Selecting hops can be a
By Sarah B. Hood
Humulus lupulus: it’s an unassuming, hardy little vine that
can thrive in the wild. However, the plant commonly
known as hops is a mainstay of the brewing industry
because its pinecone-shaped flowers (also called seed cones or
strobiles) impart most of the personality, aroma and flavour to
your favourite quaff.
The past few decades have seen a hops renaissance in North
America; with some fairly serious shortages on the one hand and
a flourishing of brave new varieties on the other, how can brewers
stay ahead of the trends, ensure their supply and get the best value
for their Humulus dollar?
To understand the hop market, a brief biology lesson is in order.
Like roses, apples or grapes, hops come in numerous varieties,
each with its own personality. A plant can be male or female, so
new ones combine characteristics of their parents. Since they do
grow wild, valuable new hybrids occasionally appear in nature. (In
fact, Sleeman Breweries Ltd. created their Sleeman Railside Ale
with hops discovered along the rail line near their brewery.)
Manitoba Redvine originated as “a wild hop growing in the
prairies in the 1910s that became the father of a lot of modern
British hops; for example, Bramling Cross,” said John Briner, founding
partner of Northwest Hop Farms Inc. in Chilliwack, B.C., who
both grows and sources hops for brewers.
“Amarillo was found growing wild in a ditch in Yakima,
Washington; more recently, out of New Mexico, there’s the
Neomexicanis strain,” he said. English Fuggle, Czech Saaz and
German Hallertauer Mittelfruh are also wild or “landrace” hops.
New hop varieties also arise in agricultural research centres
like Wye College in England.
“They’ve been responsible for developing the modern British
varieties over the last 100 years. Every country has its own
breeding program. Germany has the Hop Research Centre Hüll
Hopfenforschungszentrum Hüll; they’ve developed a lot of the
modern German hops like Hüll Melon and Mandarina Bavaria,”
Whether bred or discovered, it generally takes about 10 years
from the discovery of a potential new variety to reach market
because it must be tested for its potential to grow as a farm crop
in a particular climate region and for its resistance to pests, diseases
and mildew, to which hops are especially vulnerable. From
thousands of potential varieties, only a handful make it through to
commercial acceptance every year.
Photos courtesy of Northwest Hop Farms Inc. Photo courtesy of Farmery Estate Brewing
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