Stan Hieronymus Hop Queries February 2023

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.

February 2023

Welcome to Vol. 6, No. 10. A programming note: Daria and I will be spending most of March in New Zealand, so there will no Hop Queries (well, in my head, but not passed on to you in newsletter form). It is not an accident that we will be there during hop harvest, but hop fields will occupy only a little of our time. Daria made me look up the word vacation in the dictionary. Regular service will resume in April.

Yes, Citra and Mosaic hop plants will be grubbed

What did Brewers Association chief economist Bart Watson mean when he used the word “unsustainable” when he was talking about the US hop supply during a webinar for BA members last week? Oh, wait, I answered that question in this story for Brewing Industry Guide.

The TL;DR version: Speaking at the American Hop Convention in January, John I. Haas CEO Alex Barth estimated that the industry is sitting on an excess of 35 to 40 million pounds of hops. Therefore, farmers in the Northwest need to reduce the acres of aroma hops strung for harvest by 10,000 — about 17 percent — to balance supply and demand.

Acreage may not be cut that much immediately, and as one industry member told me it could take “three, four, five years” to work off the excess. But when the USDA releases data about 2023 acreage in June, expect the reduction of most proprietary varieties to be pretty stunning. Across the board, stakeholders who own the plant rights to many of the privately owned cultivars are discussing 20 to 30 percent cuts. That includes Citra and Mosaic, of course, because growers planted more of those two in 2022 than any other variety.

In the near term, brokers I talked to expect there will be attractive prices on the spot market. However, when Watson told brewers they should be ready for a market swing he was talking about what might happen next. If brewers, seduced by lower prices and what appears to be abundant supply, don’t contract for future purchases then growers are flying blind. The cost of producing an acre of hops has gone up 21 percent since 2020, which may make growers pause before planting unless they have contracts. The supply/demand balance could swing the other way.

Crosby Hops addresses this in a blog post, and — one more time — and I talked to dealers about contracting for the BIG story.

What I learned in Ohio

The Ohio Hop Growers Guild has more than 55 members, they have planted more than 30 different varieties of hops across the state and have more than 100,000 plants in the ground. Not all of those plants are producing a crop quite yet, and the best guess is growers harvested about 65 across last year.

What I learned before and after my keynote last weekend is that these are not hobbyist playing at being farmers. They are serious about delivering quality hops and have made meaningful connections with brewers at small breweries. They’ve figured out that they are no more in the same business as large farms in the Northwest than these small breweries, for instance the Henmick Farm & Brewery north of Columbus, are in the same business as AB InBev. Or, for that matter, Sierra Nevada.

(I had a lovely pale ale at Henmick brewed with malt from Rustic Brew Farm in Marysville and hopped with Zeus and Cascade from the Zachrich Hop Yard & Farm in Mechanicsburg. I’d also recommend the harvest ale made with roasted butternut squash from the Henmick garden, as well as the bottle conditioned version of the saison.)

I also brought home samples of two cultivars developed by Bob Bero (who may have once sent me hop candy) that I look forward to playing with after we get back from New Zealand. These are not hops you need to be seeking out, unless you live in Ohio. It would only frustrate you. They are examples of why it is fun to find something unique to the place where you are.

Should you be curious, E’Desem contains 6% alpha acids, 2.7% beta acids and 1 ml/100 g total oil. It has an intense citrus aroma (crushing a few pellets) and I am told will contribute to white grape, passion fruit flavors in beer. Alleigh contains 10.5% alpha acids, 4.4% beta acids and almost 3.75 ml/100 g total oil. Yes, 3.75 ml/100 g total oil. The aroma (again, crushing pellets) is tropical and dank.

Meet Superdelic

NZ Hops Ltd., the New Zealand cooperative of growers with rights to cultivars developed by Plant & Food Research, has given a name to an experimental hop (NZH-102) that made a bit of a tour of the United States last year as part of NZ Hops’ Bract Breeding Program.

Superdelic is an offspring of Hersbrucker Pure (herself 42% Hallertau Mittelfrüh, 13% Saazer, 22% German wild hop, remainder unknown) and a New Zealand male known for contributing tropical character to its progeny. Superdelic contains 12% alpha acids, 3.5% beta acids and 1.5-2 ml/100 g essential oil.

Like Nectaron, a hop brewers will find easier to get their hands on after the 2023 harvest, Superdelic is tropical and IPA ready. Red fruit candy is prominent on the rub, and red fruit shows up in the beer as well, along with underlying tropical fruits.

Something new from Maryland

Monocacy is a found hop identified on a farm in Frederick County Maryland in the late 1960s. The plant was donated for research in 2020, and a hopyard with 140 plants was established at the Western Maryland Research and Education Center in 2021. The University of Maryland Extension is now testing to see if she can be grown on a commercial scale.

The university presented a poster last month at the American Hop Convention with details. Testing at the National Clonal Germplasm Repository found the hop most similar to wild American accessions in the repository. Monocacy contains 2.7 alpha acids, 4.9 beta acids and .3 ml/100 g essential oil. She is resistant to downy mildew and tolerant to potato left hopper and two spider mite infestations. For more, listen to John Holl’s Drink Beer, Think Beer podcast.

Understanding the 2022 crop

The BarthHaas Hop Harvest Guide 2022 is available for download. I wrote extensively about this last year (Vol. 5, No. 10), so I will keep it short. The guide remains a wonderful resource, combining data you might not find elsewhere with sensory information presented in visual form.

Here is one example. The top Rose/Nightingale chart is for Chinook from the 2022 harvest and the bottom one represents a typical Chinook aroma profile. From the guide: “For 2022, Chinook was especially fruit forward. Potent aromas of Pineapple, Mixed Stone Fruits, and Tropical Fruits like Guava were present. This is not to say that the traditional aromas of Grapefruit, Pine Resin, and Fennel were not present or will not present in your recipes. This might be a good year to try Chinook in a hazy IPA along with other fruit-forward hops like Citra and Azacca.”

Showcasing hop growers

Billy Goat Hop Farm in Colorado became the first farm outside Oregon or Washington to win the Cascade Cup, a competition conducted since 2013 by the Hop Quality Group. During the American Hop Convention, members of the group rub and smell entries and choose what they think are the best three.

This was the first year Billy Goat entered. Founders Audrey Gehlhausen and Chris DellaBianca (pictured above) had not heard of the competition until they attended the convention in 2022. “When Chris told me that we won, I thought he was just trying to fool me,” Gehlhausen said. Billy Goat, which began operations in 2017, is the largest hop farm in the Southwest, with 32 acres. They grow nine varieties of hops.

Coleman Greenleaf Farm won second, and has now finished first, third and second the last three years. Hopsteiner Golden Gate captured third.

Dog Star Hops, Tops Hops Farm and Bells Brewery Estate Hopyard finished one-two-three in Michigan’s Chinook Cup Competition, which is modeled after the Cascade Cup. This is the second straight year Dog Star has won.

The list of award winners of the Charles Faram International Hops Awards is rather long, so I direct you to this.

Additional reading

  • Hop forward: On the frontier of beer. Harvest has begun in Australia and New Zealand. A preview from on the ground.
  • Hop Chronicles: Nectaron. Continuing with the down under theme. “Overall, I felt this single-hop Nectaron Pale Ale had a decently complex profile that might trick one into thinking multiple varieties were in play. The fruity flavors and aromas are pungent and, in my opinion, fantastic.”

Topics to explore?

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