Stan Hieronymus Hop Queries – October 2021 October 2021

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.

Welcome to Vol. 5, No. 6. I repeat myself sometimes – in part because of my monthly contributions at Brewing Industry Guide, in part because I still write about hops at Appellation Beer and in part because what we learn about hops happens incrementally. So for the third straight month, words about the 2021 harvest. Yakima Chief Hops posted its latest update this week, and the TL;DR version is pretty much what we already knew: a) some hops were tainted by smoke, but the impact was much less than 2020, b) yields varied from variety to variety and farm to farm, likely because of the heat dome that settled over the Northwest in early summer, but the impact was not as bad as originally feared, and c) overall aroma quality is very good. YCH did include this warning about popular aroma varieties: “They are currently in a very ‘sold’ position due to a continuously high demand. If you find yourself short on these varieties, it would be best to contact your normal sales representative to discuss your options.”

The season(s) of fresh harvest beers

This what the Great American Beer Festival style guidelines have to say about “Fresh Hop Beer” (Category 98): “These ales or lagers are brewed with freshly harvested hops. Such hops might be undried fresh or frozen cones or ground material, or, freshly kilned dried cones or pellets.” And: “The brewer may also name the fresh hop variety(ies) used, and may include processing information such as the process point or vessel when fresh hops were added (kettle, whirlpool, hop back, fermenter, bright tank, etc.). Beer entries not accompanied by this information will be at a disadvantage during judging.”

My needs are simpler. I’m content to know if the beers were brewed with kilned or unkilned hops. And otherwise I choose to pass on arguing about what they should be called.

Instead, I call your attention to a guide Single Hill Brewing in Yakima posted on Instagram. The image above is four slides combined.

Single Hill brewed 15 harvest hop beers this year, using hops from 14 different farms. The goal, brewer/general manager Zach Turner says, is to produce beers that “have the character of the harvest as it’s happening and their flavors change across harvest as the hop varieties change.”

They’ve got something figured out. Energy Cone IPA, brewed with hops from six farms, won best of show at the Yakima Fresh Hop Festival, then gold at the Great American Beer Festival.

Hop creep update

Time flies. We’re four years into discussing hop creep (“the unintended over-attenuation from dry-hopping beers” and new culprits are still being introduced. In the current MBAA Technical Quarterly (Vol. 58, No. 3) researchers hypothesize that the starch-degrading enzymes reported in hop materials are primarily furnished by microorganisms.

The researchers conclude [MBAA membership required] that hop seeds and noncone material (two other possible sources recently subject to investigation) conceivably may be relevant, but state: “We have shown that in the different hop preparations that we have investigated, there is a starch-induced synthesis of amylase that is not observed if the microbial inhibitor sodium azide is present. We suggest that the synthesis of these enzymes in dry-hopped beer is triggered by dextrin material in the beer and that far more attention should be paid to the impact of hop cultivation practices and processing on the microflora present.”

New hop alert: 074

My conversation (a Q&A) with USDA hop breeder and genomics researcher John Henning also appears in the current Technical Quarterly [MBAA membership required]. I saved one answer just for Hop Queries, asking him a question I have posed here before: What are the three most important hops in history?

His answer: “Brewer’s Gold has to be right up there. After that I’m going to say Hallertau Mittelfrüh has to be part of any history in hops. And then if we talk about more recent hops that have been developed and I’m going to go with Cascade, just because of the influence it had on the craft brewing industry.”

He also provided a bit of news. When I asked him which of the nine varieties he has released during his tenure at the USDA he was proudest of, he said:

“I’m very proud of Triumph. However, my soon to be released “074” (her name will be revealed in an upcoming release) will potentially have a greater impact based upon its amazing aroma and flavoring potential, high yields, and drought/heat tolerance coupled with high adaptability across all of the United States, from the Northwest to Vermont.”

074 is USDA 2006009-074, the daughter of an open-pollinated tetraploid Perle plant. Adjectives attached to beers brewed with 074 include orange, lime peel, tropical, floral and stone fruit. As important, I’ve talked to farmers in New York, Michigan and Colorado who are growing 074, basically on an experimental basis, and she thrived in 2021.

What this means is that hop farmers outside the Northwest will have another New World variety that grows well in their own region. And brewers who want to use local hops – but are not ready to forsake those with the newest, never-tasted-this-before flavors – will have an option that checks both boxes.

Is ‘terroir’ the right word?

Start with what a team of researchers in Belgium discovered following up on a study comparing Amarillo hops grown in Idaho to those grown in Washington (those from Washington were more citrussy and less spicy). The new study included three hop varieties grown in five regions. The comparisons of single-hop New England-style IPAs brewed with T-90s pellets found:

  • The perception of beers hopped with Amarillo grown in Germany and Washington was distinctly different, while those from Germany and Idaho were more similar. Washington Amarillo produced beers perceived as citrussy and fruity. German Amarillo were more woody and resinous, while spicy/peppery notes were detected in the Idaho Amarillo.
  • Using Cascade grown in Washington and Germany resulted in beers with similar aromas that were different than those from beers hopped, and dry-hopped, with Australian Cascade. Descriptors for the German beers included grapefruit, tangerine, lychee, apple and pineapple. Washington descriptors were grapefruit and various tropical aromas. The Australian Cascade aroma was more complex, but not as intense, and the bitterness intensity was higher.
  • Beers brewed with Centennial hops from Belgium and Washington were notably different. The Belgian version had more esters and was fruity (pineapple, tropical) and citrussy (orange). The Washington version was citrussy (grapefruit, lime) but also woody (resinous) with more intense bitterness.

There is a reason that the hops from here don’t smell, taste and create other flavors in beer like the hops from there. Or maybe reasons. Does the word “terroir” belong in the conversation? I struggled with the idea when I wrote “For the Love of Hops” and still do today. It is useful, because readers have a ballpark idea of what the word might mean when they see it. On the downside, it comes with a certain amount of baggage, mostly because it is a “wine word.”

A recent post at The Drop suggests terroir may give winemakers a get-out-of-jail-free card and asks a series of questions. “Did your grapes fail to ripen properly? That’s just your terroir speaking. Did you just plant a vineyard three years ago and the results are underwhelming, but you’ve got bills to pay? Slap on a single-vineyard designation and charge big bucks because you’re exploring the terroir of your little corner of nowhere. Did raging forest fires leave your wine tasting like an ashtray? Terroir!”

More important, in my view, is this: “There are cynical reasons for this emphasis on the piece of land over the people. Land can be owned, and people can’t. If a winery owner wants to enhance the reputation and value of their wine, it is far better to extol the virtues of wherever the wine comes from, instead of the work of the people who make the wine, since they might eventually join a competitor or strike out on their own. If the belief is that the patch of land makes the grapes great and not the people who work it, not only can those grapes command a higher price, but skilled workers can easily be underpaid or even replaced with machines.”

There are factors outside of hop growers’ control – rain, excessive heat, latitude and wildfires for starters – but they make scores of decisions during a growing season that impact the quality of the hops they harvest. I still don’t have an alternative for the word “terroir,” but whatever it might be I think it has more meaning if we agree that when we use it that we are also talking about farming practices.

Video: Harvest on a smaller scale

Farmers in the Northwest harvested more than 100 million pounds of hops this year. This is what picking hops looks like in Maine.

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