Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Part III: Dr. Al Haunold Hop History

Alpha Obsession: Origins of the Race for More Bittering “Juice”

Today it’s well known that alpha, or “juice,” is a form of hop currency. In an industry run more and more by bean counters who are eager to sacrifice a bit of quality to make a few more pennies, when it comes to choosing hops, the juice content of a hop is more often than not the deciding factor. Put simply, the more a processor can extract from a single cone , the fewer cones he has to buy.

Where did this obsession with alpha acids begin? To answer that, I spoke to Dr. Haunold, who it turns out was on the front lines in the race for more alpha. The race began in the early 1960s with a challenge that resulted in a hunch that yielded a breakthrough that the growers hated so much they threatened to suppress it with legal action. Oh my! Read on.

Early 1960s: Pride of Ringwood Rules

In the early 1960’s, when it came to high alpha acid, a hop from Australia called “Pride of Ringwood”(PoR) ruled. It sported a hefty 11% juice content, the high-water mark for commercially available bittering hops worldwide. PoR, however, did not thrive in the US. Instead, we (especially in Oregon) relied on the UK-born Bullion and Brewer’s Gold, which weighed in around 10% alpha. One problem with the UK B&B is they didn’t store well, losing as much as 50% of their juice in 4-5 months of unrefrigerated storage.

In the mid 1960’s, hop processors began to experiment with extracting the acids from hops. They saw the future, and the future was bitter syrup served up in air tight steel canisters. A Canadian chemist, Dr. Lloyd Rigby, had years earlier discovered that alpha acid resin actually had three major components: humulone, cohumulone and adhumulone, which made up about 10 or 11 of the total weight of a dried hop cone (e.g, the B&B sisters).

Dr. Rigby seized on the juice craze. He forecasted that each percent of additional juice was worth millions, so it was well worth trying to engineer new hops with a higher alpha content. John I. Haas hired Dr. Rigby to develop a hop extraction plant in Yakima. Dr. Al Haunold met Dr. Rigby in the late 1960s, and the former challenged the “new kid on the block” to breed a new hop that pushed the alpha envelope.

“I accepted the challenge,” recalled Al, who had just joined the USDA as hop geneticist in 1965. At the time, the predominant all-purpose hop in the Pacific Northwest was Cluster, which stored well (refrigeration was uncommon in those days), carried a low price, and depending on the year and the test often rang the juice bell at close to 8 %, but was reputed to have an undesirable “black currant” aroma. The growers generally were content with Cluster.

At the time, the hop cognoscenti ordained that no hop could exceed 11-12%. They also prophesied that no high alpha could be stored more than a few months since juiced up hops were branded as “poor keepers.” Juiced up hops were also expected to have high co-humulone content (above 35 %).

Gold Fever

Undaunted, Dr. Haunold, driven by the new orthodoxy that each 1% percent alpha was a “gold mine,” began tinkering appropriately enough with hops related to Brewers Gold (BG). He started with a female BG-derived seedling that he crossed with a male (which had a sprig of BG and a sprinkle of German aroma hops in its genetic blood). “You never know for certain in science what will work, but I had a hunch that we’d strike gold with this parentage,” said Dr. Haunold.

He started in the early 1970s with 400 seedlings of the above mentioned cross and by 1976 had narrowed the lot down to 36 thriving seedlings selections. Dr. Haunold began growing the “super alpha” selections in a few replicated plots near Corvallis. Most selections showed promise for mildew resistance and above average alpha. The cones were compact, easy to pick, clean, and they dried and stored well – in a word, they were “gorgeous.”

Al knew he had the tiger by the tail when his chemist tested a few cones, read the results and suspected that somebody had “doctored the numbers,” as the alpha acid content weighed in at a scorching 13-14.5%! About 50% more juice per cone! A new world record!

Noting the parentage and the shape of the big bold cone, Al decided to name his brainchild “Nugget.” Now emboldened, our young over-achiever was ready to start growing Nugget in test plots in Idaho, California and Washington.

But a funny thing happened on the way to more juice. The Washington hop farmers grabbed their pitchforks and torches and fought back, sort of like blacksmiths shouting down the new gas-powered Iron Horses. The Washington growers were satisfied with Cluster (up to 8% alpha). A survey at the time showed that of 10 “priorities” , developing higher alpha acid hops ranked 9th, just above the bottom.

Too Good to be True

One can understand the grower’s protest. In the quest for higher juice, brewers and hop processors, who by then had figured out how to hop flowers to alpha juice, both demanded super alpha varieties. The more juice they could suck out, the fewer cones they needed, which meant that fewer acres needed to be planted. They of course did not pay extra for each percent of alpha, since they bought the cones by the pound. The Washington growers retaliated by closing their the borders to the Cluster-bustin’ Nugget, even for testing.

However, Dr. Rigby – recall, he’s the hop chemist who John I Haas hired as their Master Extractor – said “wait a minute, Nugget sounds like the Holy Grail, I want some!” So he arranged to have a few acres of the lupulinona non grata Nugget grown on J.I. Hass’ property. To be sure, our budding hopmeister certainly wasn’t a troublemaker – far from it. He was surprised by the protest. At the time, USDA hop scientists like Al under a “tristate agreement,” which included Washington, Oregon and Idaho, had a perfect right if not duty to test and evaluate hop selections in these key hop states. To prevent any one state from gaining an undue growing advantage, all 36 of the most promising selections were provided to each state under strict guidelines.

Nonetheless, the Washington Hop Commission and some of its grower members were outraged. They threatened legal action. That didn’t work. Then they threatened to order the local police to trample onto Haas’ private property and physically uproot the blacklisted Nugget rhizomes.

Dr. Rigby responded to the threats by promptly erecting a 10 foot high Cyclone fence around his precious crop and installing motion sensors and flood lights – everything short of pit bulls, claymore mines and armed Pinkerton agents. Over my dead hop! Across this line, you will not cross!

The Patience of a Public Servant

In the end, the bluff was called and Dr. Rigby nursed his Nuggets. However, because of political pressure, Dr. Haunold did not release Nugget to the public until late 1981 , even though it had been ready to roll since about 1978. Why? “I was a public servant,” said Dr. Haunold modestly. “Since a very loud fraction of public clearly did not want the fruits of my labor, I just waited until the time was right.”

But wouldn’t Nugget serve the public? I mean, this was your major opus, your brainchild, your baby? Didn’t you want to unleash your masterpiece? “No,” he replied with typical matter-of-factness. “The Hop Research Council and the Hop Commissions of several states asked me to delay release for a few years because the growers felt threatened. End of story.”

During those three years between 1978 and 1981, while Al was waiting, his
coworker in Idaho (Dr. Bob Romanko), was putting the finishing touches on his own Super Alpha pet hop. Dr. Romanko had been experimenting with a new cultivar that came to be known as “Galena.”

Suddenly, in 1980, a world-wide hop shortage struck, and the need for US grown bittering hops just ratcheted upward, as the price for alpha extract instantly quadrupled. Unlike Al, who answered to all three states, Romanko answered only Idaho’s hop commission, which basically said “bring it on!” In early 1981, the Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station at Parma released Galena to the public. Galena’s juice came in just under Nugget’s, at 12% by weight.

1980 Hop Shortage: Brewers Scramble as Alpha Spikes

The world-wide shortage of alpha acids following the 1980 harvest had brewers scrambling to obtain additional alpha, at any price. This affected especially those brewers who had not entered into forward contracts and thus had to pay as much as 11 dollars for a single pound of hops, an unheard of price at the time. Farmers did not get rich since they had long-term contracts and had to deliver at the lower contracted prices. The few farmers who had excess production (above the contracted prices) could, however, sell their non-contracted “spot hops” to the highest bidder. And bid high the brewers most certainly did.

Hop dealers now offered ever increasing prices for forward contracts of high-alpha hops, with premiums of up to 25 cents for each quarter percent alpha above 9%. Growers could make more in premiums than they could get just for a pound of hops with Galena and Nugget. Dr. Haunold responded by launching a massive Nugget propagation program and established multi-acre test plots in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, this time, without having to duck pitchforks or rotten tomatoes.

Galena rootstock was freely available at that time and Washington growers stampeded to get their hands on available root stock despite a quarantine of importing non-inspected rootstock into the state. Alpha was suddenly all the rage and its emergent value changed the way hops were priced.

Al recalls that one Oregon grower told him that he had forward contracted at the alpha premiums for 4 years starting in 1982. By early 1984, however, high alpha hops had flooded the market and the price began to slide. The dealer went back to the grower and offered to buy back their high priced contracts for 50 cents on the dollar, provided the grower would pull out his alpha plots that were contracted out for a few more years.

According to Al, the grower accommodated, even though it meant he’d be eating major labor costs. The grower had just finished stringing on the Friday before the deal was cut on a Monday; on that same day the grower ordered his foreman to go back and take the strings down as they were no longer going to be growing what they had contracted for.

What have I wrought?

Dr. Haunold looks back on those days with a mixture of pride, surprise, and perhaps even a tinge of regret. “I guess I opened the flood gates. The race for higher alpha acid hasn’t abated. We were told back in the early 1980’s after my Nugget that ‘no way’ can you breed a hop with more than 14 or perhaps 15% alpha. Now, there’s new hops juiced to the gills at over 18%, both in the US as well as in some other hop growing areas around the world. ”

“I didn’t want to make a fuss about not being able to release Nugget earlier. The farmers, it turns out, were absolutely right to be worried. The big brewers today can get the same amounts of alpha at very reasonable prices from one-third less acreage. Farmers back then and still for the most part today get paid by the bale, not alpha points. I can see why they’d resist, especially today when it seems like the alpha craze is retarding the growth and variety of aroma hops.”

Roger Worthington

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hop History with Hopmeister Dr. Al Haunold, Part II

Cascade: How Adolph Coors helped launch the most popular US Aroma Hop and the craft beer revolution

Let’s go way back to the end of Prohibition in 1933. At that time, the US government saw fit to re-energize the beer industry by re-establishing the hop research facility at Oregon State University (then Oregon State College) in Corvallis, Oregon. More beer, more jobs, less crabbiness, and more tax revenue. In 1935, Oregon ranked as the top hops producer, cultivating 26 million pounds from 30,000 acres, about 90% of which was the Cluster variety.

The USDA facility’s main objective was to save cluster hops by controlling Downy Mildew (DM), which had attacked hop-yards in the Willamette Valley with deadly force. Dr. Stan Brooks, the USDA/OSU hop breeder, had grown an open-pollinated (wind pollinated – we’ll never know the parentage) female hop having a strong Fuggle pedigree. Dr. Brooks collected and studied open-pollinated seeds from the latter hop flower, which demonstrated good resistance to DM, among other attractive qualities.

One selection from these, USDA 56013, advanced to multi-hill plots for testing and, eventually, in 1967, it was produced on a one acre plot near Salem, Oregon. USDA 56013 turned out to be a diamond in the rough, but it took a while for brewers to take a shine to its sparkle. USDA 56013 had an alpha : beta ratio similar to the imported German aroma hop Hallertauer mittelfrueh and was thought to be a potential replacement for German and Czech noble imports.

For the next three years, USDA 56013 was dutifully harvested, baled, and stored in a warehouse in Yakima. Brewers wouldn’t bite. The big boys, like Pabst, Annheuser Busch, Strohs, Reingold, Schlitz and Coors, accepted the status quo. American hops (mostly pulled from UK hops) were good enough for bittering. The US dollars was strong. It was cheaper to import moderately priced Europena aroma hops than invest in breeding and growing untested noble aroma offshoots.

Then a confluence of events in the late 1960’s gave “industrial” brewers cause for pause. A disease (Verticillium wilt) devastated the Hallertauer mittelfrueh hopyards in Germany and the price of nobles (Hallertau MF, Saaz and Tettnang) went through the roof. Coors, a large importer of German aroma hops, was faced with diminished supplies and higher prices.

The government breeders in Corvallis, to be sure, had seen this storm coming. Since the 1950s they had been evaluating new breeding lines with an eye towards winning hop independence. Dr. Haunold, who joined USDA in 1965, recalls that brewers “would rub and sniff 56013 and like it, as it reminded them of Hallertauer Mittelfreuh with slightly higher alpha. But at the end of the day they’d just throw some more money at us to continue our research and then invite us down to the bar.” No brewer up until then had even ventured to pilot-brew with 56013.

Dr. Haunold and his colleagues remained convinced that 56013, which they named “Cascade” after Oregon’s majestic mountain range, was a winner. A major brewer even chided Dr. Haunold for the name they chose for 56013, snickering that “Cascade” was the name of dishwashing powder that was popular at the time. Needless to say, for the past three decades, US mega-brewers were not seriously interested in any new hops from the USDA program, let alone Cascade.

For over 12 years, the lab-coats in Corvallis had been growing test plots of Cascade with no takers, including three years of the one-acre commercial test plot with about 2000 lbs of annual harvest (over 6000 lbs total). The bales just sat balefully in a warehouse inYakima, collecting dust and growing old.

Finally, the ice broke. In 1972, USDA scientists released Cascade to the public – the first and only new hop cultivar released by the USDA hop research program since the end of Prohibition. Adolph Coors decided to take a chance on the new and untested aroma hop and Coors would pay $1 per pound for Cascade hops. At the time, US growers were fetching about 50 to 65 cents a pound (mainly for Cluster hops). As expected, hop farmers went bonkers and began planting Cascades. In a few years, Cascade jumped to over 13% of the US hop acreage grown.

Oddly, at that time Oregonians could not even purchase Coors beer , thanks to its ignorant legislature which had deemed unpasteurized beer a menace to the public health. Al recalls with a good laugh – “they called it poison!” Note: said ban was not repealed in Oregon until the 1980s. Second note, I remember as a lad my Dad buying contraband Coors in California and secreting a case across the border. He’d share it with his college buddies and I’m not sure whether it was the flavor or the joy of sticking it to the man but boy did they carry on like kings of the world.

Coors bought millions of pounds but discovered that the Cascade hops did not mimic Hallertauer MF hops closely enough and gradually scaled back on its usage. “Cascade was unique,” said Dr. Haunold. “Moderate bitterness, more alpha bang for the buck, with a pleasant citrus-floral character. The alpha-beta ratio was similar to Hallertauer mittelfrueh , but the total oil content was higher, and cone yields were dramatically higher.”

“It’s a good thing Coors took the lead on Cascades when they did,” Dr. Haunold said. “We were at the end of our rope. We had tried everything to get brewers to experiment with Cascade. We were just going to toss out those 30 bales and send 56013 over to the germplasm library, where who knows whether anyone would’ve ever picked it up.”

“Obviously, I was very thankful that Coors liked 56013,” said Dr. Haunold, who still prefers to refer to the hops he released by their pedigree number. “Coors broke the logjam. US brewers began to assert their independence from German, Czechoslavakian and French-grown hops. It gave me a lot of work to do over the next three decades. And it helped launch the craft beer movement.”

Today, Cascade hops are as ubiquitous and American as apple pie. The recent 2009 BA Hops Survey showed that Cascade again topped the chart as the most used hop – two and half times more volume than 2nd place Centennial six times greater than third place Willamette (another Dr. Haunold creation).

So, when you’re tempted to disparage the big industrial brewers, remember this: if Adolph Coors hadn’t taken a chance and bet big on Cascades, this workhorse hop may never have found its way into your kettle and who knows how long its absence might have delayed the US craft beer revolution.

Roger Worthington

Friday, January 22, 2010

First of a series:

US Hopmeister in Chief, Dr. Al Haunold, On the Origins of Willamette.

Dr. Al Haunold served as our country’s unofficial hopmeister from 1965 to 1995 as the leading hop scientist for the USDA’s hop breeding program. During his tenure, Dr. Haunold released 15 U.S. hop varieties to the public and collaborated on at least another 8 varieties. Chances are, every time you drink a craft beer today, you’re tasting a piece of his handiwork.

Although he “retired” in 1995, Dr. Haunold has continued to advise the USDA on hop breeding and production in an unpaid capacity. His days in Corvallis, Oregon are busier than ever, shuttling between the tennis courts, the swimming pool, his office at Oregon State University, and his volunteer work for the AARP helping low income earners fill out their taxes. Time has not taken the edge off – if anything, he’s sharper than ever.

Indie Hops is pleased to consult with Dr. Haunold, who is a veritable rare book on the history of hop breeding in the US. I recently spoke with Dr. Haunold about the history of Willamette, an aroma hop which he released in the mid 1970’s and today ranks as the third highest hop used by U.S. craft brewers. Willamette has also historically been one of Oregon’s mothership hops.

Back in the 1960s, Oregon’s primary hop was UK Fuggles, named after Richard Fuggles who founded the flower in his Golding Yard in the UK. Fuggles tended to grow better in the WV than elsewhere but did not produce a very high yield. Dr. Haunold was approached by Annheuser Busch (AB), which was seeking independence from imports, about replicating a Fuggles offshoot that would thrive in Oregon, have a higher yield, earlier maturation, and slightly higher alpha content.

In the mid-1970’s, Dr. Haunold came up with 6 selections from two different crosses which he subjected to sensory testing by a panel of AB brewers (at the time, AB was the 2nd biggest industrial brewer). The eight man panel evaluated the crosses with the usual rub & sniff as well as a hop tea (called a “decoction test” back then) and pilot brews.

The panel agreed on a variety which came to be known as Columbia. However, the panel was overruled by Frank Schwaiger, AB’s Vice President in charge of brewing since the 1930s. Mr. Schwaiger pinned the blue ribbon on the selection that he thought most closely resembled an Oregon grown Fuggle (which he liked very much), which turned out to be the hop we know and love today as “Wilamette,” named after the river that flows from Eugene through Corvallis down to Portland where it empties into the mighty Columbia River.

The Coleman farms began growing Willamette in the mid 1970s. AB contracted with Goschie farms to grow a few acres of Columbia, but brewers decided against brewing with it. This was in the mid to late 1970s, before the craft revolution at a time when the market was dominated by Schlitz, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Stroh’s, Miller and AB.

Dr. Haunold’s hope was that Willamette, which not surprisingly thrived in Oregon’s lush Willamette river valley, would flourish. However, test plots in Northern California and Idaho were disappointing (low yields). The new Fuggle variant (Willamette is 11/12th Fuggle) met with resistance of a political-economic sort in Washington.

This is an interesting story. From the 1960s to early 1970’s, the overwhelmingly dominant hop variety in Washington was Clusters (about 90% of the acreage), a lower alpha bittering hop that had great storageability at a time when good refrigeration was not universal. Clusters was well suited to Washington’s terroir but had not performed well in the WV because of downy mildew.

Washington growers were so protective of their investment in Clusters they did not want to even test Willamette, except for one grower named John Segal. This was before the craft beer revolution when English varieties like Brewers Gold and Bullion dominated the Pacific Northwest hopyards. Dr. Haunold had not yet begun to breed US aroma varieties of Saaz, Hallertauer Mittelfrueh and Tettnanger (we’ll get to those in future posts).

Today, according to the 2009 BA Hops Usage Survey, Willamette ranks as the third most used hop, whereas Yakima Cluster ranks…. last, bottoming out in 2009 with 0 pounds used.

Willamette has kept Oregon growers above water for the past few decades, but production between the 2008 and 2009 crop was down about 25% and we’ve all heard about AB asking growers with whom it contracted to leave perfectly healthy Willamette cones to die on the vine in 2009. In the 1970’s, Willamette did not grow well in Idaho, so time will tell whether AB under new ownership (InBev) will shift its production to Idaho and if so whether it will do as well as in the WV.

Next installment: the history of Cascades, the Craft Beer Workhorse Aroma Hop.

Roger Worthington

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Why Proprietary Hops?

Why do crafties buy proprietary hops? Are they better than the publicly owned varieties? Lower priced? More available? Easier to store? Do crafties know the difference between proprietary and publicly owned varieties? Does it matter?

Let's break this down. The major proprietary hops include Amarillo, Ahtanum, Simcoe, Warrior, CTZ and Citra. "Proprietary" means that the owner of the invention (ie, the hop rhizomes and flowers) is empowered to restrict access to the public (ie, the growers and suppliers) unless the latter have agreed to abide by licensing agreements which involve the payment of royalties.

The more popular private varieties are the property of a handful of suppliers in the Yakima, Washington area. Most of these owners are also hop suppliers. As such, they enter into production contracts with growers. As capitalism dictates, to recoup R&D costs (who knows how much) and bring home a respectable profit, they are likely to want to grow their own hops.

Where am I going? Read on. I read recently in "The New Brewer" the following asserted facts:

*There are an estimated 75 hop varieties world wide.

*About 77% of all US hops are grown in Washington, 16% in Oregon.

*"One-third of US hops are proprietary hops (must be licensed to grow them)." Herz, "The Romance of Hops," The New Brewer, Nov/Dec 2009, p.16.

This last figure jumped out at me. Hmmm. More than a third of all hops are grown in the Yakima area, and about 30% of the hops grown in the US are proprietary. And nearly all of the major suppliers are located in Yakima.

Now, we've all read the profile of your average craft brewer: rebellious, crafty, innovative, wonky, intermittently cranky, and fiercely independent. The archetypal US crafty will push the envelope to brew new and exciting brews and will violently push back against any attempt to stifle that creativity.

And yet, the following observation has been nagging at me. I've walked the floors of many craft breweries lately. On each tour I've poked my head inside the coolers, mainly to recon the varieties present as well as the suppliers. Naturally, my eye has been trained to associate a hop variety with a supplier.

Now this is anecdotal and I would surely burn in Hell were I to extrapolate from the crumbs of evidence gleaned from these random tours any righteously rigorous conclusions, but I have noticed, shall we say, the faint whiff of an association.

The boxes of Simcoe, CTZ, Amarillo, Warrior, etc always seem to come from the same supplier. The association has become so tight that when a brewer tells me who is supplier is I can fairly predict the hops he uses.

What does this mean? Does it mean that the proprietary hops are better than the publicly owned varieties? Let's look at that. Over a 30 year period, the USDA-ARS hop labs at Oregon State in Corvallis pumped out at least 20 hop cultivars. Each new progeny, for the most part, was bred from the original European noble grand-daddies. Check out the OSU-USDA hop cultivar pedigree chart here. The breeder behind most of the US hop noble "mimics" before 1995 was Dr. Al Haunold.

For example, from Hallertauer Mittlefrueh rootstock, Dr. Haunold and his team fashioned all-stars like Liberty, Mt. Hood, Crystal and Ultra. From Saazer" Sterling. From Tettnanger: Santiam (by the way, Dr. Al has advised that "US Tettnanger" is actually Fuggle). From Fuggle: consistent heavyweights like Willamette, Columbia, Cascade, Horzion and others.

All pretty good stuff. All bred to thrive in the Pacific Northwest, most suited for pest/disease resistance and good yields in Oregon's Willamette Valley. And all publicly owned. That means that any grower can grow them, any supplier can process and supply them, and brewers can use them without paying a surcharge.

Are the proprietary hops simply better? Higher quality? Take a look at the charts - Hop Chart 1 and Hop Chart 2. The numbers dont tell the whole story, to be sure. Hops are odd creatures that behave differently year to year, farm to farm, terroir to terroir, brew kettle to brew kettle, and bottle to bottle (the pageantry surrounding the menagerie wrapped up in a tapestry). But the hop chemistry charts do provide a measuring stick for comparing apples to apples.

So, do brewers fastidiously demand these proprietary hops over the publicly owned varieties or do the suppliers simply tell the brewers that these are what's available and these are what they need to use?

I don't know the answers. I do know that to thrive and distinguish themselves, brewers need variety, choice and fair competition. And they need a reliable, sustainable price. Hand-crafted aroma hop varieties generally cost more to grow than factory-farmed bittering hops, and I'm sure craft brewers are willing to pay a bit more, but nobody likes to be gouged. More than once I've heard a brewer summon the "same boat" metaphor: when the tides up, all boats -- the grower's, the supplier's and the brewer's --should go up, and when the tides down, you get the drift.

To quote a brewer from the Bay Area I recently talked to about this conundrum, "Some of my friends want to brew decent beer with crazy-cool labels; I'd rather brew crazy cool brews with decent labels..."

If anyone has access to data comparing proprietary aroma hops to their publicly owned counterparts via trained sensory panels, please let me know.

Roger Worthington