“Our dependence on what you guys do is real,” Ken Grossman told the American Hop Convention crowd last Thursday in our Big Room.
Organized by Hop Growers of America, the American Hop Convention is an annual industry meeting that brings together hop growers, merchants and researchers, as well as craft breweries. This was the 57th convention year and the first time it was hosted by a craft brewery—a special chance for us to show our gratitude.
For us and other breweries—about 25 this year—the multi-day convention is a forum to talk hops, an ingredient Ken has treasured since he first smelled them around the age of 10. The convention sessions tackled an array of issues from hop-drying techniques to sustainability matters like water and power use.
“If we can help you better the product for the both of us,” Ken said, “that’s our goal.”
American craft beer is undoubtedly influencing the evolution of hop breeding and growing.
“We’re looking for hops that are the star of the show,” Ken said.
Aroma hops are soaring in popularity and almost matching alpha hop demand. This shift affects growers’ farms, making paramount brewers’ partnerships with suppliers. We need to ensure our hop growers are healthy.
At the convention, Chris Swersey, technical brewing projects coordinator for the Brewers Association (BA), shared some figures from a BA craft brewers survey (not a total). In the 2011 production year, craft brewers used on average 1.14 pounds of hops per barrel of beer. Chris anticipates that average jumping to around 1.2 or more in the 2013 production year—more notable when you consider how many new craft breweries are on the verge of opening. To further the wow factor, US craft brewers have doubled their collective beer sold since 2001, up from 5.35 million barrels to nearly 13 million barrels in the 2012 production year.
Brewer creativity is relentless, and its reception is equally tenacious. Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery explained how there’s really no turning back: craft drinkers have rounded a corner. Consider as an analogy, Garret said, those who’ve discovered the vast cheese department at natural food stores. The options are many and delicious.
“People won’t go back to melty, yellow slices,” he said.
Garrett was among the judges for the “Cascade Cup,” a convention contest to find the best cut of Cascades submitted by growers. The hop rubbings of Garrett, Ken Grossman, Matt Brynildson (Firestone Walker Brewing Company) and others determined Van Horn Farms out of Moxee, Washington, deserved the Cup—a shiny, glass hop.
Competition continued with a game of “Hop Jeopardy!” Each growing area—Washington, Oregon, and Idaho—had a representative, and Pat Leavy of Oregon took the title. How would you fare with questions like this:
Pride of Ringwood originated in this country.
Perceived as the most pungent of the triploid Hallertau family of hops, this U.S. hop has found a home in Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo<sup>®</sup> Extra IPA.
(Answers: Australia and Crystal)
Rest assured it wasn’t all shop talk. Our friends enjoyed a big range of craft beers, many of them kindly provided by the visiting breweries. We also made an exclusive convention beer, Hop Harmony<sup>®</sup>, which showcased experimental hop varieties from pioneering hop breeders.
These brews prompted many a raised glass, including when Dr. Charlie Bamforth wrapped up his talk (or more appropriately, comedy hour).
“Long may you people be providing the most beautiful spice in the world—hops—to the brewing industry.”