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 Data Behind Your GABF Beer Samples

Heading to Great American Beer Festival? Hope you like hops.

Thanks to Porch Drinking, festival goers have an advance preview at the many beers that will be served to thirsty enthusiasts descending on the Colorado Convention Center. Want an idea of what to expect? I crunched some numbers pulled from a continually updated list at Porch Drinking, as submitted by breweries.

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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

Don’t Count Out the Reinheitsgebot! German Hops Find Fruit Flavor

2016-05-03_220942278_444F0_iOS

Likely by the growing presence in bottle shops and grocery stores, I’d venture a guess that even a casual beer fan has realized the influx of fruited IPAs in recent months. This time of year is always a boon to seasonal brand changes that showcase beers perfect for warmer months, with flavors often accompanied by the sweetness of grapefruit, orange and others.

But increasingly, brewers don’t have to solely rely on natural or artificial flavorings to boost the profile of their creation. Thanks to an evolution of hop varieties, all these fruity flavors can now be imparted in a beer without additional help – and consumers obviously appreciate the shift.

Sorting through what’s available in America, it makes sense that the U.S. is an epicenter of this change, especially given how American palates have shifted with expectation to beer and other alcohols.

But during my first day at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference (CBC), I found another, perhaps unexpected, country embracing this change.

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Tracking the Evolution of American IPA

united staes of hops

It says a lot about our country’s love for all things hop, considering how easy it is for us to talk about it.

(Flips through dozens of posts on this blog)

A week ago, the folks at Willamette Week did a Portland, Oregon-based IPA taste test to determine the best in Beervana, USA. The winners? Beers “influenced by Heady Topper, Julius and Sculpin, beers that present hops as a reward rather than a challenge.”

That got me thinking.

Then Jeff Alworth chimed in, sharing some excellent insight and expertise as to why the best IPAs in Portland are more influenced by aroma and taste than bitterness.

Which got me thinking some more.

In our natural evolution as a beer drinking country, it seems our manifest destiny to have arrived at this place, where the hop is king and we are continuously searching for more ways to celebrate our love of lupulin, albeit in a different way than we did five, 10 and especially 20 years ago.

So why have our collective tastes shifted from biting bitterness to flavorful concoctions? Let’s think about this together.

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