By Gail Oberst
Can we expect a hop shortage in the near future, driving Oregon IBUs down and prices for your pint up?
That was certainly the buzz a few months ago, when an article in the Wall Street Journal, followed by a lemming-like response from other writers, heralded gloom and doom for “small” brewers – producers of less than 15,000 barrels per year, thus, all but about seven of Oregon’s 170 breweries. Suggesting that a hop shortage is looming, the article warned that our beloved hoppy beers would soon cost too much for anyone to drink or give way to – Baccus forbid! – low-hop beverages like lagers or lambics or even meads and ciders.
But is there truly a nationwide – possibly world- wide – shortage brought on by your intense love of hoppy beers?
Psych! No there isn’t!
In a word, no, there’s no hop shortage, according to national and local experts.
Or to be more precise, there is no shortage of hops in the real sense, as it was in 2007-2008 when – for various reasons both environmental and economic – we suffered a real shortage, making the current situation far too mild to be called a “shortage.” But without a doubt, demand for hoppy beers has changed the market and brewers would be smart to plan.
Growers are doing their best to respond to a heavy demand for aroma hops, especially Cascades, the workhorse of the IPA and other hop-centric beers, said Nancy Sites, executive director of the Oregon Hop Commission. And they are doing a great job of it. Oregon’s potential harvest this year is nearly 800 acres more than it was last year and more than 570 of those acres are strung up with Cascades, the mother of aroma hops. Centennial, Chinook, Citra, Golding, Crystal, Mt. Hood, Perle, Sterling and Willamette all saw increases in acreage this year in Oregon. If you were a brewer counting on Nugget – currently Oregon’s largest acreage hops – you might be looking at a tight market, as acreage fell by just under 300 as demand shifts to other types. But replacement hops were plentiful. And Washington, which has 29,021 acres in hops this year (to Oregon’s has 5,559), has grown by nearly 2,000 acres since last year. “Shortage” is a word you would use when hop acreage falls from 17,000 acres to 5,700 acres, as it did in 1954. Even Idaho, with its 3,812 acres of hops, is up by more than 400 acres this year. Hardly the numbers of shortages, points out Chris Swersey of the Brewers Association.
So where does the Wall Street Journal get its idea that there’s a “shortage” of hops?
The word is sometimes used when prices rise, which they are apt to do as demand and values increase. And there has been a drop in the number of acres devoted to bittering or alpha acid hops – Galena, Nugget, Millenium — as brewers replace them with the aroma hops – Cascades and Centennials. And, as large brewers follow the consumer demand for aroma hops, those may quickly disappear from the open market, making contracts even more important for the small brewery.
The Job’s Not Done Until the Paperwork Is...
Perhaps those local brewers who chose not to enter into contracts or those newer brewers who haven’t established relationships with hop growers and distributors may find themselves short in some cases, Swersey said. More than 90 percent of Brewers Association members maintain contracts for hops, guaranteeing them product and reducing the chance of “shortages.” Many brewers establish hop contracts long before they even brew their first professional beers. These agreements are safeguards for big and small breweries, Swersey added.
In Oregon, some varieties are in short supply, but these are mostly privately licensed varieties where owners are maintaining higher prices to avoid oversupply, Sites said.
Sites said there’s reason to believe aroma hop acreage, as opposed to bittering hops, will continue to expand in 2015. “We are also trying to get a handle on how many acres are being grown in other parts of the U.S., and are still working on surveying those growers,” she said.
Doubtless, she said, the market is tight. “It sounds like ‘spot market’ hops for some varieties are a little harder to find and the price is higher right now because there aren’t a lot of ‘extras’ out there that are not spoken for in the form of contracts. Many brewers now are contracting for their hops two to three years out to ensure they get the amount and varieties that they need. Brewers that do contract usually end up paying a little less than brewers that wait to buy on the spot market,” she said.
But enough shop talk, what about my beer?
Whether rising hop prices will impact the price of your beer will depend on what kind of a business your brewery owner is running. Rogue brewers without contracts (not the brewery, which smartly grows its own hops), might find themselves paying a lot for hops and passing the cost on to you.
But, more than likely, your brewer is like Jamie Floyd of Ninkasi or Irene Firmat of Full Sail, who stay in touch by visiting Sodbuster Farms and other growers each year with a busload of curious employees and beer drinkers. Or your brewery is like McMenamins, whose team of hopped-up brewers actually makes a tradition of picking up their fresh hops straight from the grower, called “The Running of the Hops,” aimed at getting the freshest hops to the brewhouse on the same day they are stripped from the bines.
Stuff like that is unlikely to happen anywhere near Wall Street.
Which might explain some of the disconnect (I’m being kind) between Wall Street and Beervana. Let’s just say they don’t know chit about where beer comes from. But now you do. It really is a Northwest thing.
Here’s Gail’s Wall Street hint for the day: Hops, my boy. Invest in hops. And by that I mean begin your investment by accumulating those delicious resins in your belly. If there’s going to be a hop shortage, it’s up to you, Oregon drinker, to contribute to it.
In 2013, Worthy Brewing planted over 20 varieties of hop plants near its brewery at 495 N.E. Bellevue Dr., in Bend. Among them were experimental varieties suited for the high desert.
The result? You can see for yourself in our cover photo, taken by Dave Zinn in mid- August and featuring Worthy Brewing’s Garden Manager, Lisa Kronwall.
The first to reach the top of the 12-foot trellis wire were Oregon’s regulars: Chinook, Sterling, Santiam and Nugget hops. Others bred by a team from Oregon State University and Indie Hops are also looking strong — Jack-in-the- Beanstalk strong, according to the Worthy blog. The brewery was looking for volunteer pickers, but by the time you read this, that opportunity may have come and gone. Hop harvest was predicted to start in late August and end in early September. Each mound or group of bines from one root is expected to produce 6-7 pounds of fresh hops.
Some of the fresh hop cones will be dried, but most will be used in fresh-hop beer, made on the brewery’s 5-barrel system.
Worthy’s greenhouse and hopyard was dedicated last year to Dr. Alfred Haunold, the Austrian-born hopmeister at the helm of Oregon State University’s hop breeding program from 1965 to 1999. The program released 16 hop cultivars and breeding lines to the public, many of which are the high-aroma varieties found in Oregon’s IPAs.
“Let’s face it,” said Chris Hodge, Worthy’s CEO, at the dedication of the hopyard last year. “The hop is a tough weed, but the gods did not intend for it to sprout up from solid volcanic basalt. We’ve designed and built raised beds to provide a nurturing home base for our noble flowers. We want to thank OSU — Dr. Shaun Townsend, in particular, Goschie Farms, Coleman Farms and Indie Hops for their expertise, without which we couldn’t have pulled this off.”
For more information, visit the brewery or the website, www.worthybrewing.com.
Jim Solberg, Indie Hops CEO and general manager, demonstrates how brewers evaluate hops by rubbing them to release the oils, then taking a deep whiff of the scent. Brewers contract for a hop variety, like Cascade, and may select a specific lot, based on their sampling preference. “We assign all our customers to specific lots,” said Solberg, “based on their needs.” Photo By Patty Mamula
By Patty Mamula
The heart of craft brewing is hops. That’s why Jim Solberg and Roger Worthington started Indie Hops.
They focus on supplying craft brewers with quality Oregon hops and on developing new varieties for the commercial market.
“We would love to have some new and exciting hops with different flavors. With so many beer styles, brewers need hops with correspondingly different qualities,” said Solberg.
For the research and development, Indie Hops is collaborating with OSU scientists, led by Shaun Townsend. Recently, they finished evaluating trial hops from 2013 and selected five for advanced testing. While 2016 would be the earliest any might be available commercially; they plan many pilot brews between now and then. (See story Page 9).
For the supply side of the business, Indie Hops has a facility in Hubbard, close to the hop fields, for milling hop pellets, packaging and cold storage.
In 2008, when Solberg and Worthington started tossing ideas around, they felt there was a broad opportunity in Oregon hops. Solberg’s visit to a large hop ranch in Yakima was on his mind when he met Worthington, who was looking for investment possibilities, at a Portland pub.
Solberg knew the Willamette Valley was widely considered the best place to grow flavorful aroma hops. A longtime home brewer, he had just seen how the difference in climate between Oregon and Eastern Washington shows up in the hops.
That was the same year InBev bought Anheuser and demand for Oregon hops dried up. Craft brewers who had long been content to follow behind the large domestic breweries and pick up the leftover hops were scrambling. Growers needed new business. And, the boutique Portland-born brewpubs had exploded into a nationwide craft brewing industry with Oregon’s aroma hops at its center.
“We realized that we didn’t need to be hop experts,” said Solberg. “We had experienced farmers, scientists and brewers.”
And, Matt Sage . . . their brewery liaison. Sage was a brewer at Bridgeport from 1984 to 1990, then after working at local wineries, returned to Bridgeport and joined Indie Hops in 2010.
That same year they opened the Hubbard facility and their first pellets were from the 2009 hop crop. “We weren’t compelled to have tremendous output, so we were able to do some different things. Our process does a better job of preserving the natural character of the hop,” said Solberg.
Nearly all brewers, 90 to 95 percent, are using pel- letized hops, he said. “Besides quality, one of our pri- mary benefits for brewers is to even out production.”
Few breweries are big enough to have long-term contracts with growers. Solberg put the number of craft breweries at 2,000 but the Brewers Association puts it over 3,000. The 50 or so hop growers are not set up to deal with that many individual entities.
Most breweries sign a contract for a year and pay for the hops as they are shipped. Indie Hops holds them in cold storage at the optimum temperature of 28 degrees.
Sage said, “We source our hops with a few farmers. Our taking the risk helps ensure the hops will be there for brewers who only contract one year at a time.”
Smaller brewpubs bring in hops every three weeks or so, said Solberg. “We arrange freight and ship, mostly to the West Coast, Colorado and the Great Lakes.”
Our advantages are quality pellets, cold storage, good relationships with hop growers here like Goschie and Coleman Farms and good response from brewers, said Solberg.
Right now, Indie Hops sells predominately USDA public varieties of hops.
But, their program with OSU is focused on new aroma hops with excellent brewing qualities. Once a hop makes it out of the trial stage and into advanced development and finally to commercial production, a ten-year process at best, Oregon State will be the owner, but it will be a private hop. Solberg said they plan to charge a small royalty that will fund continued research. The hops will be available to anyone who wants to grow them.
“Of course, IPA is a big beer style. There’s always a new one out that people are excited about. We’d love to get a hop for IPA that’s lower in bitterness, alpha acids,” said Solberg.
“We would like some new varieties that are a step forward in pest and disease resistance. Then hop farms can grow them with fewer inputs and have a stable product,” said Solberg.
Another beneficial trait would be a hop that could be harvested earlier to help spread out the harvest days from August 1 to September 15 instead of the traditional non-stop three weeks from late August to early September.
While both Solberg and Worthington had professional white collar careers at Nike and at a law firm, respectively, their hands-on experience and passion for craft brewing launched not one but two new Oregon companies. Worthington became so interested in craft brewing he started his own in 2012—Worthy Brewing in Bend.
By Branden Andersen
Paul Bergeman said that if he was going to open a brewery in the saturated Central Oregon market, he needed to do it right.
Wild Ride Brewing Company opened its doors in Redmond in May. The 1,000-square foot former lumber warehouse space was converted over the past year into part industrial-chic tasting room, part no-nonsense stainless brewing system.
Bergeman has earned his head brewer’s stripes. Ten years ago, on the realization that he loved homebrewing more than any job, Bergeman applied to every brewery in the state.
“I had a couple of people who called me back, but nobody was hiring at the time,” Bergeman said.
He took a job with a distributor, then a bussing job at Laurelwood Brewing in Portland.
“I talked with them initially to get started,” Bergeman said. “I would give Chad (Kennedy, formerly of Laurelwood and now at Worthy) and Christian (Ettinger, also formerly of Laurelwood and now at Hopworks) homebrew all the time.”
Then, Jacob Leonard—another Laurelwood alum now at Widmer—left to brew at Walking Man Brewing, leaving an open space on Laurelwood’s brew team for Bergeman.
“It was awesome to work with Chad,” Bergeman said. “He has a great mind.”
Bergeman worked for Laurelwood for about six years before he left for Hawaii to work as a cellarman for Kona Brewing.
“It was a step down, but I understood that it was a situation where I stepped down so I could eventually move up.”
Four years later, he moved up in a big way.
Taking lessons learned at both businesses, Bergeman aimed to create good beer first, then the building and ambiance to follow.
“It’s hard to say Central Oregon needed another brewery,” Bergeman said. “But, Redmond can support another one.”
Bergeman said he and other decision-makers at the brewery knew that Redmond would be their spot — benefiting from the Central Oregon water and the region’s reputation for excellent beer.
The building’s renovation features a nearly 20-foot solid wooden bar, stainless steel brewing equipment, and striped wooden tables—much of which were either repurposed or reused.
“We had a ton of people pitch in to help,” Bergman said. “When people see us out here, they think we spent a lot on it. But in all reality, we really nickel-and-dimed.”
Wild Ride recently signed with Point Blank distributing, which will send their beer around the state. “There really is so much great beer,” he said.
“But, people like variety—they like change.” On top of the eight beers that filled the taps since day one, everything from a light lager to a coffee vanilla stout, they have since added the Brainbucket Imperial IPA and Bitch Stout. They’ve also started a barrel-aging program, using both their maple brown and stout in Jack Daniel’s barrels.
“We have big thoughts, but it’s one step at a time,” Bergeman said.
Wild Ride Brewing
(a) 332 SW 5th Street Redmond, Oregon 97756
Brewer: Paul Bergeman
By Gail Oberst
Thinking of growing a few hop plants in your yard, over your trellis or even in a large pot on your front porch? Bravo! There’s nothing more satisfying than pitching your own produce into your boiling brewpot. In Oregon, where hops have grown for centuries, you’ll find fertile growing conditions, especially in the Willamette Valley. But hops grow statewide, including Southern, Central and Eastern Oregon (see cover), although these may need to be watered in the first year.
You can get more information on purchasing rhizomes at http://crosbyhops.com and from other local growers listed at the Oregon Hop Commission’s website. The following guide is condensed from that website, www.oregonhops.org/culture.html. The commission collected the information from Oregon State University and USDA experts, Susan M. Hiller, Gale A. Gingrich and Alfred Haunold.
Of note: Don’t buy hop rhizomes from outside of Oregon, Washington or Idaho if you intend to plant them here. A hop quarantine in the state of Oregon prohibits hop plants and all plant parts from outside those three states. This doesn’t apply to whole kiln- dried cones or pellets that you can buy at your local homebrew shop, or order directly from the grower. This quarantine on rhizomes was established to prevent the introduction of diseases, which could devastate Oregon’s commercial hop production.
About the Plant
The hop plant Humulus lupulus L. is perennial, which means it will produce vines each year, barring disaster. Plant new rhizomes in the spring and vines will grow rapidly, winding around their support in a clockwise direction and clinging with strong, hooked hairs. They reach their ultimate height of 15-25 feet by the end of June when, in response to shortening daylength, vines stop growing vertically and produce sidearms which bear the flowers. Only the female plants produce the cone-shaped “hops” used in brewing. The male plant serves only as a pollenizer, but is not essential for the female plants to produce hop cones. Hops are heterogeneous and new plants coming from seed could be either male or female. For backyard gardeners, it is important to start with rootstock or rhizomes you know to be female. During the first year little growth and few flowers are produced as the plant establishes its root system. A normal crop of hops should be expected the second year.
The hop plant produces best with a minimum of 120 frost-free days. Direct sunlight and long day length (15 hours or more) limits hop production to latitudes between 35 and 55 degrees (that’s generally north to B.C. and south to L.A.). The hop plant requires ample moisture in the spring followed by warm summer weather. In dry climates the hop plant will produce best if supplemental irrigation is provided.
Soil and Plant Nutrition
A deep well-drained, sandy loam soil is best. Fertilizers rich in potassium, phosphate, and nitrogen should be applied each spring. If manure or compost is applied around the hop plant, fertilizer applications may be reduced accordingly.
The soil should be tilled to create a weed-free area. A strong support system is needed for the plant to climb on. Look for space along fences, garage, or property lines. Plant in early spring once the threat of frost is gone but no later than May. The soil should be worked into a fine, mellow condition prior to planting. In cold climates you can plant rhizomes in pots and transplant in June. If planting is delayed, keep rhizomes refrigerated in a plastic bag to prevent them from drying. Plant two rhizomes per hill with the buds pointed up and cover with 1 inch of loose soil. Hills should be spaced at least 3
feet apart if the hills are of the same variety and 5 feet apart if they are different. The first year the hop plant requires frequent light waterings.
When the young vines are about a foot long, select two to six vigorous vines on each hill and remove the rest. Train one to three vines clockwise on a string staked to the hill. Hops mainly grow vertically, but the main concern is to support the vines and prevent the sidearms from tangling. Most cones are produced on the upper part of the plant.
In July, the lowest 4 feet of foliage and lateral branches can be removed to aid in air circulation and reduce disease development. Remove lower leaves carefully to avoid breaking or kinking the main stem. In August allow additional bottom growth to remain to promote hardiness of the crown and plant vigor for next year.
At the end of the season you can bury healthy bottom vines for propagating new plants the next spring. Simply bury the vines in a shallow trench and mark their location. In spring dig them up and cut them into pieces about 4 inches long. Make sure each new cutting has an eye or bud.
For information about treating hop diseases and pests, visit the full version of this document at www.oregonhops.org.
Hop harvest in the Pacific Northwest usually runs from mid-August to mid September, depending upon the variety. If you want to use your hops for ornamental purposes, pick your hops early. Otherwise hand pick hop cones and dry them in a food dehydrator, or use them in fresh hop beers within two or three days of harvest.
To determine ripeness, pick a cone and touch and smell. If the cone is too green it feels slightly damp to the touch and has a softness to its scales. If you squeeze the cone it will stay compressed in your hand. If your hands quickly take up the smell and are slightly sticky due to the yellow powdery lupulin, your hops are ready for harvest.
To harvest, cut the vine at the bottom leaving 3-4 feet of the vine to lay on the ground and cut the string at the top. Lay the vine on the ground and pick off the cones. The harvested vine can be mulched, burned, or woven into a wreath. When handling fresh hop plants, wear long sleeves and gloves because the hooked hairs of the plant may cause a slight rash.
For drying the low-tech way, you can use a window screen. Spread the hops evenly across the clean screen. Place the screen off the ground and in an enclosed area to keep wind and bugs from creating problems. A healthy vine will produce 1-2.5 pounds of dried cones per plant.
The dried hops are ready for storage when springy to the touch and the yellow lupulin powder easily falls out. Another indicator is when the central stem breaks rather than bends. The stem takes much longer to dry than the petals. Cones are best stored in plastic bags that can be sealed. It is important to make sure the cones are sufficiently dry. If cones are not properly dried before storage, they become moldy, wilted, or even rancid and cannot be used for brewing. Fill the bag until the cones are well compressed. Once the bags have been sealed and properly labeled store them in a freezer. Thawing and refreezing stored hops reduces quality and freshness.
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