Along the way, I got to meet some awesome homebrewers, craft brewers, industry veterans, and YCH Hops employees all while cramming as much lupulin-laced knowledge into my brain that I could possibly fit. If you ever have a chance to visit Yakima Valley and attend Hop & Brew School, you will not be disappointed!
So here’s a few takeaways of mine for you hop freaks out there:
1) The Yakima Valley is home to one of the most fertile and productive growing regions in the world. The desert-like conditions of the area coupled with the abundant irrigation provided by the Yakima River create an ideal environment to produce hops. With its long, sunny days, the Yakima Valley is one of the few areas of the world where new plantings of hops in the spring have the ability to produce a full crop in the first year.
2) Hop bines can grow up to 12 inches in a single day. The hop farmers in Yakima train the bines to curl up the trellis cables by hand. They will train the bines to grow clockwise or counterclockwise for healthy growth depending on the direction that the sunlight hits that particular hop field.
3) Developing a commercial hop variety takes at least 11 years. Each year, the hop farmers will plant about 40,000 new seedlings for trials. Of those 40,000 seedlings, only about 20 of them will eventually make it to commercial release (0.0005%). New hop varieties will be selected based on quality brewing attributes. These include characteristics like high alpha acid content and unique aroma and flavor profiles.
4) Hop harvest takes approximately 30 to 40 days for a commercial farm to complete, often running 24/7. Different varietals of hops are collected at different times throughout the season, although the order of cultivation can vary from harvest to harvest. Typically, the hops with the highest alpha acid content (CTZ, Citra, Warrior, etc.) are harvested last. The 2016 Hop & Brew School attendees (August 30 to September 2) witnessed harvesting of mainly Centennial hops.
5) Male hop plants don’t produce any of the essential oils needed to make beer, so commercial hop farms are made up only of female plants. A small amount of acreage at commercial hop farms is devoted to male hop plants, but these are only used to cross-breed new experimental varieties of hops. Hop farmers are also using them to further advance research into hop gene mapping, and non-GMO marker assisted selection.
6) Hops actually grow on a bine. A bine plant differs from a vine because it uses its shoots instead of its tendrils to climb. Since there is currently no commercial machinery with the ability to tie the wires that hold bines in place, all wires and cables in commercial hop fields are tied by hand every year. Some hop farms will have upwards of 2.5 million knots tied by hand.
7) The majority of the world’s commercial hop production occurs in regions between 35 and 55 degrees latitude. In the United States alone, more than 90 million pounds of hops are produced every year, making up 40 percent of the world’s hop production. About 75 percent of US hop acreage is contained in the Yakima Valley, with an average farm size of 450 acres.
8) Hop farming in the Yakima Valley dates back to the 1800s. Hop cultivation can be traced back to the Hallertau region of Germany in the year 736, but commercial hop production for brewing was not documented until 1079. Six centuries later, hops made their way to the United States. Many of the farms in Yakima Valley have several family generations of hop-growing heritage.
9) The 2016 anticipated commercial hop production is up 16 percent from 2015. The state of Washington alone will produce 69,537,800 pounds of hops on 37,588 acres. Oregon will be next up with 12,180,200 lb. grown on 7,709 acres, followed by Idaho which will produce 10,054,800 lb. on 5,586 acres. In case you don’t have a calculator handy, that’s 91,772,800 lb. of hops produced on 50,883 acres!
10) The top hop varieties grown at YCH Hops in order of acreage are Cascade, CTZ, Centennial, Simcoe, Citra, Mosaic, Chinook, Nugget, and Summit. Of those top varietals, four have been released since 2000. The USDA lists 41 hop varieties in 2016, 19 of which have been released since 2000.
Bonus Fact! You can experience Hop & Brew School yourself by signing up to attend in 2017. Just visit ychhops.com to receive updates on the 2017 session. Registration will open on Monday, June 5, 2017. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about hops, be sure to pick up a copy of Stan Hieronymus’s book For The Love of Hops.
Information from this article is provided by YCH Hops and USA Hops. Pictures all taken by Matt Bolling
Matt Bolling is the Events & Membership Coordinator at the American Homebrewers Association. All of his life, Matt has been partial to having a variety of hobbies, and homebrewing is one of his favorites. When not making tasty brews, Matt also loves skiing, hiking, fishing, and pretending to like golf.