Over the past week the flurry of activity has died down at the hop farms of the pacific northwest. The workers are going home, the machinery has ground to a halt, the top cutters are gathering dust until next year. It’s the annual hop harvest and it’s come to a close for most hop farmers. 99% percent of the hops in the United States are from the pacific northwest, and while it’s a year round job for a few, most workers only hit the farm for a month out of the year.
At Woodburn, Oregon’s Crosby Hop Farm, the harvest began on schedule the 3rd week of August and finished up in late September. In Oregon it’s usually the centennial hops that get picked first, as was the case at Crosby, which harvested more than 400 acres and 11 varieties. It was a bumper year for centennial in Oregon and Washington, some saying it was the best harvest yet of the popular northwest variety known for versatility as a citrusy, floral bittering and aromatic hop.
Last on the harvesting list was the hard to get Idaho 7’s which are becoming a hot commodity in late released fresh hop beers. Crosby is also known for their Strata hops, a new hot hybrid developed by Indie Hops and Oregon State University that Worthy Brewing lead the pilot program on.
Crosby Hop Farm is Oregon’s only hop farming operation that processes their own hops, primarily soft pelletized for ease of use in brewing. Crosby is also the first hop farm to get a B Corp Certification, and this year will get a Global G.A.P. certification of food safety and quality. The 5th generation farm has become Oregon’s largest hop supplier. Crosby®-grown varieties harvested in 2019 include: Amarillo®, Centennial, Chinook, Comet, Crystal, Golding, Idaho 7™, Mt. Hood, Nugget, Sterling, and Strata®.
Yakima Chief Hops – a farmer owned global hop supplier, reports that recent rain showers in Oregon did cause challenges for the later season harvest. However, the cooler weather helped farmers in the region hit and exceed the goals for this years crop. The Yakima valley in Washington is the biggest hop growing region in the world, producing 73% of the hops in the United States alone (followed by Idaho, which last year eclipsed Oregon as #2).
YCH noted that it was a difficult year for “baby” hops, those recently planted rhizomes that have yet to reach full maturity. Once planted, it typically takes 2-3 years to get a full yield on any variety. In Yakima, quite a few experimental hops without names are being planted to increase limited samples that go out to brewers to test demand. John i. Haas is one of the biggest hop processors, suppliers and innovators in the market.
Yakima is known to produce some of the most sought after hop varieties in the world – like the newly crowned hottest hop variety Citra. The almost as popular bold Orange-y Simcoe hops were harvested around the middle of September along with Citra. But, the famously divisive (but very popular) Mosaic variety was a bit later towards the end of September. Mosaic is known to be extremely variable with the amount of fruity citrusy qualities declining into more catty, onion and garlic depending on the regions terroir. Harvesting times as well as weather, soil, bugs are all factors into the flavor and aroma. While attending a hop selection sampling with Founder’s Brewing on September 19th, I was able to rub more than half a dozen freshly kilned mosaic crops with very variable results.
In the fields of hop innovation, breeders and processors are competing to stay on the cutting edge of the industry. The race is on to launch the next great desirable hop varieties which are trademarked by the breeder and exclusive to them or anyone they license the growing out to. Farms start by planting an acre or so of new test breeds which can then be sponsored by a brewery. Over multiple years the hops are grown for a select few brewers to try out and give feedback in a process that may eventually lead to the hop getting a name and becoming more available. The previously mentioned Strata hop is one of these such varieties from Oregon while the new Sabro hop is the latest hit from Yakima.
HBC 472 is a new experimental aroma hop from Haas in Yakima. It’s unique in that it provides a woody, oak-barrel, whiskey, cream, coconut flavor and aroma that’s perfect for malty beers and dry-hopping.
HBC 692 is is another aroma hop that is recommended for use in the whirlpool and dry-hopping. With a high intensity of grapefruit, floral, stone fruit, potpourri aroma offering a beautiful aromatic bouquet for IPA’s, lagers and wheat beers.
Brewers have turned to aroma hops rather than high alpha acid hops that get more bang for the buck on bittering. Many of the hop growers have pulled out the high alpha acid content hops for those that are more powerful in their flavoring and aromatic qualities or perhaps dual purpose use. Finding unique new flavors in sustainable practices has become the trend, whether that’s in hop flavor extracts like Cryo or bittering extracts like Flex over actual whole hops remains to be seen.
Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding.