship with YCR. “Yakima maintains a strong partnership with Chief Hops Yakima Chief Ranches an organization that works to develop new hop varieties to give brewers more options when brewing beer,” said Kat Shute, Communications Manager-YCH. “The YCR breeding program is overseen by one of our (YCH) grower-owners, Jason Perrault. Jason and his team work with hop breeding companies throughout the year to find sustainable new promising varieties that exhibit new brewing characteristics while being agronomically viable for our grower production.”
Hop breeding companies have had some major successes. “Hop Breeding Company pared Citra’s smashing success with 2012’s Mosaic, a blend of papaya, blueberry, tangerine, and peach. It sports an incredible flavor profile with incredible broad appeal. Mosaic has become wildly popular. Its characteristics help define the founding IPA. By ” Mosaic Promise, Hop & Grain’s A Pale Mosaic and Carl Strauss’ Mosaic Session IPA “, by Joshua Bernstein, July 2020 Wine enthusiast.
“Mosaic is a patented and highly popular hop variety developed by Jason Perrault (an owner of YHC) through his hop breeding company Select Botanicals and the Hop Breeding Company (HBC). Jason Perrault and his company, HBC, have had a lot of success. He Also responsible for hop varieties like Citra and Simcoe,” says Nick Carr in an article on Kegerator.com. This highly successful hop was nearly 10 years in the making.
Yakima Chief Ranches (YCR) and related breeding programs have produced hop brands such as Simcoe®, Ahtanum®, Citra®, Mosaic®, Loral® and Sabro®, which have become household names in the brewing industry and among discerning consumers.
In addition to working on new varietals, YCH is active in developing new hop product formats. A notable new product mentioned above comes online in 2019 -CRYO HOPS®. “Hop ingredients are preserved using a nitrogen-rich environment throughout the process, from lupulin separation to pelleting. This proprietary process displaces oxygen, increasing quality and reducing lupulin oxidation,” explains Cat Shutt.
“Lupulin in whole-leaf hops contains resins and aromatic oils. It (CRYO HOPS) is designed to provide intense hop flavor and aroma, enabling brewers to efficiently dose large amounts of alpha acids and oils without astringent flavors or vegetal components. “It’s a big deal to brewers,” says Shute.
Another relatively new product is fresh hops—a difficult product to supply but a great product differentiator if a brewery is making high quality beer. ‘Fresh’ being the operative word. Recently, YCH received an S for their Fresh Hops product. Received an order from a Korean brewer For whole leaf hops to be labeled as ‘fresh’, the hops must be introduced into the brewing process within 36 hours of bin collection (string hops grow). YCH actually supplied fresh hops to brewers in S. Korea within a very narrow window. This allows a brewer to create a unique “Fresh” labeled beer that would be nearly impossible to achieve, especially considering S. Korea is 5,345 miles away. Working with federal and state departments of agriculture and importing fresh American hops. Proper documentation was available from Korea.
“Hops are the one ingredient in beer that creates excitement. But it becomes really exciting for consumers when they realize what hops bring to a craft beer. Use hops well,” says Schutt.
Hops are grown by real farmers who have done it for years through good times and bad. YCH has some real people who work with brewers to get the aroma and flavor of their new hops. It is the hop grower who must contend with daily unknowns such as: weather, final product pricing that was negotiated a year in advance, changes in government regulations in domestic and international markets, competitive processes and products, labor availability/cost changes, pests and diseases in which case Must address, cost of capital, and inflation, all these and more are constant concerns.
As Cait Schut says, “More and more consumers are beginning to appreciate the importance of hops and what they add to the enjoyment of beer. Brewers are constantly looking for innovations in hops that will differentiate their products.” Even some craft micro-beer manufacturers have begun to prominently feature the variety of hops used in the label design. It’s not uncommon at a craft beer event to hear brewers engage with consumers about the hops they use and why.
The hops selected by craft breweries are not a random choice. Annually, the hops industry sponsors events around the world for world-class brewers who need to be up close and personal with new hop varietals and get instant feedback.
For interested consumers, YCH offers webinar events known as Virtual crop. This month-long online event is free and open to the public, bringing together beer lovers, homebrewers and international craft brewers from around the world ‘virtually’. There are opportunities for seminars and lectures on all subjects. This event takes place every week in September and is conducted in different languages and time zones. More details are available at: virtualharvest.com.
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