Rushstaller Beer recently posed a question: does it matter where hops are grown? They went into a quick history about hop growing in California and how it was affected by three power house breweries (Coors, Bud, and Miller). To sum it up, these three main breweries started purchasing hops from locations outside of California because of price point and they could then use the extra monies for advertising and distribution.
Has the quality of the hops suffered? Does this alter the beer in your glass? Are hops still grown in California? Absolutely, but it is not as prominent as it once was. So the question remains, does it really matter where hops are grown?
I asked an expert about the industry, Landon Friend, who is the executive and founder of the California Hops Growers Association
“Yes, it matters where hops are grown,” said Landon with no hesitation. He quickly began to rattle off several reasons why hops should become a staple crop of California. He informed me that different varieties are going to grow better in California due to climate and temperature. “Neo-mexicanus grow very well in CA. It is a wild hop variety out of New Mexico and Colorado. Any hop that has Cluster in its parentage does well: Chinook, Cascade. Nugget is having success,” Landon said. He continued, explaining how California’s soil is hands down the best in the business for hop growing. “Hops don’t like their feet wet,” he told me. Too much water can stunt the growth of the flowers and even drown the plants, but the sandy loam soil in California’s Central Valley is a national bench mark for soils. It is the right consistency where the soil doesn’t dry out too fast and doesn’t hold on to the water for too long to soak the roots.
Hops are very temperamental and sensitive. This is one of the cons for hop growing in the states of Oregon and Washington. Too much water and moisture! However, hop plants need to go dormant during the winter, which requires cold winters. This is a struggle for California hop growers because our winters often aren’t cold enough to force the plants dormant. If the hops don’t go dormant, they can suffer from being over-worked and the growth of the buds can be stunted. Besides mild winters, California seems to be a premier location for growing hops.
So the question arises, how can we bring hop growing back to California as a prominent crop? Landon suggested three things. First, “we need to share intellectual resources.” He explained that current hop farmers, like himself, need to share information with each other about what is working and best practices so they all can reach their full potential as growers. Secondly, Landon proposed hop farmers should share resources such as buying in bulk to cut prices. Landon has loaned out his harvester to other farmers to help promote the hop movement here in California. Lastly, he said the California hop industry needs to educate buyers and consumers. They are used to certain varieties grown in the North Pacific (the mecca for hop production) and forget variety and change can be inspirational. Different varieties grow better here in California. “Cashmere, a new variety is kicking major ass,” Landon said. These new varieties can bring out new aromas and tastes that could possibly change the game.
Overall, California’s soil, temperature, and climate make it an ideal destination for hop growing. Better conditions equal higher quality of hops, which means finer tasting beer. For the quality of our beer and the sake of our local breweries, let’s make California hops great again!
Written by Beers In Sac contributor Tim Cowdrey
Edited by Mike Witherow