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How to Use Hop Crop Variations Year to Year to Your Advantage


How to Use Hop Crop Variations Year to Year to Your Advantage

One thing that’s always been a mystery to me is the overall disconnect from the beer drinking public with hops. Not in a way where they don’t like hops, because we all know that’s not true. It’s the disconnect between the final product and the fact that beer is, at its core, an agricultural product. Which, at the end of the day puts the onus on brewers to manufacture the consistency that is the expectation.

So many things can potentially affect hop growth, and therefore the final product of beer. Hops are generally very difficult plants to grow. They require very specific conditions and are very prone to things such as fungal disease, root rot, pests, mold, powdery mildew and more. These along with weather, drainage factors and more really play a huge role in how hops grow and what qualities that they produce.

There are varieties that are much more resistant to some, or even most of these things, but they are few and far between. While there will always be variation between lots and crop years, this variation is often less noticeable in the final product. To combat these variations, larger breweries select and buy up entire lots of hops to bring consistency to their final product. The consumer has grown to know and accept these beers as almost commodity.

Where does this leave the smaller brewer? We often don’t have the buying power of connections to command choosing what hops that we get. Often we are left with what’s left over after larger brewery hop selections. What’s left on the spot market is going to always be different crop years and different lots of hops. This really leads to a ton of variation in the hops that we get a hold of. Even on the same farm, hops harvested from two different rows could be vastly different, so combing the spot market can be quite a task.

Now where does this leave us? Well, it leaves us in charge of making the best of what we do have. Be sure to do sensory evaluations on every bag of hops that you get. Make sure that you know what you’ve gotten and how you’re going to use them before you start planning and brewing. Imagine how they will play off the other hops and ingredients in your brew. Never assume that they will be the same as the last bag or box that you used. Keep records on your brew logs and notes of the crop that you’ve gotten a hold of. If you’re trying to reproduce a beer that you’ve made before, go back and reference those notes. If you find a lot of hops that you particularly like, try to buy more so that you can bring more consistency into your brewing.

Ultimately, buying hops on the spot market is still a positive in the life of a small brewer. It allows nimbleness and true flexibility. It can just require a little bit more behind the scenes to really produce the highest of quality beer. The nice part of this all, is it allows us to sharpen and refine our sensory skills and allows us to grow our knowledge of how we use ingredients to their (and our) maximum potential (s).

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