Getting to Know Beer’s Key Ingredients: Barley growers say, “If there is no barley, then there is no beer.”

By: Cheryl Gray

Barley has been around for some 10,000 years. When this ancient grain was introduced in the United States, in New England during the 17th century, it was produced specially to quench the thirst of colonists who wanted to make beer.

  Malted barley remains the key ingredient in the world’s oldest and most consumed alcoholic beverage. Today, the market for malting barley is directly impacted by the weather and economy of the area where it grows. In the U.S., 90% of barley grows throughout the Northern Plains into the Pacific Northwest. The climate of this region is colder and arider, ideal conditions for producing the high-quality barley needed for brewing beer.

Grown Under Contract

  Virtually all U.S. malting barley is grown under contract with a brewer or maltster. Those contracts generally call for specific varieties demanded by breweries—typically two-row or six-row. Breweries determine what barley varieties they need based upon brewing techniques, cost and the desired flavor of the finished product. Many craft brewers prefer to brew beers using directly sourced ingredients and will partner with local barley growers, eventually using the “locally grown” angle in their product marketing. 

  Barley growers generally seek contracts that secure price premiums in exchange for growing a specific barley variety. Those premium prices help the grower offset the higher production costs tied to a lower-yielding crop. Developing a dedicated crop of malting barley is not without substantial risk. Bad weather and disease can destroy an otherwise profitable yield. Any product that doesn’t make the grade gets relegated to the feed market and downgraded in price, which for the grower can be half or less of the original crop value.

The Value of American-Grown Barley

  According to The Brewers Association, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Colorado and Wyoming are the top five states producing barley for malting. These regions use the power of science, technology, economics and strategic planning to gain an edge in a marketplace that is increasingly global.

  The U.S. Grains Council helps track the journey of America’s barley crop from farm to glass around the world. Its latest statistics reveal that American-grown barley accounts for more than 190 million barrels of annual beer production in the U.S. alone. Foreign markets, including Mexico, are taking notice. Under NAFTA, malted barley from the U.S. enters Mexico duty-free. That is an attractive option to Mexico’s breweries, which depend upon imported malted barley because Mexico has no way to produce it independently. According to the Grains Council, Mexico purchased more than 18 million bushels of barley, worth $209 million in its most recent purchasing year.

  It is that buying potential that makes global markets attractive to the U.S. malting barley industry. Brian Sorenson, Program Director for the Northern Crop Institute of North Dakota State University, said that in addition to its research-driven programs and courses, the NCI plays a critical role in connecting barley breeders, scientists and growers with buyers and processors worldwide.

  “NCI helps to bring U.S. barley growers in touch with global markets by providing courses to educate grain buyers on how the U.S. grain handling and trading systems function,” Sorenson said. “NCI’s Grain Procurement Management for Importers Course is held each September and typically educates over 30 participants (mostly from overseas) on how to purchase high-quality grains from the U.S. and showcases the crops produced in the Northern Great Plains states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana.” 

  The NCI is also a significant player in the science and research designed to help stakeholders reach what Sorenson describes as the ultimate goal: to produce optimal quality malting barley for brewing consistent, top-quality beer.

  “It is important for each of those involved to understand what the other players contend within their particular role,” said Sorenson. “Developing new barley varieties that can make it possible for farmers to grow and deliver the quality needed by the maltster profitably, and ultimately, the brewer is an extremely difficult set of tasks. Barley breeders work hard to stay ahead of the changing agronomic challenges, such as crop diseases, as well as the need for high production yield, and at the same time satisfy the quality demands of the end-users.”

  Quality control factors include color and kernel plumpness, protein content, moisture, skinned or broken kernels, and sprout damage.

Breeding Strong Varietals

  Science is the universal language in barley breeding, and Dr. Paul Schwarz is among the leaders in research, development and breeding applications for the malted barley industry. He is a professor at NDSU’s Department of Plant Sciences, specializing in the area of malting barley quality. NDSU has a barley breeding program, as do other land grant universities in barley producing states. 

  Dr. Schwarz told Beverage Master Magazine that science has a pivotal role in breeding new varieties of malting barley as well as sustaining the successes of current ones. 

  “Breeding is the application of several branches of science including biology, genetics-genomics, biochemistry and statistics,” said Schwarz. “Barley breeding has closely followed developments in science and often uses the newest tools. As an example, in the past, breeders would make a cross and then have to screen thousands of progeny in the field or lab to select the most desirable. Today, with advances in genomics, they can identify genes of importance and use DNA techniques to screen lines that have desired traits.”   

  Schwarz also stresses that the breeding process combines the expertise of scientists across multiple fields. “When we think breeding, we think breeder,” he said. “However, the development of new varieties is a team effort. In the past, it has involved the breeder/geneticist, an agronomist, a plant pathologist, and maybe an end product specialist (cereal chemist) to evaluate malting quality. Today, this list has expanded to include a molecular biologist and often a bio-informaticist

[to handle the large amounts of data gathered]


Fusarium Head Blight

  One of the biggest threats to a barley crop that NDSU and other land-grant schools try to combat on behalf of barley growers is fusarium head blight, also known as “head scab.” This disease infects the head of the crops, reducing grain yield and impacting the producer’s bottom line. While FHB is more prevalent in humid, wetter climates such as the eastern U.S., in recent years, changing weather patterns have forced barley growers as far as the Northern Plains to begin routinely safeguarding their crops using fungicides. Malting companies across the country sample and grade every truckload of barley coming into receiving stations, regularly deploying stringent and frequent testing for FHB and its accompanying mycotoxin contamination. 

  There are assessment tools that can predict weather patterns and other factors in any region of the U.S. where FHB is likely to develop. FHB forums are held around the country, including those spearheaded by the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative. This group also coordinates research projects aimed at combining current data with new exploratory channels designed to develop tools and strategies to reduce FHB and mycotoxin contamination. The research benefits barley producers, malting companies, and the breweries that use malted barley.

Advocating for Growers

  Such potential risks for barley growers are among the subjects on the agenda of the National Barley Growers Association, which advocates for public policy on behalf of its members. Dale Thorenson, a former North Dakota farmer, is an agricultural lobbyist with Gordley Associates and an officer in the National Barley Growers Association.

  “NBGA has worked to try to keep farm policy equitable between crops so that the market price determines what crops – including barley – are grown, rather than farm policy,” Thorenson told Beverage Master Magazine. “This includes having a viable federal crop insurance policy available for barley including the malt barley endorsement, which provides coverage based on the malt price rather than the underlying feed value for barley. It’s also important for barley growers and the malt and beer industry that adequate funding is appropriated every year for the wheat and barley scab initiative, so that research continues on methods to combat fusarium head blight. Finally, NBGA has joined with the malt and beer industry to support equitable excise tax rates for beer, and the coalition was successful in getting the Craft Beer Modernization & Tax Reform Act (CBMTRA) included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. That reform expires at the end of 2019, and we are still working at getting this legislation extended into future years.”

Seeking Satisfaction

  Public policy, scientific applications and emerging markets create a unique mix for malting barley growers, whose success is measured by consistently producing successful crops that satisfy maltsters and breweries who, in turn, seek to satisfy the tastes of beer consumers.

The Golden Age of Hops and Beer: The Fine Art of Choosing a Hop

By: Robin Dohrn- Simpson

Choosing the right hops can be a complicated task. Some breweries choose hops based on past agreements – they have long-standing relationships with growers they feel confident will provide what they need, at the highest quality. Some search out their hops based on geography, based on knowledge of which plant grows better in Washington than in Oregon or Idaho. Some experiment with hops growers who are creating new varieties and bringing them to market. Others just want a Citra, or an Alpha, or a Cascade, and make a spot purchase. Whichever path they choose, what truly matters is the quality of the hop and the right varietal for the beer.

Purchasing Based on Terroir

  Thomas Bleigh, Innovation Brewmaster at Craft Brew Alliance’s Ph Experiment in Oregon, chooses his hops based on the terroir.

  “While I don’t have any empirical evidence to support this, I, historically, have had a preference for Oregon-grown vs. Washington-grown Cascade hops. Much of it was the most likely narrative for the beer that we produced, but we did run trials on Cascade in our flagship single-hop Cascade Ale, and we found a preference in one supplier,” Bleigh said. “Much of this would have been tied to a qualitative raw source, but we also believed that processing played a role in the character of the hop.”

  Despite Bleigh’s preference for Oregon-grown, the CBA doesn’t limit themselves to hops from one state over another, instead, focusing on locally sourced ingredients. This is undoubtedly the case at their Redhook brewpub in Seattle.

  “Currently, our Redhook BrewLab is working on a series called Washington Native that focuses on Washington sourced malts and salmon-safe sourced Washington hops,” said Bleigh. “That project is an interesting example of trying to tease our nuance based on regional distinction. One of the challenges is that while Pacific Northwest breweries are hyper-aware and engaged in local sourcing, we are also mindful that these hops service the majority of domestic craft.”

  Hop varietals, just like any plant, thrive in some regions over others. At the same time, varietals that thrive in any environment can develop characteristics based on the soil and weather of the area where they grow. Terroir is often spoken of regarding winegrapes but can also be applied to other crops, particularly those involved in the creation of alcoholic beverages.

  “Yakima, given its dry climate, is a much better growing region for higher alpha hop varieties and Nuevo IPA hop varieties. These proprietary hops (such as Citra, Mosaic, Azacca) all fare better in Washington than they do in Oregon. Idaho presents an interesting domestic terroir character, and they have now surpassed Oregon for hops produced and are becoming more of a geographic force in the industry,” Bleigh said.

  Larry Sidor, Co-Founder, Master Brewer and CEO at Crux Fermentation Project in Bend Oregon, knows hops and appreciates why different regions and growers yield a range of characteristics.

  “Terroir, climate conditions during kilning, as well as processing methods post field harvest make all the difference. When hops are dried in Oregon the ambient temperatures are lower than Washington, but the humidity is higher, yielding significant differences. Methods of preserving the hops differ quite widely and can contribute different nuances. An example is “farmer bales” that are dried, packed loosely, and then stored in barns. Books can and have been written about all the differences. The resulting beer is also different,” Sidor said.

  Sidor does have a preference, however. “Being a native Oregonian, my belief and preference is that Willamette Valley grown hops are the best in the world. I may be a bit biased, I’ve brewed with hops from every major hop growing region in the world, so that should count for something,”

  Christian DeBenedetti of Wolves and People Brewery in Newberg, Oregon, feels that the amount of sensory and flavor research and description in the industry is at an all-time high. His brewery wants growers with proven track records and a full grasp on their fields and crops.

  “Hops are almost like wine varietals at this point. There are so many interesting old and new varieties being cultivated with real care, and we definitely look to favored growers who can communicate accurately about their hops and lots. They vary by year and even by the lot, because of variations in soil and site. So we’re looking for a combination of characteristics we can bring forward in a well-made beer,” DeBenedetti said. “Soil chemistry and farming techniques both affect hop flavor. Take Cascade, for example, a classic aroma hop. In Oregon and Washington, it tends to grapefruit and pine. In New Zealand, which is free of the sort of pests that plague other growing regions, it’s often more melon-like. This is due to the soil it’s grown in. This a perfect reflection of terroir in beer.”

Which Comes First, the Hops or the Brew?

  Brewers vary in their approach to creating a beer recipe. Sometimes, an idea for a new brew will come to them, and they will search out the ingredients to make it. Other times, it’s the ingredients themselves that inspire a recipe.

  At Crux Fermentation Project, Sidor prefers experimenting with hops and letting them do the talking. “I don’t brew a beer until I’ve acquired the materials to brew it,” he said. “Once they are acquired, I then look for the best way to utilize them in a formulation. Crux tends to bring in a dozen or so new hops every year with the intent of experimenting with them using this approach. I don’t have an idea about a brew when I purchase a hop. I typically brew a single-hop brew to get a feel for the hop. The result is usually a very one-dimensional beer that isn’t very interesting. This doesn’t mean the hop is bad; it means that other hops are needed in the brew to make it shine.

  A good example of this is the Strata hop. By itself, it is very one dimensional, when in combination with other hops, it’s a rock star. One hop that seems to shine all by itself is the Sabro hop. Have only brewed one brew so far, but as a single hop brew, the Sabro delivered a very layered and interesting beer. In short, you need to let the hop tell you what beers it’s going to shine in.”

  Wolves and People Brewery has built beers around individual hops. “There are new aroma varieties that play up fruity, tropical aromas like passionfruit, lychee, coconut and mango. We want those traits to be front and center, so we build a recipe almost like a stage to pop those bright, high-tone aromas to the fore. Sometimes we’re doing the complete opposite. We want a beer that has spice character, some old-world bitterness and aroma, then we go looking for those varieties and use what’s freshest,” DeBenedetti said.

Experimental Hops

  Joe Catron, “Hoperations” Manager at Yakima Chief Ranches, feels right now is the Golden Age of hops and beer. Three hop farming families created Yakima Chief with the sole purpose of creating new world-class hops varieties and bringing them to market. The process of creating a new hop takes up to a decade and can cost upwards of a million dollars from cross-pollination, to market research, to placement in the marketplace. The ranch releases one new hop approximately every year.

  “We make several crosses each year and generally result in 30-50,000 seedlings in any given year,” Catron told Beverage Master Magazine. “In my seven years working here we have released five varieties: four flavoring and aroma for the American scene and one super alpha hop for bittering for the big macro brewers.”

  Yakima Chief has experienced immense growth over the years. When Catron started in 2013, there were three owner-growers and 900 acres planted. As of 2019, there are now 45 farms in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, with 15,000 acres managed.

  The ranch applies a “fail fast” mentality. They run a hop through the gamut, and if it doesn’t check off all the boxes, it goes to the scrap heap. However, they did have a quasi-flop that eventually became a success.

  “The Simco hop was released 20 years ago as a dual purpose hop alpha and aroma. We couldn’t give it away. Some said it was too pungent, punchy and dank. We were going to tear down the bines, but Russian River Brewing found it and liked it, and it became a champion in the beer called Pliny the Elder. Vinny, the head brewer is a cult hero amongst brewers. He helped to save the variety, and now there are 3,000 acres of this hop planted. It was definitely before it’s time and needed a new audience,” Catron said.

  Crux Fermentation’s Sidor has seen experimentation change the hops market throughout his career, due to the increase in craft brewing and the demand for the next big thing.

  “When I started brewing, only Cluster and Fuggle were available. You could bring in hops from Europe, but most were at a state of oxidation higher than acceptable,” he said. “My concern now is, can the hop breeder keep up with the customer demand for ‘what’s new?’ Remember that Cascade was revolutionary in the 1970s, Citra 40 years later, Galaxy 5 years after that. The thing that has accelerated hop breeding is the customer demand, the technical tools now available to the hop researcher, and the money available to do the research. My only concern is that not enough money is being spent on breeding public varieties by the USDA.” 

  Craft Brew Alliance’s pH Experiment specializes in trying new things, and Bleigh enjoys testing hop varieties. “We are heavily invested in trialing new hop varieties and working with the Hop Research Council to explore new varietals and to support public breeding of hops. Our initial explorations have shaped our early pioneering interest in hops like Citra and Galaxy, which have very specific tropical hop characters that are signature hops in some of our brands,” he said.

  Hops play an essential role in the craft beer industry, helping create distinct brews with complimentary varietal combinations and terroir. With a high demand for more hops and hops growers, and places like Yakima Chief Ranch creating new cross breeds nearly every year, the U.S. hops industry can only continue to bloom.

“American hops is the world leader right now. It’s a special time to be alive,” Catron said.

Crafting Marijuana Policies? Managing Employees in the Wake of Legalized Marijuana

By: Amy Lessa and Nicole Stenoish, Attorneys At Law, Fisher Phillips

Marijuana legalization is on the rise and quickly expanding to all corners of the United States. Nearly 2/3 of the states have legalized marijuana for either recreational or medicinal use.  Currently, 11 states and the District of Columbia allow recreational marijuana, and an additional 22 states allow medical marijuana. These numbers are expected to grow over the next few years as the societal and political perspectives on cannabis continue to shift in favor of legalization.

Despite this shift, marijuana still remains an illegal Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act – in direct contrast with legalized marijuana at the state level.  Although federal law is superior to state law, businesses must comply with both – even if federal and state laws conflict with one another. The chronic dispute between state and federal marijuana laws has left many employers confused about how to handle marijuana use in the workplace.  We’re here to clear the smoke.

Legalized Marijuana – What Can-a-Business Do?

Marijuana laws are constantly evolving and continue to be challenged in courts across the country. This makes it difficult to keep up with the requirements and limitations of legalized marijuana under both state and federal law.

Many employers are now questioning whether their workplace marijuana policies and practices should be revised.  Before deciding what policy is best for your company, it is important to understand the law in your state.  A company’s policies should also reflect the specific needs and challenges of the business and workforce.  For example, many craft brewery owners report they can no longer test for cannabis because most of their applicants cannot pass the drug test at the pre-employment stage. That could leave a brewery without a workforce.  As a result, Company’s should decide whether it makes sense to continue testing for cannabis in their pre-employment drug screens.  Other issues relevant to this determination are whether your employees operate heavy machinery or work in safety sensitive positions, and are you having difficulty recruiting qualified candidates for your company?

There are several key issues the keep in mind when determining the best marijuana policies and practices for your workforce:

  1. Maintain a Drug-Free Workplace

Employers are entitled to maintain specific policies related to marijuana use in the workplace, including drug-free workplace and zero-tolerance policies.  Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, employers can strictly prohibit marijuana at work.  Employees can be disciplined, and even terminated, for coming to work under the influence, possessing marijuana on company premises, or using marijuana while at work – even in states where marijuana is legal.  In most states, companies also have the right to test employees for drug use, and can discipline or terminate employees for violation of the drug-free workplace policy. Before implementing a zero-tolerance policy, make sure your state does not specifically protect medical marijuana users or prevent employers from disciplining workers for legal off-duty conduct. Otherwise, drug-free workplace policies are essential to help protect your business and manage employees in the wake of legalized marijuana.

  1. Review Drug Testing Policies

Employers can typically require employee drug testing throughout employment. The different types of testing including pre-employment drug testing, random drug testing, reasonable suspicion drug testing, and post-accident drug testing depending on state laws.  Employers with mandatory drug testing policies need to ensure they follow specific state laws restricting disciplinary action based on positive test results.  Additionally, employers are prohibited from administering drug tests as a form of discipline or for retaliatory purposes. There are several other issues to consider when reviewing your company’s drug testing policies.

First, the science used to test for marijuana has been slow to catch up with increased legalization. While there are testing methodologies currently in development, there is no test to determine whether an individual is presently under the influence of marijuana. Marijuana can remain in one’s system for weeks, and an employee could test positive for marijuana even if it was consumed outside of work and had no impact on the employee’s job performance. This creates potential issues for employers when drug testing employees who have medical marijuana prescriptions, or in states where recreational marijuana is allowed.

Also, many states have laws that provide protections for engaging in legal off-duty conduct.  These laws prohibit employers from considering an employee’s lawful conduct outside of work for purposes of making employment decisions.  For example, in states where recreational marijuana is legal, the consumption of marijuana outside of work hours could be considered lawful off-duty conduct, and an employer could be prohibited from using an employee’s positive drug test for purposes of making an adverse employment decision. Although this issue remains largely untested by the courts, and employers are currently allowed to make certain employment decisions based on drug test results, we anticipate that employee drug test results will be challenged by lawful off-duty conduct laws in the years to come.

Furthermore, employers in a limited number of states may need to accommodate medical marijuana usage by employees. In those circumstances, employers are prohibited from making employment decisions based on an employee’s positive test result, depending on the nature of the employee’s particular position and job duties.

Pre-employment Drug Testing

Companies are generally allowed to require drug testing as a condition of employment, and can deny employment based on positive test results.  However, some states limit pre-employment drug testing for medical marijuana users, and other states have anti-discrimination laws for pre-employment drug test results.

Interestingly, an increasing number of companies, including those in the craft beverage industries, are eliminating pre-employment drug testing because of difficulties it can pose in finding employees who can pass the test.  As a result, some employers are softening their drug testing policies or removing marijuana from the list of drugs tested for. However, softening the stance on pre-employment marijuana drug testing may not be a viable option for companies with employees working in safety-sensitive positions, or companies with insurance policies or government contracts that specifically require employee drug testing.

Drug Testing During Employment

Employers may also consider random drug testing, reasonable suspicion drug testing, and post-accident drug testing of employees. Random drug testing is only allowed in some states and often limited to employees in specific, narrowly defined classifications – such as employees working in safety sensitive positions.  Almost all states allow employers to drug test employees if there is reasonable suspicion that an employee is impaired on the job.  Reasonable suspicion must be more than a hunch, and employers should be able to articulate the employee’s specific conduct or behaviors that led the employer to suspect impairment on the job.  Employers can also conduct post-accident drug testing following a workplace injury or accident, but only for employees whose impairment or drug use could have contributed to the incident.

Overall, companies should review state-specific laws and consider the specific needs and challenges of their workforce when reviewing or revising drug testing policies and practices.  And you should always put drug testing policies in writing, distribute to your employees, and enforce the policies uniformly.

  1. Accommodation of Medical Marijuana Varies by State

Generally, employers do not need to accommodate medical marijuana in the workplace. However, this could soon change. Courts in several states have recently indicated that accommodating an employee’s medical marijuana use may be appropriate in certain situations.  Employers already must engage their employees in the interactive process to explore reasonable accommodations for known disabilities of an employee. In some circumstances, this could mean accommodating medical marijuana use if it is determined to be a reasonable accommodation that does not create an undue hardship on the Company. Before doing so, however, employers should consult with qualified legal counsel.

Employers also need to be careful when disciplining medical marijuana users. Several states have specific laws protecting medical cannabis patients from employment discrimination. Medical marijuana patients in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, for example, have already won lawsuits against companies that rescinded job offers or fired workers because of positive tests for cannabis. Medical marijuana laws are continuing to evolve, and protections for medical marijuana users are likely to increase.

Conclusion – Best Practices

An increasing number of states have legalized medical or recreational marijuana, yet the federal government continues to classify marijuana as an illegal drug. This conflict between state and federal law is not likely to be resolved anytime soon. In the meantime, employers should follow several best practices to manage employees where marijuana has been legalized.

Companies should carefully review these issues and create policies that balance legal compliance with the specific needs of the business. Until the conflict between state and federal law is resolved, this includes:

  • Stay up to date with evolving marijuana laws.
  • Determine specific requirements for drug testing and medical marijuana in each state in which your company has employees.
  • Develop state-compliant workplace drug policies that are appropriate for your business.
  • Confirm your drug testing policies in writing, distribute to employees, and apply the policies uniformly.
  • Consider eliminating strict drug testing practices in favor of reasonable suspicion drug testing.
  • Determine if you will test applicants for marijuana use or not.
  • Contact legal counsel if any specific concerns or incidents arise within your workforce.

If your company follows these simple guidelines for managing employees in the wake of legalized marijuana, you will be in a good position to adapt while protecting your business as marijuana legalization continues to evolve in the coming years.

For questions on specific state laws, consult with an attorney.

  Amy Lessa and Nicole Stenoish are attorneys in the San Diego office of Fisher Phillips.  Amy and Nicole counsel and defend employers, including breweries in employment law matters. They can be reached at and

New Water Technologies for Hops Growing and Brewing

By: Kimberly Fontenot

If there is one thing craft beer growers, all brewers and drinkers can agree on it is that beer is made up to 95% water.  The link to hops growers is water is also an essential component needed to grow the hops and barley .  Water allows the hops to be turned into a beer that is rich and aromatic which may be one of the reasons why in 2019, the craft beverage market just keeps on growing.

However, there has recently been changes in the environment and climate that is grabbing the attention of both the hops growers and brewer industries because some of those changes are creating higher prices for hops which means there is a reduction of hops availability overall and some brewers and growers are even going out of business because they cannot compete when prices skyrocket, if a growing season is decimated by the weather or if a technologically enhanced competitor enters their market and is able to do more sales with less overhead costs.

Today brewers and growers are moving forward together to find environmentally enhancing technologies and systems to help grow hops and brew them effectively and efficiently.  Working together has taught them much and allowed them to start moving forward in ways they never even thought of previously.  One of those forward movements includes utilizing public and private funding which is now available to find innovative ways to configure water irrigation for hops growing and waste water used by brewers to treat and process the hops.


In the past hop growers worked with the knowledge that since hops are deep-rooted plants and their feeder root system they had to be kept moist during very vital growth and development time frames.  Therefore, access to dependable and plenteous water for irrigation purposes is one of the most important assets needed for healthy hops to grow.

Brewers on the other hand, understood that any wastewater they created after treating the hops was usually discharged to a municipal treatment center and most do not have any pre-treatment installed at their facility to treat the wastewater prior to the municipal discharge.  What’s more a lot of them pay an extra surcharge based on the wastewater strength (BOD and TSS).

To find out if growers and brewers were trying to eliminate some of these ongoing issues by implementing innovative technologies which may help them create more plentiful hops and better tasting craft beverages, we found one of the main sources for hops information through the Hops Growers of America/US Hop Industry Plant Protection Committee’s Executive Director, Ann George.

The main query revolved around if there is new technology which uses the best water data or science tools for premium hop growing and Ms. George stated, “Yes, soil profile moisture monitoring ensures precise application of water as needed by the plant, based on soil condition, plant growth stage and weather.”

Something else Ms. George asserted is that there is a sense of pride in helping the environment by using drip irrigation systems in hops growing as “runoff is not an issue due to its use which benefits the plant and soil and ultimately the environment. What’s more leaked water loss on-farm is minimal”

Proper irrigation is always critical when growing hops and at this time, most seem to be utilizing the drip irrigation system.  However, there are still some who are committed to using and keeping the overhead sprinkler system which is understandable as both do offer advantages to hops grower. However, for environmentally conducive systems and overall efficiency, drip irrigation is usually recommended because overhead irrigation can result in hops which have downy mildew and or powdery mildew ratios.  This occurs more frequently with overhead sprinkler systems which leads to diminished hops growth, viability, taste and can even destroy an entire crop.

Brewers on the other hand, have other types of water issues which originates in their malting and lautering practices and procedures.  To try to eliminate some of their waste water issues,  some brewers have built onsite water treatment plants which pretreats the biological and organic matter.  This enhances and improves the water they conduct to the municipal treatment plant lowering their overall costs.  There are some craft brewers that are now enabling anaerobic digestion which removes up to 90 percent of pollutants in their water, which in turn lowers their overall waste water costs when transported to municipal treatment centers.  Some breweries are even extracting useful substances from their waste water torrent and either use it or send it off to be used in fuel cells.  One brewer funded by a $1 million dollar grant to improve nitrogen reduction in their community wastewater, used hops weak wort to remove nitrate-nitrogen from the wastewater and after successful testing and results are now paid for their brewing wastewater as it provides the community a sustainable and cost-effective wastewater solution.

Ultimately, brewers have to decide for themselves, how best to compete both with other brewers and how to present themselves to customers in a way that highlights their competitive assets and advantages over other brewers.  In today’s market if you want to build your business, it is important to offer unique customer experiences and display business decisions that are based on fiscal and environmental responsibility.  Since, growers and brewers understand that their competition will keep searching for a competitive edge, they need to be diligent in finding ways they can become matchless in their technology improvement programs.


In 2016, the number of breweries grew to over 5,000 according to the Brewers Association.  The industry keeps growing yet within the United States there is some ongoing seasonal periods which are affecting both hops growers and brewers which consist of the environmental factors-draught or water deluge depending on what area of the country you reside.  To combat the unknown of the next season’s weather pattern, growers and brewers are learning how to do more with less water or are using more effective and efficient water technologies to help keep the hops crop plentiful thereby allowing for business profit.  These new technologies even come with the added bonus of giving back to the environment.

For instance, Pure Water Brew  is currently marketing craft beer made from reclaimed water in a pilot program which is designed to show proof of concept therefore the next step is to reproduce their success at a mass consumption level.  However, consumers may not take to it easily even with the environmentally friendly brewing technology, but it is a step in the right direction.  It also goes to show there are currently monetary competitions where brewers and growers can compete or apply to be awarded funding for trying new technologies that are innovative, adaptable and progressively based in water usage.


Growers who wish to develop and apply new ways to utilize water technologies for hops growing and brewing can look to the U.S. Government.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced nearly $89 million in available funding in 2019-2020 to support specialty crop growers which strengthen local and regional food and water systems and explore new market opportunities for farmers and ranchers.

Previously, one of the above grants offered through the above program, was for a grower who developed hops hydroponically.  Hydroponics to develops hops utilizes a method that doesn’t use soil at all while concentrating the hops flavors.  As an ultimate benefit it also saves water.  The end result means hops can be grown anywhere, no matter the environment or weather.  This assuages the hops shortages which happen year to year because of the unpredictability of weather and conditions.

To make sure that brewers were not left out of the funding equation additional resources have been created that provides new technological programs and assets that can be used to expand and enhance hops.

The Brewers Association (BA) recently awarded more than a half a million dollars in research grants to brewers of small and independent craft beer companies if they found a way to “further the development of a healthy and sustainable raw materials supply chain.”  This resulted in some very progressive and competitive breweries who began to look past their old ways and means of utilizing water for hops brewing to find ways they can increase water conservation and lower their water footprint.  One of the biggest advantages unexpectedly found in some of federal, state or privately awarded funding projects is that if hops wastewater is treated, it becomes an almost perfect medium for a brewer to use and create any taste or essence they want for their craft beverage creations.

Which goes to prove that some of the most flavorful beer can now be linked to new water technology which is environmentally accountable.  That is a win for the land, water, growers, brewers and all craft beer consumers.

Nelson-Jameson and 3M™: Driving the Fight Against Food Allergens

By: Nelson-Jameson

With industry demand calling for new innovations in allergen testing, Nelson-Jameson is proud to offer 3M Allergen Protein Rapid Test Kits.

These kits are a qualitative immunochromatographic assay for rapid in-plant monitoring of specific food allergens, and are designed for accurate detection of processed and unprocessed allergen proteins. With results available in 10 to 12 minutes, these fast, easy tests can be used for clean-in-place (CIP) final rinse water, environmental swab samples, raw ingredients and finished food products. We currently have the following test kits available: Almond, Bovine Total Milk, Cashew, Coconut, Egg White, Fish, Gluten, Hazelnut, Peanut, Pecan, Pistachio, Soy, and Walnut. All test kits include 25 tests per kit.

Nelson-Jameson also offers 3M’s line of Allergen Protein ELISA Test Kits for both processed and unprocessed target allergen proteins. For additional information visit or call us at: 800-826-8302.

Nelson-Jameson has been an integrated supplier for the dairy and food industry since 1947. Product lines include safety & personnel, production & material handling, sanitation & janitorial, processing & flow control, laboratory & QA/QC, and bulk packaging & ingredients. The company is headquartered in Marshfield, Wisconsin, with other locations in Turlock, California; Twin Falls, Idaho; York, Pennsylvania; Amarillo, Texas; and a sales branch in Chicago, Illinois.

Seed-to-Spirit: Growers and Distillers are Changing the Craft Beverage Market

By: Kimberly Fontenot

Ten years ago, an organic sweet cherry farmer, Brian Tennis, was looking for a new way forward—one that would differentiate him from other farms and would grow, develop and sustain his growing operation. He found what he was looking for in growing hops, and becoming part of the seed-to-spirit movement in the craft beverage market.

“Our farm is right on the 45th Parallel, the sweet spot for growing hops, so it was an easy decision despite never having farmed hops before,” said Tennis.

Tennis knew he needed to find a way to diversify and financially grow. “The immediate benefits to our changes were that it gave us an immediate crop to harvest, instead of waiting five to seven years, we could plant hops and have a crop the same year. It gave us a unique plant to grow for our region, as well as something that was relatively easy to grow and not overtly impacted by climate change,” he said. “The hurdles were the startup costs, the learning curve, equipment needs, and the fact that no one else in the state was growing hops on a commercial scale, so there was very little support or knowledge leveraging. It was also an untested market here in Michigan.”

Tennis is now President of the Michigan Hop Alliance and one of the many growers and distillers leading the craft beverage movement. He has learned a lot about the process along the way, and it was often not easy.

“Idiot tax is not cheap,” he said. “Hops were the first crop we tried to grow on a commercial scale and really had no background with this plant whatsoever. We had to purchase or build everything from the ground up — tractors, sprayers, water wells, a hop picker, as well as a hop dryer and pellet line. All this equipment was expensive and specialized. All this on top of trying to source hop plants and pick which varieties to select. Unfortunately, we purchased plants were supposed to be ‘clean,’ and they were found to be infected with viruses. This really set us back financially and pushed back our timelines. We also had a few business partners, not a good long-term fit. More importantly, the learning curve was steep especially for a first-generation farmer with no background in agriculture. The first several years were like going to school for another degree. Even after 10 years of growing hops, there is still a great deal of knowledge we acquire each season. The learning never stops.”

Farm-to Craft Beverage Market

What was learned and implement successfully by Tennis has become pretty standard for many growers experimenting with or changing in their growing operations. Many consumers are aware of or participate in, the farm-to-table movement every time we go to a local farmer’s market, however, some may not be familiar with the farm-to craft beverage market. However, it is here, it is growing, and it is a boon for hops and grain growers, brewers and distillers. Thanks to the loosening of Prohibition-era laws in many states, the number of craft distillers has grown from 21 in 2000 to 1,835 as of August 2018, according to The Craft Spirits Data Project research initiative.

The whole movement has inspired some growers to implement changes in their operations, making them part of the seed-to-spirit market. They are taking bold new steps and changing the current end user of their corn, wheat and rye crop and beginning to create their own spirits.

Why Isn’t Every Grower Creating Craft Beverages?

Some farmers haven’t jumped on the craft beverage and distilling bandwagon because of time, effort and cost. Growers who make the dive into both growing and distilling learn that while the two businesses work hand-in-hand, there is an abbreviated and harsh learning curve. Researching and implementing state and national requirements for farm distilleries as well as training in proper, legal and successful distilling practices doesn’t come quickly or cheaply — all of this to create a business that may not necessarily be successful. The risk is real.

Yet, the dream endures for many farm distilleries regardless of the steep learning curve or unexpected upfront costs. Seed-to-spirit growers want to create something unique that tells a story about their crop, their business, and their authenticity. What better way to do that than through craft beer or spirits?

Craft Beverage Statistics

The Fort Worth Business News reported in August of 2018 the global craft spirits market was valued at $6.13 billion in 2016 and is expected to grow at an impressive compound annual growth rate of 33.4 percent from 2017 to 2025, owing to increasing consumer tastes and preferences towards unconventional and experimental alcoholic beverages.

According to the Brewer’s Association, in 2017, overall beer volume sales were down by one percent, but craft beer sales continued to grow at a rate of five percent by volume and totaled 12.7 percent of the U.S. beer market by volume. As the craft-beverage craze continues to grow today’s market is more competitive than ever. In response, some brewers are beginning to shift gears and are implementing craft distilleries side-by-side with brewing operations.

Benefits of Tourism

The seed-to-spirit movement offers yet another revenue source for growers when they provide visitors with guided tours or samples of craft beverages made with their crops. This source of revenue is considered by some to be the one sure thing farmers can count on year-to-year even when the weather adversely affects their yield. No matter the size of their harvest, tourism keeps them steady and stable until the next growing season.

For craft beverage producers, tourism has benefits for both their business and the communities where they reside. No matter where they are, craft beer and spirits lovers seek out breweries and distilleries to have a taste. For farm distillers and brewers, in particular, tourism can sometimes help farmers withstand the economic pressure that comes from larger competitors. So next time you pass a small grower distilling craft beverages, stop and see if you can sample or purchase. You will be happy with the quality and taste, and what’s more, you have been a part of the unique movement momentously impacting the adult beverage market forever.

Post-Season Hops: Ramp up to Read

By: Kimberly Fontenot

Is there a leading-edge post-season technique to make next year’s hop growing, harvesting and distributing more streamlined and profitable? There are always leaders in the industry who step up, take the risk and invest in the next season with new and improved methods for hop growing.  Their plan of action usually contains strategies they’ve discovered with information not yet widely disseminated, which can bring them and the hop industry prosperity, growth and development.

When leaders within the hop industry concentrate on what needs to change or develop for better crop development, they do so knowing the key to success is ramping up during the post-season to acquire and implement new equipment or processes.

Ziemann Holvrieka, worldwide manufacturers of turnkey breweries, brewhouses and fermentation tanks, developed the Hop Back, a dosing vessel with an integrated sieve unit that provides dynamic hot wort hopping suitable for cone hops. Their Hop Slurry is a stainless-steel vessel that pumps, doses and controls fluid through pellets with the different flow direction.

Left Field Hops

Some growers implement strategies for the upcoming season immediately after harvest. They have learned if you wait, you may no longer be a part of the hop breeders, developers or distributors that are on the precipice of an unlimited future.

Rebecca Kneen of Left Field Hops in Canadian province British Columbia is one of those growers leading the pack in preseason preparation. She said there are plenty of tasks to complete during fall and winter to ensure idea rhizome propagation and hop health and keep growers ahead of the game.

“As a rhizome propagator and seller we make sure we do our fall applications of compost and kelp mean on each plant to allow integration of nutrients and bacteria into the soil,” said Kneen. “Fall planting of green manure crops (in particular fall rye) is done for ground cover over winter and added nutrients in the spring. Fall is also the time to check and tighten trellising. Over winter, consider how to adapt your growth strategies for spring, and make sure you have sufficient supply of anchors, twine, compost and cover crop seed.”

Kneen has a keen eye for what needs to change in the BC hop industry, and how to change it.

“We have a history in BC of over-planting one or two varieties (BC Golding for example), creating both a serious risk of vulnerability to disease and a lack of genetic diversity. We already see some issues with growers finding viruses and mildews in plants propagated in nurseries claiming to be part of the Clean Plant Network and having those plants distributed widely, contaminating a lot of new plantings. What is needed at this point is better oversight of nurseries so that plants being propagated are in fact free of disease, and more encouragement of the growing and use of more varieties.”

Mighty Axe Hops

There are many hop breeders with insights into improving not only their operations but also providing techniques, strategies and lessons learned to other hops breeders, farmers, distributors and entities. Eric Sannerud, farmer and CEO at Mighty Axe Hops is happy to provide advice to other growers for their off-season preparation.

“We make sure they all have a decent blanket of soil covering the crowns as additional winter insurance. We also mow down all the dead material from this growing season, one less thing you gotta do in the spring,” said Sannerud.

Sannerud is a leader in the Minnesota hops industry, encouraging future growth within the industry through partnerships between hop growers and brewers. “Mighty Axe Hops is already vetting for commercial production in the state of Minnesota, and we are leading that charge,” he said.

HAAS/Barth-HAAS Group

HAAS/Barth-HAAS Group takes a different approach to hop growing. As the world’s largest supplier of hops, they have the capabilities and resources to provide the most cutting-edge innovations and methods to their members. In addition to being a hops supplier, HAAS is also a breeder and research brewery with a focus on helping hop growers and brewers be their absolute best.

Roy Johnson, National Sales Manager with HAAS/Barth-HAAS Group, told Beverage Master Magazine that even though methods don’t change, their goals are always moving.

“We don’t change the irrigation or trellis management from one year to the next, but change out poles when needed. We haven’t had to change how we pelletize either for a while as this is consistent with us,” Johnson said. “However, we are seeing a thirty percent increase over last year in our Citra hops, so we are making adjustments to meet that hops growth rate in our post-harvest plans for the 2019 season.” By seeing the future and making plans to challenge themselves, HAAS/Barth-HAAS Group shows why they have consistently conquered and led the market.

Producing crops or products for any industry and taking the lead to help find solutions to current and potential problems, and sharing those solutions, will often lead to a healthier, more supportive industry. When others are aware and can learn from the intelligent, informed decisions made by a grower or developer, it benefits the end user as well.

Hard Work, Innovation and Timing

The post-season harvest has become one of the most critical times of the year for growers. This pivotal time allows growers to address any issues that they faced over the previous season and solve them using proven and innovated techniques.

Hop demand is as high as its ever been going into the 2019 season. The popularity of craft beer is not waining, and the need for hops will continue to grow. However, success is not guaranteed for every grower. Successful hops growers risk trying new things, strategizing and creating innovative developments to improve the crops and the bottom line. Those who never improve, develop or grow creatively, no matter how marketable the industry, will not meet the demands of the industry.

No one can tell the future, and you won’t know what sort of headaches you may face during the 2019 hops season until its here. However, using this post-season to solve what went wrong in 2018 will significantly lessen problems in the future. Invest in yourself by focusing on improving your operations, gaining more experience and create more hop innovations. Strategize, design and implement a unique plan of action. The new and innovative things you try will result in you looking after those who look after you–the customers. Grow for them because, in the end, they are the ones who not only grow your business but the industry as well.

Hop Farming Extends Beyond the Pacific Northwest

By: Robin Dohrn-Simpson

Throughout the U.S., interest in hop farming has expanded beyond the Pacific Northwest. Farming entrepreneurs from California to New York love beer and want to try their hand at growing local hops. They want to discover what varieties will thrive in their soil and withstand regional weather conditions all while creating a local hop source for brewers.

What does it take to grow hops? Growing requires three key components: full sun, access to water for irrigation, and moderate-to-well-draining soil. If this is true in the Pacific Northwest, why can’t regions throughout the country also be prosperous?

That’s precisely what Eric Sannerud and his partner Ben Boo of Mighty Axe Hops in Foley, Minnesota asked themselves.

“There’s really no reason not to grow hops in Minnesota,” Sannerud said. “The cold winters aren’t a challenge for hops. The plant’s perennial structure is deep underground. The plant dies back in the winter. There is nothing necessary to protect it from harsh winters. It springs back to life after the snows melt. The difference in growing in Minnesota is that in Oregon, Washington and Idaho it’s more desert-like. The Pacific Northwest has a longer and hotter growing season, but in Minnesota, there’s more humidity and water.”

Buy Local

In today’s culinary climate the “buy local” movement was also a consideration for them. “We care about where our food and hops come from. It’s important to have local ingredients. We also want to distinguish ourselves from other regions,” Sannerud said.

Eric March and family of Star B Ranch and Hop Farm in Ramona, California, already had a strong buffalo business on 1200 acres. In 2008, Marsh and his wife, Amie, decided to expand and include a hop farm on the property. Since then, they’ve become the largest commercial hop farm in San Diego County.

“I’m an agriculture man at heart,” March said. “I was exploring growing grapes in a newly created wine region outside of San Diego until my wife started researching hops. We discovered that with the growing craft brewing scene in San Diego there is a substantial demand for local hops. We looked at the temperature, soil, sunlight and air needed to grow hops. Although San Diego is coastal, where we live is 30 miles inland. It gets very hot here. We have loose, sandy, loamy soil that is well-drained. We have wells for our water. So we tried it. We currently have three acres planted with Chinook, Cascade, Amalia, Hallertauer and Neomexicanus.”


Like so many other growers, March and his employees taught themselves how to plant and grow hops. “In fact, one of our first years I kept seeing hops cones on the ground and thought my crew was wasting valuable hops,” he said. “It turned out the deer were chewing on the plants and spitting out the hops.” They’ve used that to their advantage now. To battle mildew, it’s recommended not to have greenery right on the ground, but three feet up. “The deer get to eat the base leaves, and since they don’t like the hops, they leave it alone.”

Additionally, throughout the years the Star B team learned how to make the task of harvesting easier and more profitable.

“Before, it was very expensive and labor intensive to have a profitable hops business. Hand harvesting and hand processing of hops, while fun, was extremely tedious and time-consuming. This made it hard to provide larger quantities of hops fast enough to our customers. This led us to purchase a Wolf Hop Harvester from Germany,” said March. “We can [now] harvest up to 170 bines an hour.”

Terroir: the Sense of Place

Terroir is a common word in the wine world and now is being used in craft brewing as well. According to Ann Van Holle, Head of Research and Development at De Proefbrouwerij, a Flemish brewery in Belgium: “Terroir in connection to beer refers to the special characteristics of a region for the cultivation of hops, comprising growing conditions (such as soil composition, nitrogen, moisture) and climatologic conditions as well as biotic variables (such as microorganisms, managing practices). Terroir may have a significant influence on regional hop properties including aroma, flavor, bitter substances and longevity, affecting the brewing values of the cultivated hops.”

Mighty Axe Hops’ Sannerud told Beverage Master Magazine, “It’s important for different regions to have something that sets them apart. We think Minnesota soil and climate create a certain flavor of hops.”

For Star B, the water is what makes a difference. “Our hard water here accentuates the ‘hoppiness,’” said March. “Basically, it pops the hops. People also tell us our hops are citrusy.”

Mighty Axe Hops has received a grant to pilot a two-year program with the Department of Food Science at the University of Minnesota in conjunction with Dr. Zata Vickers, a sensory scientist, on hops terroir. “We want to see if terroir in hops is a thing. There’s a lot of interest in this and quite a few studies, but nothing conclusive,” Sannerud said. “By bringing [together] Mighty Axe’s understanding of hops, the world-class researchers at the University of Minnesota, and St. Croix Sensory’s history of sensory analysis, we are well positioned to do it.”

The study will be conducted mostly through sensory perception, championed by St Croix Sensory. According to their website, “St. Croix Sensory is a laboratory dedicated to practicing state-of-the-art sensory evaluation and to advancing the science of sensory perception.”

Chris VanDongen of the University of Minnesota told Beverage Master, “The University of Minnesota’s Department of Food Service has provided information on how to set up a descriptive analysis panel to measure hops aroma and flavor sensory attributes to the lab. Descriptive analysis is a sensory method where the attributes of products are identified and measured precisely by a trained panel. This type of analysis delivers objective and detailed quantitative information about a product’s sensory attributes.”

Subjects participating in the study have been trained as “noses” to taste and smell hops, according to Sannerud. These “noses” will taste and smell hops from a variety of locations and determine if there are distinct differences between soil types, growing regions and temperature variances, to name a few.

“Aroma and scent are subjective,” Sannerud said. “Our premise is that, like grapes and cheese, hops grown in different places have unique characteristics due to where they were grown.”

By early 2019 the initial results will be in and ready for a follow-up. Sannerud and Boo are excited to see how their hops hold up to those from the Pacific Northwest.

Future Vsion

The partners at Mighty Axe Hops hope to create and grow a strong hops industry in Minnesota that will assist Minnesota breweries in making their beer stand out.

“It’s important for us to have something that sets our state apart from other states,” Sannerud said. “Many smart people are sitting back and watching us; waiting to see if we’re successful; waiting to see if there’s a viable industry there. They’re questioning if there is enough demand and if we can make a go of it. For me, this is long term. I dream of creating and growing a new industry here. I want to build a co-op structure where we would have technical assistance and support with marketing. We want to work cooperatively.”

Star B’s March has similar goals and would like to expand his acreage to include several hop varietals. March also wants to gain the experience and knowledge to grow hops and brew beer on his property. The industry is so new that there are no regulations in place for growing and brewing at the same location. March is working directly with county officials to help build a solid agricultural plan. “Just like the wineries that grow grapes, process them, make their wine and sell their wine at the same location. That’s what I want.”

Hop Growers Anticipate Plenty of Product for Brewers This Year

By: Jim Offner

Brewers across North America anticipate plenty of hops, as growers continue a years-long trend of increased production.

Last year, hop production across the U.S. totaled around 104 million pounds, over 55,000 acres.

The Pacific Northwest is the runaway production leader for hops in the U.S., with Washington alone accounting for 53,000 acres.

“Currently, the Pacific Northwest crop looks very good,” said Ann George, executive director of the Yakima, Washington-based Hop Growers of America (HGA).

Irrigation water supplies are adequate this year, and mild temperatures have contributed to good growing conditions, George said.

Roy Johnson, national sales manager with John I. Haas Inc., which is based in Washington, D.C. but grows hops in Yakima, as well as other regions worldwide, agrees.

“I think we’re going to look at an all-time high, as far as yield,” he said. “Right now, the industry is full of hops, depending on variety.”

Johnson estimates hop acreage in the Pacific Northwest region that includes Idaho and Oregon, as well as Washington, will reach about 59,000 this year, which should produce over 110 million pounds. If such is those predictions hold, he adds, they would be record highs.

However, Johnson also cautions that some varieties likely “will be pretty tight.” He did not specify.

Overall, it looks like 2018 will be productive for hop growers, Johnson said. He also notes that some areas could see earlier-than-usual starts to their harvest activities.

“It looks like they’re coming on real strong in Oregon,” Johnson said. He adds that Washington’s Yakima Valley typically gets underway in September.

“They may be processing hops in Oregon really early in August this year; they look really good now,” Johnson said. “The weather has been really good.”

Indeed, there may be an overabundance of hops on the market this year – a description that also applied to 2017, indicates Brian Tennis, president of the Traverse City-based Michigan Hop Alliance (MHA).

“Same,” he said when asked about the upcoming fall hop market. “There are too many hops in the ground already.”

Supplies, acreage trending up

Brewers sometimes have a different take on supply forecasts, said Jaki Brophy, spokeswoman for the Hop Growers of America.Brewers tend to say there is a shortage, often when they have not contracted for that variety,” she said. “Since that is the only formalized way for brewers to communicate their needs – in addition to guaranteeing a certain amount of supply – there may not always be enough acreage of a particular variety if too many people have counted on being supplied through the spot market.”

Thanks to continued, increased demand for hop-forward beers, hop acreage continues to climb worldwide – U.S. acreage has nearly doubled in five years, according to Brophy’s organization. However, that’s a two-sided issue, HGA points out.

If anticipated acreage is actualized, then in five years’ time, hop acreage in the U.S. will have practically doubled, the organization said. “Thanks to increased contracts with breweries and the rapid efficiency of U.S. growers who can respond so quickly to customer demand, hop acreage has risen 95.8 percent in five years,” HGA reports.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said hop acreage continues to trend upward. According to USDA, total U.S. acreage for hops was 55,339 in 2018, compared to 53,282 a year earlier. Washington continues to dominate production, with 39,273 acres in 2018 – up from 38,438 in 2017. Idaho came in with 8,217 acres in 2018, compared to 6,993 in 2017 – and vaulted past Oregon as the No. 2-producer. Oregon had 7,851 acres this year, just over 7,849 in 2017.

Organic hop acreage in the U.S. is still a tiny part of the business, but it, too, is showing some growth, USDA said, reporting a jump from 315 in 2017 to 431 in 2018.

Since 2012, the U.S. has added 28,465 acres, including the estimated acreage as reported by International Hop Growers’ Convention, and has more than 50 varieties in the ground.

“To put it into perspective, the U.S. acres added in the last five years is larger than the total acreage of any other hop-growing country in the world, outside of our own and Germany, the two largest hop-producing countries,” HGA’s George said. “Further, our estimated 2017 acreage increase (5,185 acres – a 9.8 percent growth) by itself is larger than other individual countries’ total acreage outside of the U.S., Germany, and the Czech Republic.”

A wave of new microbreweries that have sprouted in recent years is a significant driver of that acreage expansion, George notes. “Since about 2012 the acreage increase has been driven largely by the craft sector’s requests for additional aroma hop acreage,” she said.

MHA’s Tennis agrees. “Craft brewers are on the cutting edge and are looking for the next big or interesting hop, so we are constantly looking for new and exciting varieties to plant, or older varieties that brewers may have forgotten about,” he said.

There should be no hop shortfall for the immediate future, Haas Inc.’s Johnson said. “What you’ll see in 2019, you’ll see a decline in acreage. Contracts will come off the books. They’ve got higher inventories and will be using some older hops.”

That’s OK, too, Johnson said. “To be perfectly honest, there’s nothing wrong with a 2- to 5-year-old hop; those are fine. They can use them with confidence. The big thing is the supply has not met demand up to this last year.”

Where is the market predicted to go?

Hops are one of only a few ingredients necessary to make beer. They ignite flavor and aroma and corral runaway sweetness.

Experts point to Cascade as the top variety in 2017, followed by Centennial, although there are more than 60 other varieties available to brewers.

“We use Cascade and Citra; Columbus is the finishing hop, but it’s fairly expensive,” said Tom Williams, owner of St. Pete Brewing Co. in St. Petersburg, Florida. “Grains and hops are an expensive part, but it makes a huge difference on the beer.”

Choosing the right varieties for one’s beer is a crucial step in the process, Williams said. “I think it’s tremendous, the aroma, the bitterness. It’s pretty amazing how the varietals can change. If you need a beer with different varieties, you’d taste a drastic difference in terms of the aroma and the taste. That’s why people are so finicky about which ones they use and when they put them into that beer process.”

The demand for new hop varieties is growing, and brewers likely are moving on from some established varietals, experts say. However, change doesn’t necessarily lead to instability in the hop market, they say.

“We should see some varieties being replaced,” MHA’s Tennis said. “Cascade, Centennial, and Crystal among others are overplanted.”

The market seems poised to accommodate any such changes, HGA’s George said.

“With beer sector growth flattening, most varieties of hops are now adequately supplied,” she said. “While a small increase in Pacific Northwest hop acreage is anticipated this year due to contracting arrangements that were previously in place, acreage is expected to stabilize, with continued ‘rebalancing’ of varieties to reflect changes in contracting.”

Changing varietal preferences could ultimately impact costs, though, said St. Pete Brewing Co.’s Williams.

“For hops, I think it’s going to get more expensive, just because of supply-demand, especially when people try to get into some of these hop profiles,” he said. Even Citra was tough to get a couple of years ago. All it takes is a medium-sized brewery, and they obliterate a crop.”

The varietal choices are part of the fun of the brewing business, but sometimes it’s tough to get ahold of certain hops, Williams said. “I love the different hops,” he said.

For hops that are supply-challenged, costs can escalate in a hurry. “In a 10-barrel batch, we have to pay a premium, but we can go out and get it,” Williams said. “There’s a couple we can’t get, but we can always get them from other breweries.”

The inventory of hops held by growers, dealers, and brewers on March 1, 2018, totaled 169 million pounds, 21 percent more than March 1, 2017, stocks inventory of 140 million pounds, according to USDA. Stocks held at dealer and grower locations on March 1, 2018, totaled 132 million pounds. Hops held by brewers totaled 37 million pounds.

Stocks held by brewers on March 1, 2018, totaled 37 million pounds – which was virtually even with 2015. Inventories held by growers/dealers totaled 142 million March 1, 2018, compared to 46 million in 2015.

While the volume of hop stocks has been increasing every year – the USDA’s 2017 report showed a 9 percent increase – following a 7.5% increase the year prior – the overall production has grown as acreage increases, so the percentage relative to the total U.S. crop has gone down, HGA reports.

In addition to volumes of stocks increasing, there are also developing trends with the stock reports showing a rise in the amount of stocks being held with merchants, and less with brewers. As a perennial plant in which one harvest needs to last a full year of brewing demands, it is typical to have stocks larger than 100% of any given year’s production at this time of year.

“It is important to note that the amount of hop stocks which dealers are holding has increased,” George said. “Merchants are taking on increased risk as the proportion of stocks held in their possession has risen over 10% in the past three years. The stock report is another key signal to the market, and we will continue to monitor these data trends.”

Craft brewers seem to be instigating a wave of new varieties and plantings in general. “While growth in local small brewers has provided opportunities for new hop production across the U.S., this acreage remains small and focused on local brewery use,” George said.

The increase in acreage has generated concern in some corners of the industry about a possible imbalance between “alpha” and “aroma” hop production. Such worry appears to needless, George said.

“While the continued and rapid growth of acreage has some concerned about an imbalance in variety acreage as tastes change and growth in the craft segment begins to slow, growers will be looking to rebalance that over the coming years,” she said. “To note, alpha acreage is projected to be increasing as well in the U.S. after many years of predominate aroma increases.”

More than 60 varieties of hops

HGA’s George points out that there are more than 60 hop varieties grown in the U.S. – “each providing different brewing characteristics.” Each is noted for meandering in a certain aromatic direction. Some are “fruity”; others, “earthy”; others lean “spicy.” The list goes on.

“Every brewery is going to be different, based on their beers,” St. Pete Brewing Co.’s Williams said, discussing variety preference. “Centennial is a big one. Citra is one we like to play around with. There are so many strands of hops, you just never know.”

“What” is one issue where varieties are concerned, but there’s also a question of “when.”

“The timing of when [brewers add the hops to the boil] can make the beer taste completely different,” he said. “We may put a hop in at the last five minutes of the boil and turn it off. They lose their taste and smell quickly on the boil.”

“Each brewery has its own ways. Recipes are specific for this amount of pounds at what time. It’s very specific,” said Williams

West Coast Indian Pale Ales (IPAs) are “higher-hopped” than their New England IPA brethren.

“New England IPA styles use very little bittering hops; they charge it up big-time in the whirlpool,” Haas Inc.’s Johnson said. “They’re using a lot of Citra and Mosaic hops—those are very tight.”

Shelf life comes into play with some brews more than others, Johnson notes. “With New England IPAs, you’re lucky to get 60 days out of them; they’re just not set up to hold as long as other styles of beers,” he said. That’s another reason like the Tree Houses and Alchemists are doing well, because they sell right out of their taprooms. It’s kind of an interesting market being developed. The consumers are equating that cloudy beer with flavor.”

Hops are natural preservatives, Johnson notes. “You’re hopping; you’re put aroma hops into the whirlpool. Most craft beers are stored cold, anyway.”

Securing supplies ahead of time

Brewers typically contract at least a year ahead of time to ensure their hop supplies meet their anticipated demand, MHA’s Tennis said. However, he notes times have changed.

“Contracts aren’t critical as they were in years past because there is so much supply out there, but there some varieties that are still scarce,” Tennis said. He also notes brewers should try to lock down contracts for new Neomexicanus varieties, as well as most varieties coming out of Australia and New Zealand.

Brewers looking for tight-volume hops should secure their supply “as soon as possible,” he said.

Craft brewers should look one to three years ahead concerning contracting hop supplies, Tennis said, noting that more massive operations likely should contract for five years.

The reason is security, but contracts also involve a kind of gamble. “Less risk of price hikes, but you can also get locked into some bad contracts, so be careful,” he said.

In general, Tennis said brewers should sign contracts for each variety they need. “Depends on the variety,” he said. “Some are easy, others you have to be on a waiting list.”

Varieties can dictate how far in advance a brewer needs to contract for supplies. “It’s variety-specific,” Tennis said. “Sometimes, years before harvest, while other more common varieties, it’s not uncommon to sign a few months or weeks before harvest.”

There are no “hard deadlines” for signing contracts to secure hops, George notes. “However, if a customer wants to ensure delivery, getting contracts signed in time for new acreage to be planted – or varieties to be changed – would be necessary,” she said. “In that case, contracting no later than January or February would be recommended. Customers need to keep in mind that first year plantings (babies) are likely to yield only 50 to 75% of a mature crop.”

George also recommends five years for contracts. “Five years is preferred, as it will provide the grower additional years to amortize the cost of establishing a new planting.”

Contracts are good for growers as well as brewers, but contract length is probably variable, St. Pete Brewing Co.’s Williams said. The bottom line is don’t run out of hops. “I’m sure the growers would like to have as much runway in forecasting, but I don’t even know when that would be,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a set [deadline for signing a contract]. If we were bringing a bigger beer to market, I’m sure John (St Pete’s brewmaster) would say, ‘I want to make sure we can get that hop for the year.'”

Williams notes the “bigger-volume brewers” likely will sign longer contracts as “a hedge” against possible supply shortfalls or higher prices.

Haas Inc.’s Johnson said it’s probably best to have contacts finalized “by March or April – before they’re starting to move rootstock and changing portfolios, so they grow the appropriate mixture of hops.”

Some brewers contract directly with growers, Johnson said. “By the end of this year by before the first quarter, before farmer decides what to grow – late February and March. They start twining them in April and May.”

Some brewers also will procure hops on the spot market, to “keep it loosey-goosey.” That can be advantageous, Johnson said.

“See where they are, making sure they’re pulling what they have contracted,” he said. “Another brewer may have what you need available. It’s never stagnant, never solid. It’s always moving around, which is interesting. It can be challenging.”

HGA recommends planning whenever possible, Brophy said. “We try to focus on communicating that if something is integral to your brewery, you should lock it in with a contract. If you are willing to make possible substitutions and aren’t willing to honor your agreement if your growth projection turns out to be inaccurate, then spots may be for you.”

St. Pete’s procurement practices have worked well, Williams said. “We haven’t had any issue that wasn’t our problem for planning and forecasting. That’s the challenge for us; we don’t want to commit to overbuying. Some guys are sitting on 500 pounds of hops at the end of their contract, and they try to unload it.”