Stan Hieronymus Hop Queries December 2022

Each month respected beer writer Stan Hieronymus produces Hop Queries, a must-read summary of what is happening in the hop world, and has kindly offered to let us publish it for Australian industry readers. If you would like to subscribe directly, you can here.

December 2022

US hop yields lowest in 24 years

The USDA reports that farmers in Washington, Idaho and Oregon, who grow about 98 percent of the hop crop in the U.S., harvested 101 million pounds this year, 12 percent less than the record 116 pounds in 2021. The value of production totaled $168 million, down seven percent from last year, although average price per pound ticked up from $5.72 to $6.10. The full report.

The final tally is not a surprise. Everybody saw this coming after a cold, wet spring, followed by above average disease and pest pressure and an ill-timed blast of heat that hindered cone development. Some of this can be attributed to yearly fluctuations in weather that have haunted hop growers for hundreds of years, some to climate change. (See what I’ve recently written about sustainability for Brewing Industry Guide and in The New Brewer.)

The National Hop Report should be considered in the context of the rest of the world harvest, and as previously reported 2022 production in Europe was down 15 percent compared to long-term averages. Here’s an excerpt from the German Hop Industry Association review presented at the November meeting of the International Hop Growers Convention Economic Commission:

“According to initial estimates, the 2022 harvest produced an alpha acid volume of 9,400 tons. Thus, production from the 2022 crop would be in line with expected demand in the 2023 brewing year. However, depending on variety and provenance, there will be significant undersupply for individual varieties. Aroma and bitter varieties from Europe will not be insufficient supply to fulfill existing contracts with brewers. The supply of high alpha varieties is unlikely to fully meet demand following the reduction in acreage in the USA. Far-reaching contract conversions are underway.

“Thus, it remains the significant task of the brewing industry to prioritize the introduction of already available and future heat stress and disease resistant varieties into their formulations, as these provide stable yields and qualities even in a visibly changing climate.”

(See above for links to stories about sustainability.)

Some other observations:

  • About the reduction of high alpha varieties in the Northwest: Farmers planted 27 percent fewer acres of Columbus/Tomahawk/Zeus (CTZ) than in 2021, and 19 percent fewer acres of Pahto. Those are the third and seventh top varieties by acreage, and were second and sixth in pounds harvested in 2021. Like most other varieties in 2022, their yield was down.
  • Production of CTZ dipped 31 percent and Pahto 30 percent. Overall yields, 1,694 pounds per acres, were 10 percent less than the average for the last 10 years and the worst since 1998. Again, some bad luck with the weather, some climate change. (Once more, see above.)
  • For the first time since the initial six-acre commercial plot of Citra was planted in 2008, production of the cultivar formerly known as X-114, then HBC 394, has shrunk. Growers harvested 16,037 pounds, compared to 18,393 pounds in 2021. That’s mostly because average yield in Washington, where most of Citra is grown, was down 13.6%, to 1,365 pounds per acre. For the record, Citra remains the most popular aroma hop in the world, surpassed in metric tons produced only by alpha beast Herkules in Germany.
  • Production of nine of the top 10 Northwest hop varieties by acreage in 2021 declined in 2022. Here is a quiz for your might-know-a-little-bit-about-hops friends: Which variety bucked the trend? Cascade. Production grew from 6.8 million pounds to 7.6 million pounds, still much less than the 13.9 million harvested in 2017.
  • Strata was the only of last year’s fastest growing varieties (Vol. 5, No. 8) to maintain its momentum, with production increasing 45 percent to 2.3 million pounds. (Cashmere was up marginally.
  • Strata is the first hop released from the Indie Hops funded breeding program. Founded in 2009, Indie set out to develop “impact” varieties for Oregon farmers that punched like proprietary hops that Oregon growers did not have access to. Access has changed, and in 2022 Oregon farmers harvested 2.6 million pounds of Citra and 1.9 million pounds of Mosaic.
  • Washington farmers produced 1.2 million pounds of experimental hops in 2022, more than twice the amount they harvested in 2020. Most of those cultivars will never get a name, but a couple may before the 2023 crop reaches the wire. The New Brewer story mentioned earlier has a list of contenders.

The past

Lars Garshol has posted a deeply researched investigation into the early use of hops. I’m not going to recap it because you should read the whole thing. But to set the stage, as he points out, “hop usage began at a time when brewing was mostly something people did at home, for their own household, and almost none of what they did was ever recorded in writing.”

He instead uses archeological discoveries to create a timeline, and I really like this suggestion:

“The evidence is quite flimsy, but it may be that the beginning of hop usage should be understood as having two phases. First one phase where hops were coming into use, but just as one beer herb among many, and then later a phase where hops were combined with boiling, and this combination then took over. It’s really the second phase that corresponds to hop usage as we know it.”

The archeological evidence is not firm enough to connect it with linguistic data. This observation from “Origin and History of Beer and Brewing” isn’t going to change that, but it is, well, fun. In the book, John Arnold suggests that two native Caucasian tribes might have been the first to use hops in beer. That theory was discounted long ago.

The Chewsurians tribe used two words for hops, swia and pschala, neither of which look like a derivative of anything found to the west. They added hops harvested in the wild to the fermentation tank after boiling wort for several days. The Ossetians also brewed with hops that grew wild. In the nineteenth century, but perhaps before, they added them during the boil.

In a song said to date to ancient times, a maiden tells her youthful lover: “I shall gather from alders the clinging hop-vine, the wherewithal of beer for thee!” The Ossetian word for hopped beer (k’umäl) was etymologically connected to the word for hops (chumälläg) but not to the one for unhopped beer.

Now, go read Garshol’s post.

The future

Finally, I’m getting around to sharing how three people intimately involved in hop breeding answered when I asked, “How do you suspect you will describe the varieties released 15 years from now?” Before I get to three sets of answers that were part of my presentation at Homebrew Con this year, a footnote.

As Nicholi Pitra, lead scientist variety development and bioinformatics at Hopsteiner, reminded me when we were discussing this same basic question from a different perspective, 15 years is close to the amount of time it takes to develop a new variety. In other words, the crosses being made now won’t be available until the 2030s. So, at the rate climate change is coming after hops, breeders already need to be working on replacements for popular but vulnerable cultivars. These include – take a deep breath – Cascade and Centennial.

If you weren’t at Homebrew Con what follows will be new to you.

From Kayla Altendorf, USDA research geneticist at Prosser, in the Yakima Valley.

  • I hope they are developed using marker assisted selection or genomic selection and will have known, well-described disease resistance packages.
  • Their development time from cross to release is less – current average for USDA varieties is around 13 years. I hope we’re at 8 years or fewer.
  • Unique aromas, but also still a strong appreciation for the classics.
  • We will have knowledge of their water use efficiency relative to other varieties, and will be actively evaluating and making selections using this information on an annual basis.
  • Since HGA’s report (page 14) of drying being the most energy intensive part of hop production, I suspect we will be working towards having a better understanding of how certain cone morphologies and how irrigation or management practices can enable more efficient drying.
  • We will have knowledge of optimal irrigation practices for new varieties.

From Shawn Townsend, Oregon State University, breeder for Indie Hops.

  • More “boutique” hops that may specialize in one to a few flavors and brewers simply “paint” with these specialized hops to achieve a desired flavor and aroma. Gene editing and other genetic technologies may have a big impact on creating these designer hops.
  • We’ll still have the Stratas, Citras, Mosaics and Cascades to provide a backbone for the boutique hops. Time will tell, but I suspect Luminosa may be one of these boutique cultivars that really needs something else there to provide the backbone/foundation for all of the fruit notes that it provides.
  • Agronomic characteristics that can mitigate the effects of climate change will become more important than they are today. We talk about this cultivar being fruity or that cultivar being citrusy, but how often do you hear people say that this cultivar is very water-use efficient, or that cultivar has excellent heat tolerance?
  • We’ll always be playing whack-a-mole with the various pests and pathogens, including new ones. Pest- and pathogen-resistant cultivars are still the preferred way to deal with these biotic stresses.

From Josh Havill, a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota who is focused on researching hop genetics and developing genomic tools to accelerate hop variety development.

  • Breeders will be targeting a variety of traits, all which likely result from a changing climate.
  • All of these changes are likely to influence traits that breeders are bound to be selecting for. Hotter and drier summers might mean that diseases like downy mildew have less of an impact because conditions are less conducive for disease establishment or spread but that means the weather might be more favorable to diseases such as powdery mildew or pests such as spider mites. That may also mean that growing season may be lengthened.
  • Climate change is going to affect different regions . . . differently. We may see breeding for all of those traits simultaneously. We’re going to need to boost the yield of aroma varieties, we’ll likely continue to explore and develop new aromas (or combinations), we’ll continue to and likely change the diseases or pests we target breeding for resistance (possibly because a new disease/pest emerges or is introduced, such as spotted lantern fly in the Eastern US), and we’ll probably have to identify varieties that thrive under hyper-variable weather conditions.

Before you go . . .

  • A bit more about SubZero Hop Kief (Vol. 6, No. 7). It is being processed at New River Distilling in North Carolina using ultra-low-temperature distilling technology developed at New River. I wrote about New River four-plus years ago for Good Beer Hunting, should you be interested.
  • More about YQH-1320 (Vol. 6, No. 3) in the Mill 95 newsletter. I had a chance to rub 1320 during the last harvest. On its own, bright and tropical. I look forward to trying it in beer(s).
  • Diary of a hop farmer in New Zealand, where harvest will begin in less than three months.

Topics to explore?

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