Glycosidic Nitrile, You Really Should Care Now 

person holding grains

By: Becky Garrison

At the American Craft Spirits Association’s 2022 conference held February 10-12, 2023, in Portland, Oregon, Dr. Campbell Morrissy, a graduate research assistant in the Barley Project at Oregon State University, led a talk about why distillers should be concerned about Glycosidic Nitrile (GN).

  First, he defined GN as “naturally occurring plant metabolites that are used as defenses against predators.” They’re actually pretty sweet, and they are present in almost all plants.” Epiheterodendrin (EPH) is a type of GN found naturally in barley. 

During fermentation, yeast contributes beta-glucosidase, which acts on EPH, resulting in a precursor to hydrogen cyanide. Add heat and copper, and then suddenly,  EC (ethyl carbamate) is present in the final spirit.

    In the United States, there’s a voluntary limit of 125 parts per billion of EC permitted in alcohol products available for sale, which is quite low. As this is a voluntary limit, it’s become a regulatory gray area. As far back as 1993, high enough levels of EC were found in bourbon produced in the United States that would have exceeded regulatory limits established by the EU, UK, Canada and some other countries. Additionally, whiskey sold in Europe needs to meet that low EC concentration. So, those selling to the EU market may face regulation and monitoring of EC levels.

  About 30 years ago, those working with barley in the UK began to realize that GN resulted from barley variety. Now, more than 50 percent of all malting barley purchases in the UK are GN zero and essentially all for the distilling market. Morrissy added that those making whiskey in the UK use GN zero malt with no exceptions.

Defining Barley Varieties and EC Levels

  Generally, there are three categories for defining barley varieties and their propensity to create EC. The non-producer is GN zero, defined as anything less than half a gram per ton of EC. Low producers have 0.5 to 1.5 per ton, and high producers are 1.5 or greater per ton.

  A barley’s ability to produce EC can be measured in two ways. A PCR assay can ascertain whether a given barley variety will have the gene to produce EPH. Also, the quantitative method enables one to measure photometrically if a particular barley reacts to hydrogen cyanide.

  Low GN producers will still produce GN, and its production can be modulated during malting. Anything that’s going to promote malt modification is going to result in more GN. Here, one needs to look at the length of germination. Typically, the germination time for brewing malt is about four days, though with a distiller’s malt, germination can go up to five days, depending on the type. As germination increases, one can see a pretty clear relationship with the level of glycosidic nitrile. While barley variety is important, what matters more is how it malts. Hence, Morrissy recommends connecting with the malthouse to work together to see if pushing modification will impact the EC levels of the resulting spirit.

What Look for When Breeding Barley

  First and foremost, Morrissy stresses looking for strong agronomics. “The farmers are going to need to grow something that they can rely on. Thankfully through very traditional plant breeding techniques, we produce high yielders with low disease resistance, which means fewer inputs. We breed for intolerance for drought and look into low-temperature tolerance for winter lines,” he states.

  Also, Morrissy suggests looking at AMBA-recommended specifications for malt guidelines to select grains known to produce high-quality malt. Along those lines, look for multi-environment adaptation that can be grown all over the place and weather new climatic experiences.

  Here, one needs to differentiate between growing spring or winter barley. Spring barley is planted in the spring and harvested in the summer. Conversely, winter barley is planted in the fall and harvested in the summer. Unlike spring barley, winter barley goes through vernalization and overwinters.

  Winter barley yields more often and has a low-temperature tolerance and less water requirement. When it requires water, it tends to be when water is abundant in most regions due to runoff from winter and late spring rains. While one of the best things for winter barley is snow, some historically very cold places do not see the same snowpack they used to see. Also, winter barley is an excellent erosion control for winter.

  Morrissy observes, “In those places that are windy, putting something that has a root structure in the ground can preserve a lot more topsoil. You also kind of have a de facto cover crop in a time that it might be fallow, so you’re going to out-compete weeds. You may have some pest resistance associated with that.”

  Morrissy notes that different regulatory mechanisms within that GN gene pack can turn on or off depending on climatic changes. Right now, they are not sure how environmental stress response impacts GM production. Currently, more research is needed to understand how the environment impacts GM production in the field.

Producing GN Zero Barley Varieties

  Currently, there’s one GN0 variety approved by the American Malted Barley Association (AMBA). However, Morrissy predicts that with the advent of AMBA’s new recommendations that all varieties of malt for distilling be GN zero, we will start seeing more of these come on the market for brewing and distilling as they go through the AMBA pipeline. Also, some foreign varieties are coming from the private breeding program, and U.S. land grant institutions are breeding some domestic varieties.

  An interesting alternative is naked or hull-less barley. Inherently naked barley is GN zero, though, as Morrissy noted, there isn’t a great supply chain for naked barley right now. Still, there’s a lot of potential for sowing grain without the husk, as that can take up five to seven percent of the total weight of the grain. “If you’re not lautering, you’re doing grain fermentations, or maybe you have a mash filter, you don’t need the husk,” he states.

  At this writing, 10 public breeding programs in the US are working on barley. They’re covering many different areas, producing barley that’s well suited for those larger growing regions and collaborating to make sure that the genetic stocks for sustainability are being shared industry-wide.

Managing EC in the Distillery

  EC is a lowly volatile, heavyweight compound,   whereas its precursor hydrogen cyanide is a very highly volatile, low molecular weight compound. So, according to Morrissy, the more EC that can be formed in the stills and recovered in the silage, the less it will make it into the barrel. Depending on the distilling technique, Morrissy thinks the cyanide fraction is volatile, and the conversation into EC happens very quickly, though it might not get picked up until the spirit is in the barrel.

  Early investigations into the distilling technique find that reflux is highly important in controlling EC. Also, still design and still feed are so important. Trace amounts of EC will form during fermentation, but primarily, the copper catalyst in distillation produces EC. While this work is in the emerging stages, research with copper contact and reflux and controlling EC looks promising.

  For further research into this topic, Morrissy recommends The Hartwick College Center for Craft Food & Beverage, a testing and education resource that supports small and mid-sized breweries, malthouses, farms and other craft food and beverage producers. Also, he suggests joining the American Malted Barley Association.

Inviting Sustainability into The Vodka Industry

a lone white flower

By: Tina Karras, Founder & Owner — Tina’s Vodka

As a founder and owner of a vodka distillery, I regularly contemplate our industry’s sustainability. I want people to have what they enjoy, but I also want a future for our planet.

  The process of sourcing, making, and packaging alcohol has environmental implications that we can no longer afford to ignore. It varies by the liquor and production method, but the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable’s research reveals that each 750-milliliter bottle of liquor produces an average of 6.5 pounds of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. This cannot continue.

Sourcing Sustainable Ingredients Through Regenerative Agriculture

  I’ve always been disheartened by the nagging fear that nothing I did as a single business owner would impact the global environment. However, after watching the documentary “Kiss the Ground,” I am hopeful at last. This film asserts that if we commit to changes that regenerate our planet’s soil, we will simultaneously balance our changing climate, replenish the Earth’s water supply, prevent species extinction, and raise more abundant crops. Here, at last, is a film with solutions that leaves me optimistic about our planet’s future.

  The documentary inspired me to embrace regenerative agriculture in my vodka production process and spread the news to others. This type of farming is not new by any means. Instead of industrial farming methods that deplete the land with a lack of biodiversity, pesticides, and fertilizers, regenerative agriculture applies traditional farming methods to maintain healthy soil, plants, and water. It seeks to reverse environmental damage through no-till systems, crop diversity, planned livestock grazing, and biosequestration (the method of trapping and storing carbon in plants, microbes, and other organisms).

If We Implement These Solutions, We Will See A Rapid Shift In Our Planet’s Health

  Regenerative agriculture is the simplest way to heal the soil, and soil health is the key to solving the climate problem. If every alcoholic beverage producer sourced grain from fields farmed with regenerative agriculture and bio-sequestration, massive amounts of CO2 would be drawn down into the soil and out of the atmosphere. Tilling fields for corn, wheat, barley, rice, and other ingredients we source for our products releases massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. No-till plows can plant those seeds without allowing CO2 to escape. The healthy soil that resulted would capture carbon and reduce runoff. If we keep the soil covered and healthy, CO2 remains in the ground where it belongs.

Resistance to Regenerative Farming and Organic Ingredients in the Liquor Industry

  Leading scientists and soil experts claim that capturing atmospheric carbon and replenishing the Earth is possible with the technology we already have. Unfortunately, this type of farming faces strong opposition, and many remain resistant to change. I haven’t yet seen regenerative agriculture become a significant part of the spirits industry. Perhaps this is because organic, non-GMO corn is simply more expensive to produce than GMO corn.

  Today’s farmers are able to keep the cost of industrial agriculture low through the extensive use of harmful chemicals. These become necessary because their way of farming creates an ecosystem centered around only one crop. Over time, it depletes the soil of nutrients and throws the environment out of balance. Natural ecosystems are filled with a variety of plants and animals, each designed to keep the others in harmony. When massive amounts of one plant cover an area, it is natural for predatory insects and weeds to move in and take advantage of the surplus. In an effort to protect their crops, farmers spray tons of poisonous pesticides and herbicides on the fields. To replace nutrients in the soil, they turn to harmful fertilizers. 

  For example, glyphosate has had a major impact on the production of corn for vodka. For over four decades, this chemical has been the leading tool farmers in the United States used for killing weeds before planting their corn. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), glyphosate — the main ingredient in Roundup — has become the most widely-used herbicide in the US since 2001.

  The problem was that this chemical killed all plants indiscriminately. In response, scientists created “Roundup-Ready” crops in 1996. Genetically engineered plants were then able to tolerate the herbicide. After this, farmers could spray their entire cornfield without worrying about being selective. Today, farmers who grow Roundup-Ready GMO crops use glyphosate as a desiccant to speed up their harvesting timetable. Spraying their plants with the herbicide kills the crop, causes it to dry out sooner, and produces more consistent yields. This allows them to harvest crops as much as two weeks earlier than they could have otherwise, which proves to be an advantage in colder climates.

  Exactly how glyphosate impacts long-term human health is still being debated, even though its use has increased almost 20-fold during the last two decades. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declares that glyphosate is a carcinogen. The IARC also claims that Roundup is linked to Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and autism.

  Regenerative farming employs biodiversity to control weeds and pests. It is more expensive, but the cost is worth it. When spirit brands embrace this way of farming, they discover exciting benefits. In addition to the environmental gains, they will also be pleasantly surprised by a vast improvement in the quality of their product. Vodka made with organic corn and without added sugar simply tastes better, since it has its own natural sweetness. There are no additives — just organic corn and water.

  The best way to ensure the corn and grains sourced for the production of spirits are organic and farmed sustainably is to purchase them locally. Eliminating the need for transporting large volumes of grain over long distances is also a way to reduce the liquor industry’s carbon footprint.

  Despite the cost, a growing number of farmers are looking into the possibility of producing their crops with sustainable farming methods and regenerative practices. Because of the damage that has already been inflicted on our planet and the harmful practices still going on today, regenerative farming requires commitment. Some of these farmers have to spend up to three seasons restoring the soil in their fields. On top of this, many are forced to plant a 25-foot buffer crop to block the overspray of pesticides from neighboring farms. It is time for the liquor industry to show these farmers our support.

  Farming is inherently risky, and farmers are resistant to change. When you ask them to do something they have never done before, especially when neighboring farmers aren’t doing it, you are asking a lot of them. It’s hard for farmers to learn new techniques because so many of them are already working another job to avoid losing their farm. Greater education is key to getting more farmers to adopt regenerative practices.

  The best means of persuading large farms to commit to regenerative agriculture is by demonstrating that it makes financial sense. If large distilleries can work out long-term contracts to source grains directly from the farm, it could be a win-win scenario for both parties. The distillery could share a regenerative story about the farm and about their product. Likewise, if a farmer knows there is demand for sustainable ingredients, they will be willing to meet it. There are so many positive stories that can come out of these partnerships.

Reducing Waste in the Distilling Process

  Sourcing quality ingredients is paramount because it offers us a chance to restore our planet’s health. However, the most unsustainable part of liquor production is distillation. It leaves us with waste products that are harmful to the environment if not disposed of properly.

  Inspired by shortages during the Covid-19 pandemic, some distilleries began turning these waste products into hand sanitizer and are still doing so even after the commercial producers restocked the shelves. I have known certain distilleries to give away a bottle of sanitizer with every purchase.

  Distilleries are also forming partnerships with industries such as fish farms, livestock farmers, and bakeries to put waste grain and water products to good use. At TimberFish Technologies, spent grain is converted into fish food and pumped into growth tanks brimming with speckled trout, Atlantic salmon, and shrimp. Distilleries also send waste products to farms that raise livestock — often the same farms where they purchased their grain initially. Upcycled waste products are not just for animals. Bakeries use mash to make sourdough bread and grain byproducts to make flour.

  Other distilleries are exploring ways of reusing their waste products to keep the machines running. Converting waste into energy can be achieved by an anaerobic digester system that uses waste to produce methane. Cyclically, this methane helps to fuel the very distillation process that produces it.

Reducing The Impact Of The Liquor Industry’s Packaging Materials

  After distillation, packaging is the second most significant environmental challenge in our industry. A 2019 assessment finds the carbon footprint of glass vodka bottles accounts for 43 percent of the product’s carbon footprint. Recyclable PET plastic bottles account for around 27%.

  Ideas for making the packaging of our products more sustainable include recycled glass and cork. Larger distilleries are funding research into biodegradable bottles, recycled paper-plastic hybrid bottles, and plastic bottles made from wood pulp.

Hope for a Sustainable Future in the Liquor Industry

  As more and more of our consumers become aware of climate change and its implications, they are adopting a new understanding of what it means to drink responsibly. Today, people are reading labels. They are aware that their purchases have an impact on our planet and want to know where their food and beverages come from. We should give them the opportunity to make a difference with the products we provide.

  There is a new climate story that is optimistic and simple, and the liquor industry can be part of it. If we learn how to support sustainably-farmed ingredients, manage our waste products responsibly, and package our products in environmentally-conscious ways, we don’t have to live in fear.

Efficient and Sustainable Hops Ensure Creative Craft Brew Hoppy-ness  

2 bottles of hospteiner

By: by Gerald Dlubala

Sustainability is at the forefront of brewing in general, and it’s a focus point in each specific aspect of the brewing process,” said Doug Wilson, Director of Sales and Marketing at Hopsteiner, recognized as one of the largest global vertically-integrated hop growers and distributors in the world. “The sustainability mindset naturally carries over to a brewmaster’s ingredients, including the hops they choose. Likewise, craft brewers need successful and sustainable hops to replicate their beer offerings. Fortunately, we have experienced a quick rebound in crop growth and availability as hop growers after the recent heatwaves and drought that proved harmful to many hops, malt and barley growers. That rebound, combined with the general open-mindedness of both craft brewers and craft beer drinkers, lends itself to a successful and sustainable relationship between brewers and hop growers.”

  Hopsteiner utilizes a genome breeding program that is molecular marker-assisted, identifying the key and desirable traits they want available in their hops. The hops are, in turn, bred to be stronger, more resistant, and ultimately, more efficient and sustainable. For example, Hopsteiner identified the powdery mildew resistant component in hop strains and, through selective breeding, now offers those popular hop varietals with bred-in powdery mildew resistance traits.

  “Brewers look for a couple of things in their hop provider. Usually, it centers around cost savings and sustainability. Sustainability means new agronomically superior and disease-resistant varieties requiring less spraying and fertilizing, ultimately producing higher yields with more drought resistance. By providing our own breeding technology, Hopsteiner can offer products like Salvo, derived from CO2 hop extract and predominantly containing hop essential oils and beta acids, that can be used in hot applications without adding bitterness or causing beer loss. Its use has also reportedly extended the shelf-life for hoppy-style brews,” said Wilson.

  “We see a lot of the sameness in brewing. When I say sameness, I’m talking about a combination or mix of hops used to produce a particular flavor profile. But that sameness can also bring about a hesitation by consumers to try a new beer if they see a hop flavor profile with which they are already familiar. That type of consumer behavior directly opposes the inherent purpose of a great brewpub.

  The true craft brewer wants their consumers to want to try new flavor profiles, aromas and combinations. And one of the best things we, as hop growers, can tell a brewer is, with prices of most goods going up, the costs of hops aren’t that bad right now. On top of that, there are new varieties available to the craft brewer that will produce those new formulas and beers that can lure in, excite, and satisfy the craft beer consumer.”

  Hopsteiner offers the familiar products they’ve traditionally provided. They can drive additional efficiencies into those offerings using their in-house programs, allowing craft brewers to dare to be different. For example, Hopsteiner’s Tetra-S, derived from CO2 hop extract, provides an excellent flavor profile and offers foam-enhancing abilities for an increased visual appearance on beers that typically may not show or hold a head of foam.

  “Brewers have to get out of the rut that I feel craft brewing has been in for the last couple of years,” said Wilson. “We help them do that with our breeding program. We use worldwide hop hunters that allow us to offer new genetic materials to bring out new chemical compositions that allow craft brewers to use their creativity. Additionally, by brewing sustainable beers with new flavor profiles and aromas, craft brewers can gain the upper hand in gaining and keeping valuable shelf space that is already limited.”

  Wilson told Beverage Master Magazine that craft brewers must be their own advocates and do their research regarding sourcing hops. “Don’t just take one supplier’s word for it,” said Wilson. “Work on developing a good and comfortable rapport with all your suppliers, and then have open and honest conversations with them about supplies. The market is currently flush with hops. We’ve rebounded quite well from past climate issues in all varieties, with no slowdown in the foreseeable future. As a craft brewer, you have to talk with suppliers to determine where you need to contract supply and those places where you may not need to contract. In some current instances, it can be safer and more economical to play the spot market to fill your hops needs.”

Cryo Hops Offer Sustainability, Efficiency and Savings

  Yakima Chief’s Cryo Hops are processed using cryogenic technology, separating whole hop cones into the concentrated lupulin and the bract, or leaf component. The hops are processed and individually preserved using low temperatures in a nitrogen-rich, ISO-9001 certified production facility with limited opportunities for oxidation from initial separating through the final pelleting process.

  Cryo Hops pellets are the concentrated lupulin of whole leaf hops, housing the resins and aromatic oils that provide an even more intense hop flavor and aroma to your brew. Brewmasters can use these pellets anywhere traditional whole leaf or T-90 hop pellets are used but contain nearly twice the amount of flavor and aroma producing resin content. That extra resin content allows craft brewers to efficiently dose large quantities of alpha acids and oils without introducing astringent or polyphenol flavors or unwanted vegetative material. They also increase yield by reducing brewhouse and cellar trub and offering cost savings and net revenue increases with each batch.

  The pellets are specifically designed to offer efficiency and savings and provide greater sustainability in use, packaging, shipping and storage. The leafy material of the hop cone gets removed during the production process, reducing the overall amount of plant material brought into the brewing process. This reduction further eliminates trub loss and results in increased yields (3 to 5%) and improved quality. Yakima Chief reports that water, malt, utilities and labor are utilized more efficiently for every barrel of beer gained while only requiring half the storage and shipping requirements.

  Yakima Chief’s Cryo Hops perform similar to T-90 hop pellets with comparable density and dissolving characteristics and are appropriate as a full or partial replacement for whole leaf or T-90 pellets. However, they are only dosed at 40-50% of T-90 pellets by weight because of their concentrated qualities. Additionally, they do not pose a clogging risk to heat exchangers because of their fine particle size. They should be added to the kettle late in the process to prevent boiling out the intense flavor and aroma characteristics. Introducing the pellets in the whirlpool is preferred to increase aroma and reduce trub load from significant late additions. Using them in the fermenter is another excellent way to increase aroma and reduce trub loss. Cryo Hops will settle out during standard conditioning and can be fined, filtered or centrifuged.

Creative Hop Use Helps Fuel Growth of No and Low Alcohol Craft Beer

  Once considered a less-than-desirable alternative, low alcohol or no alcohol beer is now widespread and quickly trending upward, with breweries of all sizes taking note.

  In a video address, Richard Hodges, Regional Sales Manager of Yakima Chief Hops, said that the NA and LA beer markets provide an opportunity to shine for craft brewers, allowing them to display their creativity in brewing using a variety of quality, sustainably grown hops.

  “The low and no alcohol beer markets are without a doubt the fastest moving market,” said Hodges. “The last ten years have provided improved methods and innovation in flavor and aroma, thereby enhancing more widespread acceptance of new low alcohol or no alcohol brews. The main consumer base for these markets is the 25–45-year age range with an interest in a healthier beer alternative that fits into a moderation or abstinence lifestyle. In more direct cases, some regions have adopted stricter alcohol laws that have moved beer consumers to try low or no alcohol craft beverages.”

  “The biggest challenge we see in LA and NA beers is the lack of beer complexity and character loss involved due to the absence of alcohol,” said Hodges. “As a brewer, you have the option to either mask that lack of complexity or make up for it by using essential hops and malt profiles. But, of course, we believe it’s always better to make up for any lost taste profiles rather than simply trying to mask them. And because of the continuous growth of NA and LA beer, the improved and successful methods to make up for any lost character and complexity have become available to the smaller microbrewers, allowing them to appeal to and welcome a whole new demographic of potential patrons.”

  Hodges said that bittering hops like Yakima Chief’s Warrior, Columbus, and Chinook offer ways to add the traditional solid-yet-smooth bitterness needed to complement conventional hoppy and West Coast beer styles. Other options, including their Sabro and Talus, will add the fruit and cream, vanilla or coconut flavors to give LA or NA beverages a perceived body.

  Aromas in our favorite craft beers also add complexity but can get lost in the NA brewing process. To add those aromas that get lost in low ester production, Hodges recommends Simcoe, Idaho7 or Eknanot for a sweet tropical smell and an extra layer of complexity. Crystal, Columbus and Nugget varietals will give the familiar and expected woody, green and pungent hoppy flavors that craft beer drinkers expect.

Expect The Unexpected

  New flavor profiles and chemical compositions are quickly becoming available in conjunction with more sustainable sources of hops. As these hops make their way into the hands of creative brewmasters, there’s every reason to believe that craft brewpubs can creatively challenge the patrons’ tastebuds, causing them to raise a glass to an ever-evolving menu, including the exploding no and low alcohol market.

Craft Malt with a Conscience

hands holding crushed crop

By: Erik Lars Myers

Sebastian Wolfrum, the German-born owner of Durham, North Carolina’s Epiphany Malt, wants to do the right thing.

  Wolfrum’s epiphany came in 2012, while he and his wife attended a meeting for local farmers about how they could get involved with North Carolina’s burgeoning craft beer industry. The problem, however, was that at the time, there were very few options for farmers to sell the crops they might grow. North Carolina’s one malt house at the time, Asheville’s Riverbend Malting, was still nascent and small. Wolfrum, drawing on his background in brewing and malting education at Ayinger Brewing near his hometown of Munich, and his experience at Natty Greene’s Brewing Company in Greensboro, North Carolina, started Epiphany Craft Malt in 2015.

  Epiphany has a lot of disadvantages to cope with, like any other small manufacturer, primarily driven by scale. They are tiny compared to national and international malt providers like Rahr, Briess or Weyermann, and they lack the economy of scale that allows them to produce high-quality malt at competitive prices. It is a trade-off that brewers must be willing to make when using a local maltster. You will pay more for the product—in some cases a lot more—but that money goes to support the local economy, and you are potentially buying a product with more of a local “terroir” or “maltoire.” In some cases, like Epiphany, it means supporting even more than just a local economy.

  Wolfrum says that evening out the environmental impact of the business is considerably more difficult at a small scale. Large maltsters have the personnel and resources to dedicate toward reducing a carbon footprint, but a three-person operation like his must find another way.

  Enter Indigo Agriculture, a company that provides farmers financial incentives to practice regenerative agriculture—a method of farming that improves soil health, builds ecosystem biodiversity and closes the “carbon cycle.” Wolfrum was first made aware of regenerative agriculture in his Ayinger days while working on their Regional Impact Study back in 2002.

  He describes farming as having essentially three modes:  The first he considers “the old way,” what he deems “exploitative.” In short, it involves farming a piece of land until all of the available nutrients are gone and extracted, then moving on to a new plot and beginning again.

  The second he deems “contemporary” or “conventional.” It is farming land and using additives or practices that maintain soil health, allowing the farmer to continue using the same plot each year without degeneration. Those practices may involve crop rotation or artificial soil additives to maintain soil health and keep it at the base level that the farmer needs. It might also take the form of supplemental fertilizers and nitrogen additives that take energy—and thus carbon—to produce and disseminate.

  The third is regenerative, an ethos that encourages building and improving soil health, increasing water retention and biodiversity and significantly reducing carbon emissions during farming and cleansing the atmosphere of CO2. Regenerative practices include implementing crop rotation and cover crops, no-till farming, reducing fertilizer and pesticide use and increasing soil biodiversity through compost additions and well-managed livestock grazing practices—ideally, many of those tactics working together in concert.

  It’s not really reinventing the farming wheel. These practices have been around for decades or longer, but using them together is the goal. Unfortunately, a commercial farmer doesn’t always have the financial incentive to invest in natural soil additions, plant a non-harvested cover crop in a field that could generate income or take the short-term risk of not using pesticides.

  Wolfrum was put in touch with Indigo Agriculture through Dogfish Head Brewery in Rehoboth, Delaware. A chance meeting at the Brewers’ Association Craft Brewers Conference had him talking with the lead brewer at Dogfish Head’s small-batch/brewpub facility, and they found their interests aligned. Together, they worked on a project released in September 2020, Dogfish Head’s “Re-Gen-Ale, the first traceably sourced beer to address climate change.” With the help of Indigo Agriculture’s grain marketplace, Dogfish Head purchased raw regeneratively farmed wheat, hops from several local farms on the East Coat and barley from Epiphany. In doing so, they created a traceably sourced beer with a small carbon footprint. Dogfish Head also committed to purchasing carbon credits to offset the production of brewing the beer.

  When Wolfrum learned about Indigo’s regenerative programs, he immediately got in touch with his local growers. In 2020, three of Epiphany’s farm sources began working with Indigo Agriculture, farming regeneratively to provide a carbon-neutral, or even carbon negative, source of barley for Epiphany’s malting operation. It hasn’t been a difficult sell. “Talking to these farmers, no matter where they are—in eastern North Carolina or Virginia—you don’t need to explain it to them. They live it. They know that it’s not going to get easier to grow anything without some work,” he says.

  Other farms they work with provide heirloom corn and rice as well. So far, it’s a small sliver of Epiphany’s output—in 2021, the entire crop of regeneratively farmed malt is spoken for by just two of his customers—but his plans do not end there.

  Wolfrum has started to build financial incentives for farmers into his own business plan, paying more per pound of grain to incentivize his farmers to add at least one regenerative practice into their operation. As Epiphany grows, he plans to create a contract with each grower that requires them to add regenerative farming practices into their operation but also ensures that they’re compensated for doing so. “We will pay for it,” he says, “We’re going to pay a little bit more because we expect you to do the right thing.”

  He hopes that he can also convince brewery and distillery partners to do their part to reduce their carbon footprint in freight and their day-to-day operations as well.

  According to Epiphany’s Three-Year Resilience Plan, in 2020, “each pound of malt produced by Epiphany produced 0.93 lbs of CO2,” so the company bought carbon credits to offset all 421 metric tons of CO2 produced, officially making Epiphany Craft Malt a carbon-neutral craft maltster.

  Epiphany’s virtuous cycle doesn’t end at carbon credits, however. In 2020, they started working with two farmers who grow heirloom and ancient grains—both corn and rice. Wolfrum recognizes, however, that some of these grains have complicated pasts.

  The origin of the heirloom corn that Epiphany sources can be traced back to Native American tribes of Virginia, and the heirloom rice was first brought to the Americas and flourished as part of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. “If we want to help create beers that incorporate these grains,” Wolfrum says, “we have to turn our attention toward understanding the injustice at their roots.”

  Because of that, Epiphany donates a portion of the sales of each of these grains to appropriate organizations. For the corn, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, which helps to increase the representation of Native Americans in STEM. For the rice, Epiphany donates to a local charity, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

  “At the moment, it’s really small scale, and we’re not a very big player,” Wolfrum says. “Could I use those couple thousand dollars we spend on [incentives, carbon credits, and donations] for something else? Sure. But you have to start somewhere. That’s my perspective. It’s not perfect, but it’s the right thing to do.”

  Learn more about Epiphany Malting, the grain and malt they offer and read their Three-Year Resilience Plan at

  Learn more about Indigo Agriculture and its grain marketplace at

  Erik Lars Myers is an entrepreneur, author, professional brewer, and lover of beer. He currently works as an independent consultant in the brewing industry in Durham, NC where he strives toward innovation in fermentation through a wide variety of projects.

The Evolution of Craft Beer

By: Erik Lars Myers

group of people toasting

When the “craft beer revolution” began, there was a purpose. The craft beer industry was built by people who had been to the promised land and seen the light. That promised land was usually somewhere in Europe, and the light was not all that light. It was a revelatory moment in which a drinker found themselves confronted with beers that were not the light, bland, American-style macro lager they knew at home, but rather beers that were dark, moody, and hoppy. They were beers bursting with flavor and individuality, something that those American beers lacked. Those people returned from their promised land as evangelists, priests of a new order built to spread the gospel of those beers to a new, insulated, naïve market. Craft beer was born.

  The roots of what we learned to see as normal craft beer offerings came through the lens of one book. It is so ubiquitous in the craft beer industry that some older beer veterans have referred to it as “the Bible”. The reverence with which Charlie Papazian’s book The Complete Joy of Homebrewing has been treated, as well as Papazian himself, who recently retired from the Brewers Association, makes it easy to draw a direct line from that book to the development of the modern beer industry.

  Ignore, for a moment, that many professional brewers still brew with the dated knowledge presented in that book: knowledge that still makes great homebrew but is fairly basic for a professional brewery. The recipes presented in the book in the 1970s are the harbingers of the industry’s path to maturation some 15 to 20 years later.

  By the 1990s, in the first big boom of the craft brewing industry, every brewery in the country worth its salt was putting out the same simple lineup: Golden Ales, Brown Ales, Pale Ales, IPAs, and Porters or Stouts. All the flavors of beer. Breweries with extra tank space might have thrown in the occasional lager, but since money and space were often limited, lagers sometimes fell by the wayside. Invention and innovation in the brewing industry leapt directly from Charlie’s books. He published what was probably the first pumpkin beer recipe. He let us know that honey was a great addition to brown ales, that fruit belonged in dark beers, and that historic styles that no longer existed were cool.

  At the same time, the beer industry itself was working as hard as it possibly could to lower the barrier of entry to open a brewery. As startup brewers were treated like royalty by eager homebrewers, those brewing pioneers began to release books regaling fans with the tales of opening a brewery and all of their mistakes, so that you – the eager reader – would not be doomed to repeat them. It seemed like writing a business book was a prerequisite for owning a nationally-distributed brewery for a decade or so. Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada), Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head), Jim Koch (Sam Adams), Tony Magee (Lagunitas), Steve Hindy (Brooklyn), Tom Schlafly (Schlafly), and James Watt (Brew Dog) among others have all written books about starting their breweries that, to some degree or other – mostly blatantly – encourage the reader to believe the idea that starting a brewery is an achievable task, even if you don’t know what you’re doing.

  The Brewers’ Association itself followed suit by releasing a book plainly titled “Starting Your Own Brewery”. The first edition was a loosely tied together collection of academic articles and essays that acted as a dry review of boilers and floor sealants of the 1990s, but the second edition was transformed into an easy manual to start a brewery by Dick Cantwell (Elysian, Magnolia). The Siebel Institute of Brewing Technology even went so far as to hold a “How to Start a Brewery” course using that book as a rough textbook. The course did not teach people to make beer or run a business. It taught people how to start a brewery.

  And so, the barrier to entry became the notion that “It’s just so crazy it might work” and the finances to afford the most minimal amount of equipment. Buoyed by an industry (and industry association) that boasted double digit growth numbers for 20+ years, banks were eager to throw loans at anybody who could write a passionate business plan.

  But when those breweries started, they were different than the earlier ones. They were not built by the originators and inventors, the people that had traveled abroad and found new ideas to bring home. They were started by their fans. They were started by eager homebrewers who wanted to do the same thing their heroes did, and when they started breweries, they started homebreweries instead.

  Over the past decade and more, homebrew took a natural step from Charlie Papazian’s creative recipe starts into the concept of Extreme Brewing. You can thank Beer Advocate for it. Though their tame definition, “A beer that pushes the boundaries of brewing” is an easy definition to apply to even, say, the latest trends of non-alcoholic beers and low-cal IPAs, their intent was made clear in their preference for high alcohol offerings and rare, outlandish ingredients that was showcased on their website, and at Beer Advocate’s Extreme Beer Fest.

  In breweries at the time, these extreme beers were fairly uncommon. Dogfish Head’s brewers stood out among their peers as the people who were most likely to throw lobster in the boil kettle, or have their entire staff chew corn to make a traditional chicha, but in homebrew it was an easy step. Ingredients that are off-limits to commercial brewers due to cost, scale, or regulatory reasons pose no impediment to a homebrewer.

  The only thing stopping any homebrewer from making a beer out of 10 lbs of Snickers bars is the cost of 10 lbs of Snickers bars.

  For years, the Brewers’ Association had a mantra based on fear: Quality is the most important thing. The fear was that a potential customer would try craft beer for the first time and it would be terrible and they would never try any craft beer ever again. The idea that a macro American lager drinker would walk into a craft brewery, drink a sub-par IPA, and then give up forever is a myth. Instead, that drinker tried beer again, maybe not that day, but at some point. Everybody drinks craft beer now, macro American lager drinkers.

  For years, craft breweries were not at the mercy of their customer’s tastes, they defined them. Now, the educational period is over.

  When thousands of homebreweries started throughout the country, they brought their recipes with them and taught millions of craft beer fans to love what they made: chock full of lactose, breakfast cereal, candy bars, fruit, and all kinds of sugars. More and more brewers experimented with more and more ways to get hops into beer, because they had been trained by those giant hopheads of yesteryear, and they found the gold mine in New England IPAs.

  Today, our most successful small breweries flourish on a small variation of hazy IPAs, fruited sours, and dessert stouts. Our most successful large breweries cling to the waning popularity of their flagships in a broken distribution system.

  Now, most craft beer fans value alcohol, adjuncts, and adjectives over quality and classic styles.

  And they should. We taught them to.  The only way back to classics is forward through education and inspiration of a whole new set of craft beer fans.

Erik Lars Myers is an author, brewer, and lover of beer. He currently works as the Director of Brewing Operations at Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, NC where he strives toward innovation every day while supporting the Southern Beer Economy by using brewing ingredients sourced and grown across the American South.

Post-harvest Tips for Hop Growers

truck hauling trees

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

Hop growers spend much of the year planning and preparing for harvest, which is typically a busy time in the late summer through early fall. But once harvest season has wrapped up, there is still plenty of work to be done on a hop farm.

Hops by the Season

  Running a hop farm is a four-season endeavor because there is something unique and important to do every time of the year.

  In the winter, it’s time for trellis construction, planting cover crops and transferring potted plants to greenhouses.

  Springtime is ideal for applying fertilizer, pruning primary shoots to prevent early disease, and tying twine to the trellis. Spring is also the time to establish training dates and install drip irrigation tubing.

  When summer rolls around, hop farmers see the blooms occurring, monitor the crops to prevent loss to disease and pests, and plan for harvest between August and October.

  In fall, it’s time to inspect the quality of the harvested crop, have brewers visit the farm to select hops, and plan for the first frost when plants go into dormancy.

  While sometimes overlooked and not given the attention it deserves, the post-harvest season is crucial for hop growers as part of a year-around maintenance schedule. The tasks relevant to this time prevent pests and disease for the next season and help growers get their orders in well in advance, so they’re not rushing at the last minute. Meanwhile, post-harvest provides an opportunity to set up the next season for success by recalling lessons learned from the past growing season.

Soil Considerations

  Soil maintenance should be at the top of the priority list for any hop grower’s post-harvest season. After harvesting the hops, growers can spend their time wisely by draining irrigation systems, cleaning filters, tilling the hop yard and planting winter crops or perennial cover crops. This time is also when growers can run harvested bines through a chipper to create mulch or add to a compost pile and fertilize the area to replace nutrients in the soil. Typically, applications of nitrogen—80 pounds per acre or less—are most effective. Fertilizer should be applied along rows, not on top, to prevent rot and disease.

  Consider changing the irrigation frequency after harvest, and only irrigate if the area is experiencing a drought to prevent downy mildew and other diseases. To restore nutrients and increase the health of next year’s hops, add lime, potassium or gypsum. It is often best to apply sulfur to the field soil after harvest in small applications to lower the soil pH. It’s also a good idea to dig up a selection of plants to inspect the roots and assess the soil compaction, decay and lesions before simply replanting the crowns.

Pest and Disease Control Considerations

  Hop growers can get ahead of pests and disease problems by paying more attention to these issues right after harvest. To fight downy mildew, a common problem on hops at this time of year, try using systemic fungicides and developing a protectant treatment program for next spring.

  Other common insects to watch for in fall are two-spotted spider mites, damson hop aphids and potato leafhoppers. When high populations of these pests exist, it may be beneficial to apply insecticide in the post-harvest period. It may also be required to obtain a burning permit if burning pest-infested plant debris is allowed in the area.

Post-harvest Hop Drying

  Also important is the post-harvest drying of hops to prevent mold and mildew, while allowing for proper storage to maintain high crop quality. This task is timely and relevant because harvested hops are rarely needed for immediate use. Right after harvesting, hops have high moisture content, often greater than 75% moisture contained within the fruit, leaves and flowers. Moisture content between 10 and 15% is ideal for preservation, but this may vary slightly based on hop varietal. Timely drying of hops will help preserve their flavors and aromas while keeping them fresh.

  Growers can dry hops in ambient air with no heat added or use an oast to dry hops with temperature and air controls in a dedicated building or cabinet. Oasts can be convenient for large-scale hop producers but are often not practical or affordable for smaller hop growers with more modest crop yields. Alternatively, food dehydrators, ovens and microwaves are used by hop growers to aid the heated drying process. A drying rig can be used for the small-scale, low-cost drying of hop cones and other plant material where low-temperature drying is preferred.

Packaging the Hops

  After hops are dried, it is time to store them in airtight packaging in a cool, dark, dry place. The hops should remain there until they are ready to be used.

  Preserve hop cones and pellets in tightly sealed bags, while getting as much air out of the packaging as possible through manual pressing, vacuum removal, or nitrogen gas-assisted removal. Nitrogen purging is most effective but requires specialized equipment. Many medium-sized hop producers rely upon a food-grade vacuum sealing machine to package and store their hops in either multi-layer plastic or mylar vacuum-sealed bags. Hops are generally best used within a year of harvesting; however, properly packaged hops can often enjoy an extended shelf-life of up to five years.

Pruning and Trimming Considerations

  Concerning maintaining the plants, this is the time to prune long stems off at the ground level. Top-dress hops with compost and mulch now too, which is especially important when winter temperatures drop below zero degrees Fahrenheit.

  For infected hops, trim the bines short after leaf drop and then remove the debris. Cut at about two inches above the new crown buds for bines that are still green and not killed off from the frost. Then cover the remaining crown buds lightly with soil or mulch before winter comes. It’s best to get rid of weeds promptly, so they don’t lead to higher disease infections.

Trellis Repair Considerations

  After harvest, but before winter is also an ideal time to inspect trellises and make any necessary repairs to the construction. If any trellis repairs are needed, stock up on supplies including anchor and interior pole materials, cable, anchor pins, clamps, staples, nails and wires. Tools and machinery potentially needed for the job include a tractor, shovels, cable pullers, hammers, sockets, tampers and a flatbed trailer.

Hop Stock Considerations

  To prepare for the growing season ahead, start browsing different hops and the pricing from several competitors. This way, hop growers can learn about new varieties, the care they require and their general characteristics and benefits.

Contract Review Considerations

  On the administrative side, early fall is an ideal time to review current contract options with trusted suppliers to secure high-quality hops for many years to come. Work on establishing good long-term relationships with suppliers and other relevant companies while reevaluating hop needs and plans for the future. Compare the cost options, and look into getting a private pesticide license if needed. Such a permit may be required in some areas for any use of general or organic pesticide on a crop for sale.

Other Post-harvest Tasks

  Around this time of the year, make sure that trickle and drip lines and tape are drained and don’t have water pockets that could freeze in the winter. Cover lines that will remain in the field with plastic or mulch to prevent rodent damage. Growers with animals on their property can allow chickens or sheep back into the area to finish the cleanup process in the fall. Some hop growers even use hop bines as materials for winter wreaths as a side hobby or small business, so think creatively during any downtime after harvest.

Reflect and Reassess Operations

  Post-harvest is also a valuable time to reflect upon the past season. Jot down a few notes about problem areas in the hop field or general operations to address anything related to nutrients, pests or other issues for next season.

  With the craft brewery scene continuing to expand worldwide, now is an exciting time to be a hop grower and be such an integral part of the craft beverage industry.

Local B Corp Collaboration Between Hopworks and Looptworks Turns 300+ Cases of Beer Into More Than 400 Masks for Central City Concern

staff carrying a tray of beer

After releasing a variety case of beer called the “Homebound Hero 24 Pack” on April 21, Hopworks Urban Brewery has raised more than $1,500 for the Looptworks Foundation. The case sold for $40 with $5 of each sale donated to the Looptworks Foundation; the donation allowed the foundation to produce over 400 face masks for Central City Concern, a non-profit organization providing housing, health care and employment services for people experiencing homelessness in Portland.

  “It was really awesome to be able to partner withLooptworks on this program,” said Christian Ettinger, founder and co-owner of Hopworks Urban Brewery. “Our whole industry, like many others, is going through a rough time right now, so being able to give back in a meaningful way to other sectors that are hurting is super important. We couldn’t have picked a better recipient with the Looptworks Foundation and Central City Concern!”

  With the collaboration concluded, the “Homebound Hero 24 Pack” has now become the “Core Four” case, complete with the same core four beers: Golden Hammer Organic Lager, Tree Frog Organic Pale Ale, Powell IPA, and Robot Panda Hazy IPA.

  Golden Hammer Organic Lager features organic Northwest and German ingredients in a new take on Germany’s most popular beer: the Munich-style Helles. Notes of honey malt aroma and flavor greet herbaceous and floral hops at the castle door. Tree Frog Organic Pale Ale is fueled by organic Fuggle, Citra, and Mosaic hops that jump from branch to branch with juicy, floral notes that deliver the perfect amount of dank hop aroma. Powell IPA is Hopworks’ flagship IPA that celebrates its Powell Blvd. brewery, brimming with melon, tropical fruit, and a perfectly balanced bitterness. Finally, Robot Panda Hazy IPA is fruity and juicy with a fluffy mouthfeel and notes of spruce, tangerine, and papaya derived from Denali, Lemondrop, and Cascade hops.

  Keep in the know by following Hopworks social channels (everything @hopworksbeer), newsletter, and for more details.

About Hopworks Urban Brewery

  Founded in Portland, Oregon, in 2008 by Christian and Brandie Ettinger, Hopworks Urban Brewery creates sustainable beer and food with sustainable business practices that protect the environment and support our community. Family-owned and operated, Hopworks sources thoughtfully, operates efficiently and minimizes waste in an effort to protect the planet. The company’s 20-barrel brewery produces 10,000 barrels of beer a year for Hopworks’ brewpubs and distribution throughout Cascadia. Hopworks is the first Certified B Corporation brewery in the Pacific Northwest and a proud member of 1% For The Planet.

Soul of the Beer

Origin Malt’s barley roots in Ohio fosters promising growth for the Midwestern malt market

hand grabbing grains

By: Tracey L. Kelley

It’s taken nearly a century, but barley production for craft beverages in Ohio is making a comeback. Victor Thorne and Ryan Lang, the founders of Origin Malt in Marysville, just north of Columbus, are ready to fulfill brewers’ and distillers’ demand for local products. “From seed to sip” is not only the company’s motto but also a source of intention.

  “In 1900, there were over 4,000 breweries in North America. Four of the largest malt houses in the continent were in Ohio, and over 300,000 acres of malting barley were grown in the state,” Thorne told Beverage Master Magazine. “In 1978, there were fewer than 50 breweries, and no malting barley produced in our region. Now, with over 8,000 breweries in the country, and roughly half of the 27 million barrels produced within a day’s drive, we still have no industrial malting plant within 300 miles.”

  Barley was a viable crop in Ohio and throughout the Midwest before Prohibition. After repeal, beer and spirit makers disappeared, and regional farmers switched to more valuable commodities such as corn, wheat and soybeans, growing barley mostly as animal feed. While producers in the Great Northern Plains and the Pacific Northwest provide some access to quality malting barley, crafters in other regions have to look elsewhere.

  “Our craft brewers import the majority of their malt from Canada and Europe,” Thorne said. “Also, craft brewers require more than three times the amount of malt per barrel that they produce when compared to large industrial brewers, so as the craft segment grows, demand for malt exceeds domestic supply.”

  Thorne, a tech serial entrepreneur but no stranger to the foodservice industry, believes in building relationships from the ground up. One of his first ventures provided a solution for process automation software by partnering with titans such as Cargill, Sysco and Tyson. Origin Malt’s co-creator, Lang, is a fourth-generation distiller and co-founder of Middle West Spirits in Columbus. He understood a crafter’s desire for local products. The two opened the malt house in 2015.

  “I enjoy matching complex challenges with experts who can solve them. In the beer, spirits and specialty foods sectors that procure sprouted and malted grains, we require a range of expertise to tackle each of the delicate steps to provide the highest quality products at competitive prices,” Thorne said. “Before taking steps to build a malt house, Ryan and I spent several years forming trusted relationships with the agricultural community, from seed breeding, seed production, agronomists, university researchers, established global maltsters and the end customer—brewers and distillers. Our equity partners represent all of these key relationships.” 

More Than Malt

  “Malt is the foundation of beer—some people may say the ‘soul’ of craft beer. After working in the industry and learning so much about the brewing process—sensory, fermentation and quality—what struck me was that malt sets us up. It’s the canvas with which wort is created,” said Sara Hagerty, sales and marketing director for Origin Malt.

  “The question we want to answer is, ‘Why isn’t barley grown [in the area], and how can we bring it back to the region in a functional, sustainable and economically-impactful way?’” she said. “Victor and Ryan found a way to truly shorten the barley supply chain. For me personally, I could get behind that and feel confident that the groundwork was laid for a revolution in sourcing, procuring and bringing high-quality malt products for brewers and distillers to market.”

  From her passion as a dedicated homebrewer to her work for a leading liquid yeast provider, and later with a global malt provider, Hagerty’s experience helps her envision an integrated purpose for Origin Malt. “Suppliers should be more than salespeople with a price list and a catalog. Suppliers should be educators, listeners and visionaries. From our work with consumers, our customers, and our directly-contracted growers—every step of our supply chain is highly regarded and valued.”

  Supply starts with seed—in this case, that of LCS Puffin, a two-row winter malting barley. It’s derived from the heirloom variety Maris Otter—a popular grain grown in the United Kingdom and appreciated by brewers worldwide. Puffin was initially identified from 50,000 stock seeds by Eric Stockinger, a molecular biologist at Ohio State University, and now bred by the Miln Marsters Group.

  “In the Midwest/Great Lakes region, Puffin is planted in early fall and harvested in late spring/early summer. As a winter grain, the variety comes with some standard characteristics—a well-adhered husk, low protein and winter hardiness. These attributes and more play a part in how we malt it and the flavors it creates,” Hagerty said.

  Base and specialty malts include Pilsen, Brewers, Light Munich, C40, C60 and C90. “Some of the flavors and appeal that Puffin has can be identified in its classic nutty characteristic, and as more pronounced roasted almond flavor in some of our specialty malts,” she said.

  “How we decide on the base and specialty malts we bring to market is based on the general needs of our customers, and also the ability to provide a solid lineup of products that are versatile. Meaning, you could utilize all of them across a set of recipes or pull in one or two for a specific recipe,” Hagerty said. “While our established products exist with industry specifications in mind, we’re always keeping our eye on the opportunity to produce limited-edition specialty and custom products for customers.”

  The company currently uses a partner malting facility, but plans to establish one of its own in central Ohio so, as Thorne puts it, the supply chain shortens to “300 miles from seed-to-sip.”

  At press time, Origin Malt’s products are used in more than 50 beers and spirits, as well as health foods, baked goods and other items. To help producers explore the possibilities, the team frequently hosts beer dinners and “Seed-to-Sip Malt Schools” with brewing and distilling partners using a Hot Steep method to evaluate aroma and flavor.

A Boom for Midwest Agriconomy

  Puffin is sourced from directly-contracted family farms in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. Growers in New York are interested, too. Producers in search of a reliable winter cover cash crop have an advantage with Puffin not only because of its cold heartiness and disease resistance, but also its ability to help reduce soil erosion and runoff, improve terroir and water quality, and provide wildlife habitat.

  “By growing winter malting barley in combination with double-cropping soybeans, farms can reduce soil erosion and phosphorous runoff by as much as 80%. This is significant since we’re growing in the Great Lakes region, and phosphorous is the primary feed for algae blooms,” Thorne said. “I didn’t anticipate this being a major discovery that reinforces our commitment to conservation and sustainability.”

Origin Malt expects a 2019–2020 harvest of 10,000 acres, but the five-year projection is 75,000.

  “Puffin has a rich European heritage, and has had amazing results since we began producing and testing the variety—initially a cup of seed—nearly a decade ago,” Thorne said. “Our process and demonstrated commitment to bringing malting barley varieties to large has inspired more interest in our region from seed breeders who have been more focused on developing varieties suited to grow in other regions around the world.” 

  Reintroducing an integral ingredient in a multi-level supply line isn’t without risk, but Hagerty thinks Origin Malt’s best practices are factors growers and crafters can trust.

  “Every crop year can yield slightly different results, and it’s up to us—the maltster—to manage how we adapt and uphold our specifications and adjust our malting protocols. I’m a big believer in that it comes down to how you’re educating and keeping your customer informed—as that relationship needs to be lock-step to make sure that everyone can do their best,” she said.

  “We’re very focused on risk management, which is why we’re strategic in where we grow and how we develop and diversify our growing region,” Hagerty told Beverage Master Magazine. “That being said, if barley volumes or quality were low, there’s an established global market for high-quality malting barley that Origin Malt could procure. Maintaining those secondary-sourcing relationships is something we already have in place in case of a North American shortage or crop failure.”

  Thorne said weather is the challenge he worries about most, but cannot control. “To mitigate the risk of weather damaging our crops, we’re committed to spreading our seed across a several-hundred-mile range from Illinois to the Atlantic coast.”

  The company’s agriconomy roots will filter even deeper in the coming years. “When our plant is at capacity, we’ll be ‘reshoring’ tens of millions of dollars every year from the local researchers, seed sales, malting barley production, agronomists, local storage and transportation, and our malting facility,” said Thorne. “Total economic impact will exceed $2 billion from seed-to-sip.”

  He said he loves all the people Origin Malt works with, “aligning every day to make this a success. I’m driven by the potential to make a sustaining impact on an important supply chain.”

  Hagerty is always excited by the “amazing products made with our malt and watching consumers learn about our supply chain and the processes and products that come as a collaborative effort between Origin Malt, barley growers and our brewing and distilling customers.”

  “The value that our malt house has is in the ability for our future facility and the agricultural economy to tie in more deeply with the craft beverage movement, and most critically with craft beverage consumers,” she said. “Sustainability isn’t just an outlook for the short term, but a long-term goal that will continue to be challenged and achieved with the efforts of our team, our growers, our brewing and distilling customers, and, most importantly, consumers who seek to support American agriculture.”


aerial view of a facility

Virgil Gamache Farms, Inc. is a leading organic hop farm in the heart of the Yakima Valley. The Gamache family began farming in here in the Yakima Valley in 1913. They called their first farm “the Sunshine Ranch.” Here the company’s founder, Virgil W. Gamache spent his formative years. The family raised alfalfa, wheat, corn, potatoes, apples and grapes.

  With the end of Prohibition in 1932, the Gamaches lost no time in planting hops. In the mid 1940’s Virgil and his brother Francis took over the farm. Virgil eventually became sole proprietor. Not long after, Mr. Gamache incorporated the family business as Virgil Gamache Farms, Inc.  The family worked hard over the years to bring this thriving organic hop farm to its ninth decade of production. The growth at the farm and the industry as a whole today, would no doubt astound even Mr. Gamache.


  Mr. Gamache himself witnessed the beginning of a new chapter for the farm. In 1997 the Gamaches discovered a brand new hop variety. The family designated this intriguing hop variety as “VGXP01,” in honor of Mr. Gamache.

  So with this new discovery, the family began to market the carefully cultivated, organically grown VGXP01 hops as “Amarillo® brand.”  Amarillo® hops are hugely popular with craft brewers. Brewers apreciate Amarillo® hops for their complex and delightful aromatic characteristics, including citrus, floral, tropical fruit and spice tones.

   Thus, Virgil Gamache Farms and its Amarillo® brand launched a period of tremendous growth, paralleling that of the booming craft brewing industry. With that, the operation has grown from a small 15 acre ranch in 1932 to an organic hop farm of over 1,000 acres today. In addition, VGF, Inc.’s auxiliary production program produces under license an additionally significant volume of Amarillo® brand hops. VGF partner farmers grow Amarillo® hops all across the Pacific Northwest–in Washington, Oregon and Idaho–as well as multiple regions in Germany.


  VGF’s operations have not only grown in scale and geographic area, but also in creativity and in use of new technology. Originally hops were all cultivated and gathered by hand, with help from industrious native Americans and other neighbors. Today, the operation is highly mechanized and automated. In addition, VGF’s lab monitors hop quality to assure ideal harvest time. Thus, today’s VGF continues its relentless pursuit of producing great hops for great brewers, in a growing craft brewing community.

  In summary, while embracing the future we also honor our past. Our founder Virgil W. Gamache’s life-long love of farming empowered him to celebrate his 100th birthday. Though Virgil is no longer with us, his spirit of hard work and innovation lives on. You see it in his sons and grandchildren who continue the tradition. It is a tradition of excellence that defines Virgil Gamache Farms to this day.



  The Gamache family have a love for the Pacific Northwest. It began when great grandfather Albert Gamache first settled in the Yakima Valley in 1880’s. That love of the land is demonstrated in the sense of stewardship that guides the everyday work at Virgil Gamache Farms.

  An important way to respect the land is through organic farming. As a certified, organic hop farm, our best practices include composting and returning all vines and organic farm matter to the earth. We plant triticale, a natural grain ground cover, between the hop rows to protect the soil from erosion. The triticale crop returns organic matter to the soil as workers till it back at the end of the growing season.  It also support organic hop farming by reducing the soil temperature and reducing the spread of wind and dust-borne pests.


  Finally, the Gamache family knows that water is a precious resource. VGF makes the most efficient use of water with drip irrigation. Wireless controlled water valves direct the limited water resources specifically where needed and in just the right amounts. VGF takes care to recycle everything, including motor oils and discarded metals.  All these practices work to ensure the legacy of founder Virgil Gamache and protects our beautiful Yakima Valley. 

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HOP SENSORY: Benefit to Growers & Brewers

people having beer taste test

Just because something is fun to do, doesn’t mean there isn’t a robust science involved. Case in point: beer sensory. My relatives like to joke that they also studied beer sensory in college, but I think the readers will be aware of the difference between running a carefully randomized tetrad test and doing a keg stand on a football player’s front porch. To properly conduct the science of beer sensory, you start by finding 16-or-so willing participants (shouldn’t be difficult) to undergo rigorous beer flavor training and validation. Through this training and validation, you ensure that everyone is speaking the same flavor language, describing specific flavor-active compounds in agreed-upon terms.

  While technology has come a long way in helping us describe the chemical reactions taking place on brew day, quantitative data from analytical equipment falls short in describing the sensory experience of drinking a given beer – good news for your 16-or-so panelists. The human nose is capable of detecting millions of aromas, and more importantly, humans are capable of linking these aromas to incredibly specific real-world objects like guavas or jasmine flowers. It’s an impressive feat, and in this particular battle of Human vs Machine, we’re winning. 

Beer Sensory in a Hop Context

  Beer sensory is important to the industry, but it’s far too time consuming and resource intensive to assess every lot of hops during harvest this way. Enter: hop sensory. The process of gathering and training panelists is similar to that of beer sensory, but the results are produced a lot faster; thousands of samples can be assessed within a harvest period. This allows for ruined harvest lots to be eliminated from the get-go before expensive resources go into processing them. Hop sensory produces a clear snapshot of different varieties from different growers, harvested on different days, so that brewers participating in hop selection can get exactly the product they’re looking for each crop year. Using this data, we can reveal how the sensory characteristics of each variety are evolving over time.

  However, due to thousands of reactions that take place during brewing, the key aromatic compounds identified in hops have undergone many changes by the time they make it into the final product, if they even make it at all. When brewing, hop compounds are modified by thermal reactions, yeast biotransformation, chemical conversions such as oxidation/reduction, hydrolysis, isomerization, ester exchange, and even evaporation. During fermentation, for example, yeast metabolic activity will biotransform geraniol (a bed of roses) into β-citronellol (zesty lemon), completely changing the aroma characteristics of the beer. So, it’s not only necessary to apply sensory to hop aroma, it’s vital to also focus on the aroma compounds present in the end product – the beer brewed with these hops, to fully understand which hop characteristics are of the greatest importance to brewers. 

  To complicate matters further, brewing components like malt and yeast contribute to flavor in varying degrees depending on the beer style, and hops contribute non-aroma characteristics to beer such as bitterness, mouthfeel, and haze, all of which are important to monitor and assess in order to fully understand a hop’s full contribution to beer.

Benefit to Growers

  Hop growers are beginning to identify the specific genes responsible for producing certain flavor compounds and can use beer sensory data to zero in on the ones that actually make it into the final product.

Beer sensory assessment acts as a helpful stage in filtering through the thousands of experimental varieties that breeders develop to determine the lucky few that will be planted on a large scale and eventually released to the public. The whole process of new varietal development takes upwards of 12 years, with only one in every 10,000 new hop varieties ever making it to market. This lengthy, arduous, and resource heavy process relies on sound assurances that beer drinkers will embrace a new hop, in turn giving brewers a reason to welcome it onto their brewing schedule.

  At the other end, when growers wish to tweak production to increase efficiency, beer sensory can make sure that any changes have not negatively impacted sensory attributes of the final product. From optimizing harvest windows to dialing in the perfect kiln temperature, growers use beer sensory feedback to guide the decision-making process.

Benefit to Brewers

  Brewers ask a lot of questions. How do I get my beer to taste like starfruit? When in the process should I add hops to achieve a perfect balance between fruity and bitter? How will dry-hopped beer behave over time in different storage conditions? Answers to such questions are critical for success, but not all commercial brewers have the luxury of committing precious resources to pilot brews in order to find them. Beer sensory scientists can glean important information from brewing the exact same beer multiple times, tweaking only single aspects (like hop variety, hop addition timing, or storage conditions). The results of sensory analysis on these experiments can be passed to brewers, saving them time and capital, and optimizing the quality of their outputs. 

  The results of beer sensory studies also help brewers by guiding hop blend development to meet specific market demands. For example, an additive effect has been found to exist whereby the coexistence of linalool, geraniol, and β-citronellol creates a strong flavor impression of lime – crucial information in a time where citrus flavors in beer are fervidly sought, making access to hop products developed using this information incredibly valuable.

  To put it simply, brewers just want to make good beer that people like, and sensory assessment is one weapon in the arsenal that can be used towards that goal.

The Circle of Sensory

  Hops growers, brewers, and the beer market are linked in a never-ending feedback cycle. Growers develop and produce a hop variety, brewers use it to make the best beer they can, and the market lets us know what they think with their dollars. That information gets passed back to growers, who can adjust according to what the people want.

  And the stitches linking this whole process together? You guessed it. Beer sensory.

  Written by Tessa Schilaty, Sensory Coordinator at Yakima Chief Hops

  At Yakima Chief Hops, we have invested in a robust hop and beer sensory program, dedicating time and resources to gathering this valuable information in-house that we then share with our industry partners. Trained YCH staff members from all areas of the company meet regularly to taste, sniff and evaluate various beers and hop varieties with the guidance of our own Technical and Brewing Innovations teams. Drinking beer is a tough job, but our employees are happy to take one for the team!