2016 was a record year for United States hop growers.
“We had more acres in production in the U.S. than at any other time in history,” said Bill Elkins, an account manager with Hopsteiner, a Yakima Valley-based firm that grows, trades, breeds and processes hops.
Since 2012, U.S. hop production has increased by 50 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The majority of the U.S. hop production comes from the Pacific Northwest, with 51,115 acres of hops planted in Oregon, Idaho and Washington, and a record-high 91.8 million pounds of hops are expected to be harvested from the region this year.
Those hops, most of which have already been purchased under contract by brewers, will find their way into thousands of different brews in 2017.
Proprietary hops — several of which are coming from Hopsteiner’s hop-breeding program — are accounting for a majority of the increases in the U.S., Elkins said. That’s due to the growth of the craft brewing industry, which has grown to more than 4,900 breweries, according to recent figures shared by the Brewers Association.
But a greater quantity of hops grown doesn’t automatically equate to a higher quality crop. So how did the 2016 crop fare?
“This year’s crop was some of the best hops that I’ve ever seen,” Elkins added. “The aromas were wonderful. And we didn’t have any shortages.”
While the final numbers won’t be available until December, Elkins said anecdotal evidence points to cooperative weather and a favorable climate for growing hops as reasons why the 2016 crop was so good. He described this year’s crop as “good clean green crops” with “nice aromas,” noting that it was free of pests, disease and heat pressure. There were also no shortages in 2016 as there had been in the last two-to-three years with certain hop varieties, Elkins said.
To meet an increasing demand for certain hops, Elkins said Hopsteiner is continuing to increase its acreages and planting several new varieties, three of which are five years or newer. In particular, Hopsteiner has increased the production of Lemondrop, Calypso, Eureka and Denali — the company’s newest proprietary blend that has yet to get a widespread commercial beer release.
Looking toward the future, Elkins said Hopsteiner is working on two new experimental hops — a creamsicle with an orange vanilla taste and “big berry bomb,” which tastes of strawberry jam and red licorice — that he’s excited to eventually see in commercial releases.
“They translate almost exactly to finished beer in pale ales,” Elkins said.
However, those hops are still about three years away from being seen in larger-batch beers, Elkins said.
“You have to be very patient, which isn’t very easy,” he said.