Each month, respected beer writer Stan Hieronymus produces Hop Queries, a must-read summary of what’s going on in the hops world, and kindly offered to let us publish it for Australian industry readers. If you want to subscribe directly, you can here.
Welcome to Vol. 5, No. 4. Greetings from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Farmers in this valley have been harvesting hops for more than two weeks. Yesterday I saw Willamette hops in an oven at Goschie Farms that looked great and smelled just as good. This is quite a contrast to last year, when fires filled the air around here with smoke that left some of the crop unsuitable for beer.
There is plenty of hops left to pick, and some of the still hanging stems show the effects of the heat dome stress that took hold in the area in early summer. The same is true in the northern Yakima Valley, where harvest, which usually begins after Oregon’s but not so much after, only started in earnest at the end of last week.
“It’s the last we’ve started since I got involved (in 1987), and the most difficult to estimate,” said Eric Desmarais of CLS Farms.
Fires are more of a concern this year in Washington than in Oregon. As of dawn last Tuesday, the air quality index was over 500 in Yakima itself, although when I was driving southeast through the valley, the smoke was not as noticeable. We’ve seen a similar haze, coming from fires in California, in the foothills outside of Denver over the past two months. And, again, the smoke isn’t as thick around Yakima as it was a year ago.
“You couldn’t see all the way to the end of that row,” Hopsteiner scientist Nicholi Pitra said last week, pointing to plants maybe 25 meters away in an experimental field in Steiner.
Air quality is good in Yakima Town this morning (click on the map to see a live update), but the Schneider Springs fire to the north and west is still burning and growers and hop processors pay particular attention to this. There are a lot of questions to be answered about the smell of smoke, and they would rather this year not turn into another case study.
As I was visiting the farmers towards the end of the week, a text message was circulating about a single batch of Cascade that had been rejected because it was not aromatic enough. Had the grower underestimated the effects of heat stress and picked it too early? Should the producer have taken into account the role that a lesser impact of UV rays (because of smoke) would have on the development of odorous compounds?
When I ask these questions, brewers get nervous. It is not my intention to cry fire in a crowded hop field. I suspect that any brewer, and many will be heading to the Yakima and Willamette valleys over the next several weeks to select the hops they will brew with in 2022, would feel reassured standing next to an oven at Goschie Farms and inhaling deeply.
2021 pre-harvest estimates
Members of the International Hop Growers Convention shared their outlook for the 2021 crop shortly before the start of the harvest. Briefly:
In the American Northwest, most of the hops recovered from the heat dome that settled over the area at the end of June, especially when irrigated water was available. Optimistic Washington farmers are expecting an average harvest and Oregon is forecasting an average to slightly below average yield.
The impact of hailstorms in the Czech Republic and Poland varied. In the Czech Republic, damage ranged from 10% to 100% on about 2,500 acres with about 750 acres of total loss. The 2021 harvest is fully contracted, so don’t expect one-off hops. In Poland, hail hammered plants earlier in their development and most recovered. An average year is expected.
Two major storms in August caused hop growers Slovenia to lower their estimate for June for the harvest from 20 to 25%. A hailstorm in the Savinja Valley was the most damaging, affecting nearly 1,500 acres.
In France, the producers were not ready to estimate the yield. After a cold spring, the hops have practically caught up with their place, with side branches and lush foliage, but not an equal number of flowers in early August.
German Hop growers have a saying, “July is the Hopfaflicka (a hop mender). Heavy rains in July put the 2021 harvest back on track in the Halltertau region, and an average yield now looks possible. The harvest is in full swing.
An average to slightly below average harvest is expected in England. An excerpt from their report recalls the challenges producers face:
“April, May, June and July recorded above average rainfall every month, which made working in the fields and all agricultural work very difficult. Daytime and nighttime temperatures were below average throughout the growing season.
“Pests and diseases are under control. The month of April began with powdery mildew epidemics, which were quickly brought under control. In May and June, late blight became a problem as some farms had difficulty spraying as needed, due to soil conditions that were too soft to move due to the amount of precipitation. Red Spider hasn’t been a problem this year due to the cooler growing conditions. Variable amounts of aphids from farm to farm where they have been observed, which have been successfully controlled.
“There may well be labor issues with some farms due to travel restrictions from Europe and bureaucracy in all countries!”
Find the edge
The good-sized cooler in CLS Farms’ small beer garden in Yakima Valley that many brewers will be visiting in the coming weeks is filled with El Dorado hop-flavored beers. At Goschie Farms in the Willamette Valley, the Beer Bridge is full of beers brewed with farm-grown hops.
This interaction between brewers and producers that is common today was rare 15 years ago. As a result, brewers have the opportunity to let farmers (and breeders) know what they want and learn how to get the most out of the hops they have.
One day last week I saw Hopsteiner’s Darren Stankey add Salvo, a new advanced product from Steiner, to the kettle at Bale Breaker Brewing’s pilot brewery. On another, I tried three different YCH Hops Cryo blends at Single Hill Brewing.
They are part of the “Outcross” series from Single Hill. The Single Hill brewers start with a base beer, divide it into three tanks, and dry hops with three different varieties, but similar in some ways. For example, three experiments by John I. Haas or the Association for the Development of Hop Agronomy.
The Cryo mixes included an M tag, for mango, a B tag, for berries, and the mix that was distributed to brewers. Maybe that was the power of suggestion, but for me there were a few more berries in B. On the other hand, although others at Single Hill noticed the mango in M, it didn’t. Seemed like no more mango than many other modern IPAs.
CryoPop, the generally available mix, was the star. Beyond all the flashy-I’m-the-new-sexy-hop flavors I’ve found, mostly in the retro (exhaling) aroma, a note of cedarwood common in the local varieties of old school.
All Dorado from Three Weavers Brewing in Inglewood, Calif., Is a similar collaboration. As the name suggests, this is a single hop beer and the hop is El Dorado. A team from CLS joined Alexandra Nowell and the Three Weavers brewers in California to brew the beer.
(An aside. Any discussion of the success of hop varieties should include marketing. El Dorado became the 10th most planted hops in the Northwest in 2020, 11 years after CLS Farms, which selected the variety, made it gave a name. CLS clears the right to expand El Dorado to 22 other farms, and provided unique marketing support from the start, even giving El Dorado its own Twitter account in 2011. Read more in a sponsored article on Craft Beer & Brewing.)
Nowell was an early convert from El Dorado, first using it when brewing at Drake’s Brewing, but had never made single-hop beer with it. The idea to brew it arose out of a conversation with CLS co-owner Shelley Desmarais.
Three weavers used El Dorado in three different forms – T-90 granules, Lupomax concentrate granules, and whole cones – at different points in the brewing process. They added T-90s for boiling, Lupomax and whole cones in the hot tub, T-90s for dry hopping, then put bright beer on cones for three days.
Because Three Weavers often brews with El Dorado, it creates aromas and flavors very familiar to the sensory panels. They know how to expect citrus, tropical and stone fruits. “There was something new, berries, Concord grapes, blackberries,” Nowell said. “It surpassed anything we had tasted before.
“We found the edge.”
Nowell can’t say for sure which addition or shape made the difference. “I wish we could assess (the impact) of whole cones made of bright beer,” she said, wondering at the same time if the concentrated pellets were responsible.
“We found something that hadn’t come out of El Dorado before,” she said. “It was more aggressive and more assertive, but there was still a softness.”
From hops to hemp
Midwest Hop Producers in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, abandoned their hop operation earlier this year, reducing that state’s acreage by more than 50%. Bruce and Annette Wiles were operating two yards with a total of 32 acres. Hop Growers of America estimated the area of Nebraska at 49 at the start of 2021.
“No sympathy, please,” Annette Wiles said. “We had a great experience. What we have learned about raising a specialty crop, like hops, is invaluable.
Third generation row crop farmers, the Wiles turned to hemp production. They started growing hemp in 2019 in a greenhouse. They currently cannot grow hemp on their hop land due to different regulations regarding chemical inputs. The land is being cleaned up. For now, they are starting to cultivate in their greenhouse for other farmers and are developing an educational conference for the regional hemp industry.
The larger of their two hop fields, a 20-acre yard, was destroyed by two different floods in 2019. “Last year we waited to see if the plants recovered, but most of the plants were dead. Said Bruce Wiles. “I should have replaced the whole field and it takes three years for it to mature. The cost of replanting and the three-year wait for production was too expensive. The extreme cost of restocking the field exceeded the yield. “