Each month respected beer writer Stan Hieronymus produces Hop Queries, a must-read summary of what is happening in the hop world, and has kindly offered to let us publish it for Australian industry readers. If you would like to subscribe directly, you can here.
Welcome to Vol. 5, No. 3. The BarthHaas Report came out last week, full, as it has been for far more than a century, of hop-related numbers. But first, how about that weather?
Feeling the heat, but impact uncertain
Earlier this month, Brian Tennis of Michigan Hop Alliance turned a few heads when he visited Yakima, Washington, and wrote on Facebook, “Brewers: hearing some ugly projections coming from the PNW. The heat is really doing damage to several varieties. Don’t be surprised if some of your favorite hop varieties end up being short. A drop in yields of 10% will not be unheard of, and perhaps more. Buckle up.”
The “heat dome” that settled over the Northwest at the end of June certainly did plenty of damage, but there has been time for plants to recover. Of course, remember that in late July last year it appeared yields would be above average – then high heat, high winds and smoke from nearby fires changed that (see BarthHaas Hop Report). Much can happen in the next few weeks.
“Overall, the plants are maintaining and we’re optimistic for an average harvest, better than negative,” Diane Gooding, vice president of operations at Gooding Farms in Idaho, told a local television reporter in mid July.
“When we are seeing many days in a row over triple-digits, they definitely shut down during the day. They go into more of a mode of just trying to maintain their integrity rather than being vegetated and have a heavy growth.”
Surveying farmers across the Northwest, it is obvious damage was done pretty much everywhere, but varied by location (with factors beyond where a farm is on the map, such as type of soil) and hop variety.
“It is pretty clear that Citra was particularly susceptible to the heat. Pretty broad damage, and while the mature fields might recover, the babies will likely suffer,” Jim Solberg at Indie Hops in Oregon wrote via email Thursday. “I was just in some fields again today, and we’re lucky that our hops weren’t affected and actually look very nice, with a promising bloom/cone set at the moment.”
Others also report Citra was most likely to suffer. “Not in all fields, more on a field-by-field basis. Growers are seeing damage in other varieties as well, with earlier maturing varieties being hit the worst,” writes Andy Roy, accounts manager at Roy Farms in Washington. “One variety that could cause issues is Cascade, as other growers have seen it hit hard.”
This comes at a time that farmers have reduced Cascade acres because brewers cut back contracts. Brewers who are counting on buying fresh Cascade at below contract prices on the spot market, which has become standard operating procedure for many smaller breweries, maybe be unpleasantly surprised. (There will still be older Cascade around, but perhaps available for a good reason.)
As is to be expected, the heat was hardest on “babies” (first-year plants) because they aren’t yet established. And, of course, the babies tend to be in-demand varieties, because growers are going to plant what brewers want. For instance, a field with Chinook will include only a few babies (replacing plants that grew old or became diseased), and Chinook stood up well to the heat.
The yield for more popular varieties such as Cashmere (which seems to have suffered more damage than most), Strata, Sabro and Idaho 7 is less likely to be even average.
I expect to be in the Northwest when harvest is getting underway, and perhaps will report live. Meanwhile, I’ll leave it to Leslie Roy, CEO at Roy Farms to answer a few questions, to the extent they can be answered.
Will there be more hops than last year? “Probably.”
Will there be some varieties failing to meet their contractual obligations to merchants? “For sure.”
Does that mean brewers will have reduced deliveries? “Yes, and no. Uncontracted folks will be first to feel the shortage.”
Will prices rise? “Probably a bit.”
More acres, fewer hops
A few things from the BarthHaas Report you may or may not already know:
- In 2020, world hop acreage increased by 1.3% to 62,366 hectares (154,044 acres), but production volume decreased by 7,500 metric tons. Half of the decline can be attributed to a below-average harvest in the United States. “In the USA, we really felt the effects of the climate crisis last year for the first time,” says Alex Barth, CEO at John I. Haas.
- “The supply of hops from the 2020 harvest will exceed demand in the 2021 brewing year. The market will therefore show a hop surplus for the second year in succession,” says Heinrich Meier, author of the report. Depending on the further course of the pandemic, he thinks weak demand must be expected for the next few years. “The global hop industry can only counter surplus production by adjusting acreage. This is urgently necessary for the market to return towards equilibrium.”
- Average farm size: Pacific Northwest 837 acres, Czech Republic 99, Germany 47, England 37, Slovenia 30, France 26, Poland 6.5. However, Poland has 664 farms (England 59).
- Counting farms, and acres, is a challenge. What’s going on in the United States outside the Pacific Northwest makes that obvious, but it is true elsewhere. The French growers’ association generale des producteurs de houblones de France is encouraging hop producers outside the two traditional hop-growing regions of Alsace and French Flanders to join the association. Right now their production is not part of annual statistics.
- Following up on the report in June about challenges hop farmers on England face, look at hop forward contract rates for 2021 through 2024:
*Germany – 90% 90% 85% 75%
*United States – 95% 85% 65% 60%
*Australia – 95% 85% 75% 70%
*France – 90% 90% 75% 70%
*England – 40% 25% 15% 10%
(Editor’s note: The report notes that in Australia, HPA’s three farms cultivated hops on an area totalling 675 ha in 2021 (2019: 631ha). You can read more about Australia’s 2021 harvest here.)
Who knew Saaz had it in her?
Omega Yeast last month introduced Cosmic Punch, a yeast strain designed to free bound thiols, compounds that may contribute to tropical flavors. I wrote about Cosmic Punch, Tropics from Berkeley Yeast, enzymes and thiols this month for Brewing Industry Guide, so feel free to subscribe for details.
Cosmic Punch is the first release in Omega’s “Thiolized” series, which are strains modified to make them better, so to speak, at biotransformation. Since Toru Kishimoto at Asahi Brewing identified 4-mercapto-4-methylpentan-2-one (4MMP) and 3-mercaptohexan-1-ol (3MH) as “high impact” contributors to hop aroma the popularity of hop varieties that contain these thiols in “free form” has soared.
However, many other varieties, including Old World cultivars not associated with producing tropical aromas, are rich in thiol precursors that most brewing strains cannot transform. Saaz, for instance, has plenty of 3MH, which can produce flavors such as guava and passion fruit. A beer called Kiwi Coolie from Miskatonic Brewing in Illinois fermented with Cosmic Punch provides proof. The brewers used 22 pounds of Saaz in the mash (for a 17 and a half barrel batch) and none in the kettle. The beer was dry hopped with 22 pounds of Rakau post-fermentation. Founder-brewer Josh Mowry says the most prominent aroma is grapey, like Savignon Blanc, with passion fruit and grapefruit.
Another unkilned* hop option
Yakima Chief Hops last week announced it is ready to start selling Fresh Frozen Hops, which are flash frozen. YCH has been putting the what were first initially tagged IQF Hops (“individually quick frozen” is a process used in food processing) in a few brewers’ hands for a while, and they have been well received. “We’ve thoroughly enjoyed brewing with Frozen Fresh Hops – they bring the harvest buzz to our brewery, outside of the picking the window,” Steve Luke at Cloudburst Brewing, one of the beta breweries, said for a press release. “The quality of the hop cones has been exceptional, and we’ve seen zero differences when compared to our traditional fresh hop beers.”
YCH is taking orders for Azacca, Cascade, Citra, Mosaic and Simcoe for 2021. Brewers who don’t have access to these varieties before they are dried will be most interested in Fresh Frozen Hops, as well as those who want to store them (at less than 14° F) and brew “wet hop” beers out of season.
* Drop me a line if you think we should renew the always contentious conversation about what “fresh hop” and “wet hop” really mean, as well as the various forms in which they are available.
Questions? Topics to explore?
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