Trend Watching: 2016 Hop Production and the Rise of Citra

hop bines

What better kind of “end of year” review than one related to hops, the national treasure of our beer loving country?

Another annual report was released this week, this time from the USDA, providing updated statistics that further show glimpses into our ongoing love affair with whatever will give our IPAs that “juicy” flavor everyone is seeking these days. While last year’s darling might have been Mosaic, there’s no question who the belle of the ball is this time around.

2016 appears to be Citra’s year.

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The Full Story Behind Hops, Beer Production and Our Love of IPAs

united staes of hops

Note: This is the #longread version of posts from “Hop Week.

There are many repeated discussions in the beer industry these days.

Beer in cans. IPAs for days. Economic bubbles.

But one aspect that widely gets discussed by beer enthusiasts and the mainstream media with great regularity: hops. Where they’re growing, how they’re growing and what it means to beer – especially craft – going forward. It’s not hard to find reporting on one of the hottest stories in beer, whether we’re talking about hops growing in Colorado, Florida or anywhere else.

Even if it means we may be missing one of the most important angles of this often discussed topic.

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In the Search for What’s New, is a Hoppy Sub-Style Found?

hops

At our current state of human evolution, our attention span is reportedly eight seconds. That’s less than a goldfish.

By one estimate, the amount of time we can pay attention to a singular beer brand is three years. I’m sure there are many who would argue that number is actually less and, like our regular attention span for everything else in life, is shrinking rapidly.

It makes sense, given the rise in the number of brands carried by distributors and how many end up on the shelves of our local beer aisles, making us spend more and more time simply figuring out what it is we’re going to buy.

sku for distribs

Whether or not we’re staring down the threat of the death of flagship brands, we can’t deny the effort by brewers to create, adapt and – dare I say – “innovate” in order to stay relevant to today’s consumers who are constantly looking for something more. It’s a virtuous cycle: drinkers like something new, brewers like creating something new and the loop goes on.

So when it comes to addressing the availability of hops and what people want, one of the trendy techniques in craft beer is offering a smart approach.

“If you look at data for beer styles, the number one style is IPA and the number two is variety,” said Ray Goodrich, director of marketing for North Carolina’s Foothills Brewing. “People like trying new stuff so that’s what we’re going to give them.”

He should know. Foothills is now in year three of an ongoing experiment, releasing a new IPA brand every month featuring different hops and flavors. Every 30 days, a 90-barrel batch is put into 22-ounce bombers and distributed across Foothill’s distribution footprint. With the exception of one month, Goodrich said he’s always seen their IPA of the Month or Hop of the Month beers sell out.

Given the myriad of situations facing the cross section of hops and the beer industry, the move to stay fresh and relevant is simple: it’s the rotating IPA.

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It’s Not How Big Your Hop Addition Is, It’s How You Use It

hops-beer-glass

Beer, forever bound to agriculture, seems like it should be philosophically opposed to the use of the word “industrial.” In an era where “big” is bad to many beer lovers, the mere suggestion of the word can significantly alter perceptions.

Instead of some handcrafted, artisanal product, we suddenly have something wildly opposite. A beer that sounds so … macro.

But if hop yields are low, and creating new infrastructure is expensive, and drinkers really love a certain kind of hop that has to be grown, is it time to get inventive? Are there processes and products that may create flavorful shortcuts that can continue to produce the hop bombs we’ve all come to know?

With craft brewers using hops at a per-barrel rate many times greater than big breweries like Anheuser-Busch, it may be worth our time to better understand academic and even industrial advancements that can offer solutions to brewers and not take anything away from the beer we love.

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How Can Hop Variety Support Craft Beer Sales?

cascade hops

When it comes to hops, the well-known elephant in the room is the prominence now taken up by aroma varieties, which aren’t just driving high ratings on Beer Advocate or RateBeer, but also the presence on farms across the country. Over the last decade, the shift from alpha to aroma varieties has been stark.

aroma hop acreage

The change has been illustrated in several ways.

From its annual hop report, the Brewers Association collects the most heavily-used varieties by craft brewers. The lists from 2007 to 2015 are certainly different:

2007 2015
Cascade (Aroma) Cascade (Aroma)
Centennial (Dual) Centennial (Dual)
Willamette (Aroma) Chinook (Dual)
Chinook (Dual) Simcoe® (Dual)
Amarillo (Aroma) Citra® (Aroma)
East Kent Golding (Dual) Hallertau Mittelfruh (Aroma)
Saaz (Aroma) Amarillo (Aroma)
CTZ | Columbus, Tomahawk, and Zeus (Bittering) Crystal (Aroma)
U.S. Golding (Aroma) Magnum (Bittering)
Styrian Golding (Aroma) CTZ | Columbus, Tomahawk, and Zeus (Bittering)

There is actually one less specific aroma variety on that 2015 list than 2007, but the increase in dual purpose hops is stark, especially when you consider how most brewers are using something like Simcoe or Centennial and the flavors they’re extracting.

Spoiler alert: it’s heavy on the late addition side to emphasize their unique fruity/juicy characteristics:

all about beer-hop chart

Chart featured in All About Beer magazine.

So what does this mean in terms of what – and how – varieties are being grown? More important, how can these changes be done efficiently when space is at a premium?

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What Will it Cost to Meet Our Growing Demand for Hops?

hop bines

According to the last figures made available by the USDA, the number of American hop farmers jumped considerably from 68 in 2007, just as craft beer was starting to become more mainstream, to 166 in 2012. Today’s number isn’t readily available, but based on how often local and state media covers some aspect of farmers growing hops, it’s safe to assume it’s grown just as fast.

Which is good, because craft beer is going to need those hops. But in order to fulfill the requirement of producing enough beer to meet 20 percent market share by 2020, there’s still work to be done.

From building the infrastructure to choosing hop varieties, the country needs more farmers, more hops and more investment to make it happen.

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We’re Growing More Hops Than Ever, But There’s More to the Story

hop bine

There are many repeated discussions in the beer industry these days.

Beer in cans. IPAs for days. Economic bubbles.

But one aspect that widely gets discussed by beer enthusiasts and the mainstream media with great regularity: hops. Where they’re growing, how they’re growing and what it means to beer – especially craft – going forward. It’s not hard to find reporting on one of the hottest stories in beer, whether we’re talking about hops growing in Colorado, Florida or anywhere else.

Even if it means we may be missing one of the most important angles of this often discussed topic.

Continue reading

More on Hops: Prices and Future Growth

hop bine

A follow up to yesterday’s look at hop planting trends and the beers that influence them, since 1,000 words is certainly enough for one post…

Pricing

Obviously, one of the biggest topics related to the use of agricultural goods can be cost. That’s certainly not lost on hops, which has a wide range of pricing dependent on supply and demand.

Aroma hops are hot right now, so it’s a natural assumption varieties in that category would cost more.

As the Brewers Association’s Bart Watson noted in this piece, aroma vs. alpha hop prices move in opposite directions at the moment, partially because “Germany continues to be the lower cost alpha provider to the world, so U.S. aroma acres keep marching upward.”

Watson mentioned that spot market prices may have little relation to contracted prices, but for posterity’s sake, here are the lowest prices I could find on the Lupulin Exchange for hops they had available and I recognized as popular aroma/flavor additions, so note that these may not necessarily reflect the highest or even other prices:

Hop Variety Price per pound
2013 US Amarillo $26.25
2014 US Amarillo $20
2014 NZ Pacific Jade $16.28
2014 NZ Green Bullet $14.70
2014 US Centennial $11.83

On the other end, here are popular bittering hops (I realize Columbus can also be used for aroma) but with their highest listed prices, so note that current costs can easily be found for less:

Hop Variety Price per pound
2014 US Columbus $10.50
2014 US Summit $9.08
2014 US Magnum $9
2014 US Galena $7.82
2014 US CTZ $7.35

This is not meant to act as some end-all example, but rather a pretty basic one to broadly show where prices stand through one avenue. I did find it funny that a year-old crop of Amarillo priced out the highest.

Notes from an Expert

There may be fewer people more qualified to comment on the topic of hops than beer writer Stan Hieronymus, who, among many other books and articles, wrote “For the Love of Hops: The Practical Guide to Aroma, Bitterness and the Culture of Hops.”

I emailed Stan to pick his brain about changes in hop farming and he shared some insight that offers great context for the trends I wrote about yesterday. Most notably, that popular varieties like Citra, Simcoe and Mosiac are currently controlled by Select Botanicals,  an integrated botanicals management group that specializes in breeding new hop varieties.

“They are being very careful about expansion – making sure the hops are going in places they will grow, that they are consistent, that they are processed properly, etc.,” he wrote, pointing to this page that touches on Select Botanicals’ quality management policies. “Mosaic and Citra, and you will see it with Equinox, are picking up steam because now they have the rootstock to start to meet demand. I think almost any farmer offered an opportunity to plant those hops would.”

Stan also mentioned that rights to rising varieties like El Dorado and Amarillo are held by individual farmers, but growers outside the Pacific Northwest are interested in trying their hand with those brands.

If you have access for Zymurgy’s e-magazine, I highly recommend reading two of Stan’s recent pieces:

  • From the Jan/Feb 2014 issue, where he touches on new varieties and sharing growing rights.
  • From the March/April 2015 issue, which discusses the process of brewers experimenting with new varieties. I found this one particularly useful in relation to my own post, given it highlights the need for increased hop acreage in the U.S. – “as much as 50 percent within the next several years” to meet predicted craft beer production demand, he writes.

Hop Farming Outside the Pacific Northwest

One of the most fascinating parts of all this is how farmers outside of today’s biggest hop-growing states are addressing the need for the product. According to the Hop Growers of America report, total hop growth outside the Pacific Northwest increased nearly 42 percent from 2014 to year-to-date 2015. Of course, the non-PNW crop still accounts for less than 3 percent of the U.S. harvest.

The report relies on a variety of help and reporting from experts around the country, so while these figures might not be perfect, there were several states with their first showing on the list of hop acreage strung for harvest:

  • Arizona: 1 acre
  • Pennsylvania: 4 acres
  • Iowa: 5 acres
  • Maryland: 15 acres

Of particular interest to me was New York’s growth, which went from 150 harvested acres in 2014 to 250 acres strung in 2015. As Brew York’s Chris O’Leary pointed out last year, this will be a very important state to watch thanks to big tax incentives provided to New York breweries who use in-state products to make their beer.

According to the Cornell Cooperative Extension, an outreach system of Cornell University that focuses on agricultural research, these are the hops that would grow best in New York (categorization is their own):

  • Aroma: Cascade, Willamette, Mt Hood, Fuggle, Liberty and Perle
  • Alpha (bittering): Brewers Gold, Chinook, Centennial and Newport

With the exception of Centennial, this list simply emphasizes the importance of success for Pacific Northwest hop farmers, as brewers all over are seeking “it” aroma varieties not mentioned here, but discussed in my previous post.

Related: If You Drink It, They Will Grow: A Changing Landscape for Hops

Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac