Stan Hieronymus Hop Queries - November 2022 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.

November 2022

Medusa has left the hop yard

The experimental hop yard (circa 2007) in Embudo, New Mexico, where Medusa and Zappa were born.

CLS Farms has eliminated Medusa, the neomexicanus-only hop that introduced American brewers to a botanical variety of Humulus lupulus that produces unique aromas in beer, from its portfolio. Plants were “grubbed out” after the 2022 harvest.

Before you ask, the future still looks fine for Zappa, a daughter of Medusa, being grown on six farms in five states. “It is time to focus on Zappa and let Medusa go,” CLS co-owner Eric Desmarais wrote via email.

Quite simply, Medusa didn’t measure up agronomically. “(Medusa) doesn’t have the yield to be able to be super viable moving forward in a higher inflationary world, and a much more competitive hop variety landscape,” Desmarais wrote.

“I do think Medusa and Zappa have done a good job of exposing brewers to neomexicanus aromas,” he continued.

A bit of background. The genus Humulus likely originated in Mongolia at least six million years ago. A European type diverged from that Asian group more than one million years ago; a North American group migrated from the Asian continent approximately 500,000 years later. Five botanical varieties of lupulus exist: cordifolius (found in Eastern Asia, Japan), lupuloides (Eastern and north-central North America), lupulus (Europe, Asia, Africa; later introduced to North America), neomexicanus (Western North America), and pubescens (primarily Midwestern United States).

Most hops grown in the United States today are hybrids, usually a cross between Humulus lupulus var. lupulus and Humulus lupulus var. lupuloides, although they may also be a cross between var. lupulus and var. neomexicanus. European landrace varieties such as Saaz and Hallertau Mittelfrüh are var. lupulus.

Now jump ahead to the 1990s, when Todd Bates moved to New Mexico and began collecting plants growing wild. Bates, who lives on a farm between Santa Fe and Taos, used them in homeopathic tinctures he made, and secondarily for homebrewing. Each group he found had different positive traits, and also certain drawbacks — so he began cross breeding them. He did with neomexicanus alone what other breeders were doing with a combination of botanical varieties.

In 2011, Desmarais planted some of Bates’ varieties in the Yakima Valley. “During the growing season, I have consultants walk the fields on a weekly basis, doing disease and pest scouting,” Desmarais said shortly thereafter. “These guys have been walking hop yards for 18 years, and walk most of the US hop industry yards. They see just about everything. I didn’t tell them what these were last year on purpose, to see what their reaction was. They knew they were looking at something very different.”

The hops eventually got the attention of Tom Nielsen, Research & Development and Raw Materials Manager at Sierra Nevada brewing. “The first time I saw them, I thought to myself, ‘I want to do this project. We’re going to do this. It’s going to be done,’” Nielsen told Smithsonian Magazine in 2014. “So we got some samples in and we started brewing with it.”

Sierra Nevada brewed first with Medusa, and Nielsen told the magazine the beer had an unexpected effect on drinkers. “I’m not saying it’s like you’re tripping on acid or anything,” he said, “but you just felt a little different. It was beyond the regular beer buzz.” The brewery continues to use Zappa.

Brewers still interested in brewing with Medusa may buy 2022 crop (or from earlier crop years if the hops have been packaged in nitrogen-flushed mylar bags and stored cold). Stored at sub-freezing temperatures under anaerobic conditions, those hops will retain most of their brewing qualities for several years. (See the link below to a story about using older hops.)

Breeders continue to make crosses using neomexicanus cultivars, valuing them for their potential heat and drought tolerance as well as aroma. Sabro and Lotus are two examples of varieties that resulted from such crosses.

SubZero Hop Kief

It should be no surprise that Freestyle Hops in New Zealand has trademarked the striking name of its new concentrated lupulin product. A thick slurry that comes in a resealable aluminum bottle, SubZero Hop Kief contains all of the lupulin and less than one percent of the green matter from dried hops.

“We worked with a hemp/cannabis/botanicals startup to develop a new (patent pending) ultra-cold mechanical separation process that is in many ways similar to high quality methods of making cannabis kief. It is a solventless process and not an oil extract,” managing director David Dunbar explained via email.

SubZero is lot specific and intended to be used on the cold side. “Our goal was to create a new option for dry hop and whirlpool use that still delivers lot specific flavor profiles. We’ve been trialing it with our hop breeding/research partner breweries and feedback to date has been fantastic,” he wrote.

It is available at the Freestyle webstore now, and the plan is to open contracting for future years in January. Write for more information.

Could hops help protect against Alzheimer’s?

There are many bad jokes to be made about research published in ACS Chemical Neuroscience that chemicals extracted from hops may inhibit the clumping of amyloid beta proteins, which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

But this remains true. “The message should not be that drinking hoppy beer can lead to brain-based benefits or prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The benefits of the hops chemicals are likely to be diluted when combined with alcohol and the caloric ingredients found in beer,” Dr. Michael L. Alosco, an associate professor of neurology at Boston University, told Medical News Today.

Researchers screened four hops: Cascade, Saaz, Tettnang and Summit. Tettnang proved to be the most effective. You might recall that Tettnang and Saaz are genetically identical. So why the difference? Terroir?

In any event, if turns out we’ll someday be taking hop supplements to combat Alzheimer’s they won’t be in the form of beer. This obviously is good for farmers who grow hops, and it could also result in using hops more efficiently. Totally Naturally Solutions and SōRSE Technology are two examples of companies finding ways to use the “whole hop” – something I wrote about earlier this year for Brewing Industry Guide.

More details about hops and Alzheimer’s may be found here.

Deep dive: Bitterness & astringency

Bitterness and astringency are often mistaken for each other. Bitterness in beer results from many factors, primarily isomerized alpha acids. Astringency occurs when large molecular weight polyphenols react with proline-rich proteins in saliva. Upon their interaction they precipitate onto the surface of the mouth, which leads to the feeling of a coating dryness.

To explain the complexity of bitterness and astringency, “polyphenols behavior, characteristics, and stability during the brewing process” are described in this paper.

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