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A Proud History of U.S. Hops Creates Diversity in Ag, and Great Beers

Posted by Matt Russell, Public Affairs Specialist, NASS Heartland Region in Research and Science
Aug 02, 2021
Martin Toft smells pelletized hops to check for quality
Martin Toft noses pelletized hops to check for quality.

Our third U.S. President and well-known home brewer, Thomas Jefferson would be proud. In 2017, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) reported that hop production totaled a record high 104 million pounds out of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington. Brewers of all sizes use this crop – worth $618 million in 2017 – as a flavorful ingredient and stabilizing agent in one of America’s favorite beverages: beer! With hop varietal names like Zeus, Cascade, and Eureka this powerful little flower has had brewers developing new flavors for years.

To learn about the diversity created over the course of 1,000 years of development, we talked to 4 Hands Brewery Manager, Martin Toft, who notes that American hops are very different from their European counterparts. “American hops are grown with a very wide dispersion of flavors including tropical, citrus flavors, and even stone-fruit flavors like peach. The German varieties, include what are called ‘Noble Hops,’ and are more earthy, grassy, and floral. We use multiple varieties of hops to create our beers, most of them coming from fantastic Pacific Northwest farms through a grower-owned co-operative distributor.”

But hops can’t make beer on their own, no matter how flavorful. For color, sweetness, body, and the sugars that are fermented into alcohol, a cereal grain must be germinated and then dried in a process called malting. While there are many grains used in beer, including wheat and rye, the most common is barley. In the last NASS Small Grains Summary (PDF, 660 KB), USDA reported that Montana, Idaho, and North Dakota produced nearly 72 percent of the 142 million bushels of barley grown across the country! But barley doesn’t end its journey there. Martin Toft says, “After the barley is used to make beer, many breweries reintroduce the ‘spent grain’ into the agriculture food chain again, by donating it to local livestock ranches as feed.”

Quality farmed ingredients like hops and barley are an important part of agriculture from across the country and help make the best beer. To respect the crop’s contribution to the final product, 4 Hands even celebrates the hops in their beer annually at their May Lupulin carnival – named after the gland in hops which produces most of the flavors that make beer refreshing and distinct. Check out 2017 hops varieties, production numbers, and value in the latest National Hop Report. On March 15, find out how much hops growers, brewers, and dealers have on hand when NASS releases the next Hops Stocks report.

Category/Topic: Research and Science

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