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. 2. On a personal note, we’ve made it to Colorado. Our possessions have not. We’ve become of two those people you’ve read about who are wondering where the truck with their stuff is and when it might arrive. In my case that includes a couple of books and a box of notes I would have liked to be able to consult before writing a planned entry. That story will have to wait. Meanwhile, here are a few items of interest.
Strung for harvest (supply)
Citra is still winning. Farmers in the American northwest strung more about 9% more of the world’s most popular aroma hop in 2021 than they harvested in 2020. Growth has slowed (from 24% between 2019 and 2020), but that’s off a massive base. American growers expect to harvest 11,994 acres of Citra beginning in a couple of months. That’s almost as many acres as the Czech Republic, third in the world in hop production, planted of all varieties.
There were few surprises in the USDA’s annual report about 2021 hop acreage. Farmers planted a record 60,735 acres, 2.6% more than they did in 2020, and 4% more than they eventually harvested. Blame COVID-19 and late nasty weather for the difference. Brewers Association members can read what Bart Watson learned from a conversation with Ann George of the Hop Growers of America. To that I will add:
- Mosaic and Citra account for most of the new acreage and together (18,368 acres) they constitute about 30% of hops strung. That seems like a lot, but in 1971, the year before Cascade was released, Cluster accounted for almost 80% of American hop acreage. Only 352 acres of Cluster remain.
- After acreage increases of 62% or more each between 2019 and 2020, high flyers El Dorado, Idaho 7 and Sabro pretty much leveled off. There is still plenty of demand, but 60-plus percent growth has to end sometime (even for Citra).
- Strata, the first aroma hop bred specifically for Oregon, is up another 71%, although the acreage (829) is still relatively modest.
- It has taken Cashmere, a public variety first grown on any scale in 2014, longer to find traction, but now it is following a similar course, growing 58% to 908 acres.
- The ups and downs of Centennial (Vol. 4, No. 2) are probably worth a chapter in a book. Acreage increased from about 400 in 2010 to almost 5,400 in 2017. Growers strung 2,258 acres this year (21% less than harvested in 2019). It is not an easy hop to grow, and that resulted in plenty of lousy Centennial on the market. But the best of the 2020 crop was rich in compounds that result in fruity, tropical, exotic flavors currently in demand. It seems like there is a “Moneyball” opportunity here for brewers.
- Tahoma? She’s a classmate of Cashmere and daughter of the vastly underappreciated Glacier. Acreage in Washington more than doubled, from 177 to 383. And it went from undisclosed in Oregon to 103, for a total of 486 acres. Farmers planted 448 acres of Comet, which gets a lot more attention. What’s going on? During a presentation at the World Brewing Congress last year, Mark Yocum, technical director at Anheuser-Busch InBev, pointed out that A-B continues to appreciate the importance of public hop varieties and in particular has been a supporter of Mt. Rainier and Tahoma. So there you go.
Here’s a quick look at a few spot prices at BSG for 2020 crop hops. Feel free to look elsewhere, but BSG makes it easy:
(All prices US$)
- Cashmere-$9.27 per pound (11-pound package)
- Centennial-$8.25 (11)
- Citra-$16.10 (11)
- El Dorado-$9.45 (11)
- Mosaic-$13.75 (44-pound packages only)
- Motueka-$15.50 (44 only)
- Nelson Sauvin-$19.60 (11)
- Sterling-$10.95 (11)
I included Sterling because its price offers an example of what happens when supply of a hop shrinks because demand has—leaving those committed to the hop to pay a higher price.
Another test for British hop growers
Charles Faram, the largest hop broker in the UK, posted a report from the All-party Parliamentary Beer Group (APPBG) on its website that indicates that the British hop industry is sitting on a precipice. To be clear, farmers have nonetheless strung crops for a 2021 harvest. When I visited his farm in Kent ten years ago, Tony Redsell—the best known grower in England— said, “There may be only 50-odd of us left, but we are a hardy bunch.” They are being tested once again.
The report resulted from a meeting in April, and includes a section about the impact on suppliers of raw materials. Among other things, it states: “Hops may have taken a terminal blow. The lack of resumptions of brewing means many growers have delayed planting in 2020/2021 and some have already given way to alternative fruit crops.”
The report essentially calls for government support, pointing out that in 2018 the New Zealand government invested NZ $8 million in the hop industry, which has developed proprietary varieties that sell at a premium worldwide.
The APPBG goes on: “The British hop sector has been an intrinsic part of domestic brewing heritage since the 14th century, and the future of cask is inter-related with the future of agriculture.”
And the report concludes: “It was emphasized that hop fields could not be turned on and off at will. If demand went from the cask brewers the hop fields would disappear with knock on consequences for the variety for niche craft brewers, for exports and for hops’ wider application, including pharmaceutical uses. A vibrant hop industry is vital to innovation.”
Your brain on bitterness
Researchers in Japan have determined that hop-derived bitterness may be beneficial for the health of your brain. That is, it may help combat cognitive decline and dementia. But don’t consider the news an invitation to start drinking a case of IPA each day before you try out for Jeopardy.
In “Effects of Hop Bitter Acids, Bitter Components in Beer, or Cognition in Healthy Adults: a Randomized Controlled Trial,” the authors examine the impact of mature hop bitter acids (MHBAs) on human cognition, mental fatigue and mood state. MHBAs are derived from alpha and beta acids.
Research determined that 35mg of MBHA per day improved verbal memory retrieval as well as helping combat mental fatigue and improving mood state. Most beer contains between 19.1 and 210mg of MBHAs per liter. So figure between 0.17 and 1.8 liters of per beer day to deliver 35mg of MBHA.
Remember, the focus is on the hops. The authors point out that excessive consumption of alcohol may lead to cognitive decline, offsetting any positives hops deliver, and advocate for low alcohol or non-alcoholic beers. You knew there was a catch.
(The research was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.)
Two stories about growing hops in unlikely locations.