Since Stan H's blog is one that I follow, I subscribe to his periodic e-newsletter about the world of hops. This latest one addresses the upcoming hops glut (and other subjects) with some interesting info. Thought I'd share:
Practical hop blending
Welcome to Vol. 1, No. 4. My Twitter feed has been full of harvest pictures for more than a month and in certain parts of the country “wet hop” beers are being poured. (Or whatever you choose to call them – I’m pretty much staying out of this debate.) There are going to be plenty of hops available in 2018, although that doesn’t mean every variety will be abundant . . . or cheap. The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service reported that Hop Stocks (hops that dealers, growers or brewers have in storage) were 15% higher on Sept. 1 of this year compared to last. "It appears hop acreage has exceeded current brewer demand, so it will be important to take the foot off the gas pedal until brewer demand catches up with hop acreage," said Ann George, executive director of Hop Growers of America and the Washington Hop Commission.
- Harvest in Germany and the Czech Republic might have been a disaster were it not for rain in late July and early August. First, Germany. “The harvest in Germany was only about seven days away from disaster because of dry weather in June and July,” said Stephan Barth, managing partner of Barth Haas, the world’s largest hop broker. Crop estimates for Germany indicate the weight of hops harvested will be 8% lower than 2016, with Hallertau Mittelfrüh down 39%. Although yields were lower, because farmers planted additional acres of Herkules they will harvest about 8% more metric tons of the variety that has become most popular with large breweries focused on high alpha extracts. However, if alpha acid contents are below average, overall alpha production will still be down. That’s important because, as you will recall, prices spiked 10 years ago when alpha buyers were caught short and began scooping up anything they could use for bittering.
- Reports out of the Czech Republic, where Saaz grows on 88% of acres, are that alpha acids as well as yield will be below average. Hop broker Hopsteiner estimates that Czech overall production will be down about 26%, which will put some pressure on Saaz prices and availability. The results would have been worse had August precipitation not been above average (and more than twice in 2016). Plants in many hop yards had stopped climbing by the end of July and failed to reach the height of the trellis.
- The best news in an American update from YCHHops is that the “Centennial crop is excellent in most locations.” Centennial yields, and often quality, have been hit and miss in recent years. At the International Brewers Symposium on Hop Flavor and Aroma in Beer (see Vol. 1, No. 3) USDA research plant geneticist John Henning listed one of goals of new crosses made in 2017 is to find a new “Centennial-type” hop with better agronomics. Of course, that’s a long-term project.
In his harvest update earlier this week YCHHops COO Steve Carpenter reported that overall crop quality has been excellent and yields have been average to slightly above average on most varieties. The Citra crop was good, while Mosaic yields were slightly under average in many locations.
How old is that plant?
The first measure of a crop is yield – just how many pounds of hops did we end up with? New hop farmers beyond the Pacific Northwest are still trying to figure out just what their yards are going to yield, and if that will be enough to sustain a business. By rule of thumb, a new field should reach its full (yield) potential in Year 3. But there is another measure, and that is the quality of the hops coming out of those yards. Of course, there are factors beyond the plants themselves, because process (picking, kilning, packaging) comes into play. And what one brewer wants from a cone isn’t necessarily what another values.
Nonetheless, research by Suntory Beer in Japan focused on Saaz hops likely has implications for other varieties. Dr. Takako Innui presented the results at the International Brewers Symposium on Hop Flavor and Aroma in Beer. Among other variables, the study measured the impact of root age.
Thirty-five percent of the Saaz plants grown in the Saaz region of the Czech Republic are 20 years old or older – an age at which, Innui said, the amount of linalool (one measure of aroma quality) will slowly begin to decline. Only 4% are 15 to 19 years old, so as new ones replace the oldest the over 20 population will decrease. Otherwise, 16% are less than 5 years old, 21% between 5 and 9, and 24% between 10 and 14.
The researchers analyzed hops both on their own and in brewing trials. They found that the younger hops, particularly less than 3 years old, had more luxuriant vegetative growth and were late flowering. They contained lower amounts of monoterpenes associated with floral, fruity and citrusy aroma and flavor. They contained more sesquiterpenes that contribute to sylvan (woody) character. As a result, beers brewed with them were less floral, fruity and citrusy.
A similar study focused on New World hops with higher levels of, say, geraniol or various thiols might well yield different results. But this certainly suggests that the composition of compounds within hops change as the plant matures, particularly in the first three years. So it shouldn’t be surprising that as production of a popular variety ramps up to meet demand that some brewers and drinkers suggest it might be different than the year before. For instance, in 2013 Washington farmers harvested 382 acres of Mosaic. Acreage grew to 671 in 2014, to 1,528 in 2015, and to 2,029 in 2016. Plenty of young plants there.
Practical hop blending
The Mad Fermentationist Michael Tonsmeire reported on putting recent research about oxygenated compounds and thiols to practical use in a recent blog post. He brewed beers with a) Nugget, Chinook and Eureka!, and b) Citra and Galaxy, then compared them. You can read the complete results there, but a quick summary.
Taste – Falls a little short of full-on NEIPA, lacking that wonderful saturated juicy hop flavor. Although the fullness of the hop character has increased while sitting on the keg hops. Pineapple, orange candy, and dank. Slightly sharp bitterness, a bit lupulin bite in the throat.
Drinkability & Notes – A nice solid NEIPA with some character that might appeal to the cross-over West Coast drinker. Certainly nice to be able to get that good an IPA from 2/3 inexpensive hops, but it isn’t fooling anyone.
Citra/Galaxy (Cheater hops)
Taste – It has that saturated fancy hop (4-MSP) flavor. Bright, fruity, really juicy. Nice toasty-malty note in the finish, lingering with just a touch of resin. Firm bitterness. The aftertaste is where I really get the Citra-Galaxy rounded tropical fruit compared to the Cheaper hops.
Drinkability & Notes – I’m a sucker for that full fruity flavor with a slight weirdness from the hops. Drinkable and wonderfully hoppy.
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