Friday, February 26, 2010

Hop Talk with Hopmeister Al Haunold, Part VII

Buy Local, Go Green and Save Green: The Case for Mt. Hood, Liberty, Ultra and Crystal

By now you’ve noticed a theme that goes something like this.
  • Industrial brewers back in The Day (pre-1980) grew tired of paying higher prices for unreliable supplies of European noble aroma hop imports.

  • The Industrials tasked Dr. Haunold, the People’s Hopmeister, to breed noble hop surrogates with a similar oil profile but with higher alpha acid, higher yields, and superior disease resistance.

  • Dr. Haunold delivered, and then some. He delivered, but it turned out the Industrials, after driving the research and breeding, wound up seldom utilizing the new and improved noble “mimics,” as in the late 1970s they began trending away from aromatic lagers and pilseners and towards super alpha varieties for bittering only.

  • The craft breweries came along in the mid 1980s and began taking a greater interest in the noble aroma mimic “cast offs’ for uniquely American style pale ales.

  • Many crafties, however, continued to be seduced by the mystique and aura of European, Old World hops (Saazer, Tettnanger, Hallertau Mittelfrueh). They were willing to pay more, as securing ginormous supplies from afar was not a major concern for smaller, start-up brewers.

  • In recent years, the dollar has weakened against the Euro, which has resulted in higher prices for European hop imports. Meanwhile, overall annual hop acreage in Oregon has dropped significantly in the past decade.

  • Yours Truly then ends up ranting that it doesn’t make sense to pay more for low yielding and arguably inferior (well, different) hops just because of a perceived marketing boost. Form over substance! Status. Hype. Yours Truly’s head then threatens to explode when you fold in the fact that buying Euro puts Oregon farmers out of work and puts more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. (Quick, you’re a brewer in San Diego. What’s greener: buying hops from Hubbard, Oregon or Mainburg, Germany?)
Here we go again.

We’ve already shown that Sterling and Santiam are darn good substitutes for Czech Saazer and German Tettnanger, respectively. For many of the same reasons, the same holds true for Mt. Hood, Liberty, Ultra and Liberty, all excellent replacements for Hallertau Mittlefrueh, another august noble aroma from Old Bavaria. How old? The literature says Hallertau hops began gracing Bavarian gardens in 736 AD and sanctifying brews in about 1100.

Bigger, Better, Stronger

Dr. Haunold released all four of the U.S. mimics of Hallertauer mf between 1990 and 1993 (the “mf” refers to the “medium early’ maturation date, circa late August in Germany). For each of the above named varieties, the yields in the US are much higher. The US varieties have higher alpha acid percentages (except for Crystal). The oil profiles are comparable. The comparative risk of crop-devastating diseases, pests or climactic “acts of god” for US varieties is far lower – summer hailstorms in the German Hallertau region are not freak occurrences.

Each, with the exception of Crystal, found favor with the Industrials (viz, Anheuser Busch, Strohs, Coors, Labbats, Modelo), largely because Al boosted the alpha juice. Crystal’s alpha, however, stayed even with it’s land race progenitor at around 3-5%, and the Industrials rejected it. Al was ready to toss Crystal and would have but for the lobbying of a single hop merchant who thought the burgeoning crafties would like its aroma and he convinced Al to release it.

Al is particularly fond of Mt. Hood, which is a ½ sister of Ultra, Liberty and Crystal. It’s parentage is as follows: 2/3 Hallertauer mf, 1/6 Early Green (a UK hop that came to the US in the early 1930s and faded away with little fanfare), and 1/6 unknown German aroma male. Mt. Hood, as well as its half-sisters, are triploid cultivars, which, Al explains, means that it tends to be vigorous, higher yielding, and nearly seedless, which is a bonus for hop happy craft brewers.

The Valley is Hotter

Mt. Hood is not an early maturing hop like its Bavarian blood mother, probably on account of the differences in terroir. Summers in the Willamette Valley, with its South-North mountain ranges, tend to be much hotter and drier than the Hallertau region in Germany, which is nestled at the base of an East-West mountain chain. Mt. Hoods mature around August 27th, while the German noble mother is primed for harvest around August 25th in the Fatherland.

Take a peak at the analytics. German grown Hallertau mf is poor yielding, low alpha (3-5%), low cohumulone (20), low total oil (0.8 ml/100g), low myrcene (40), high H/C ratio (3.4), has a trace of farnesene and stores fairly to poorly. Oregon-grown Mt. Hood, by contrast, has excellent yield, higher alpha (5-7%), slightly higher cohumulone (23), twice the total oils (1.6), a lower H/C ratio (23) and stores much better.

Flavor and aroma? They are nearly super-imposable. Mount Hood: “refined, spicy aroma and clean bittering.” Hallertau mf: “mild spicy and pleasant.” Liberty: “spicy, mild, resiny, flowery.” Of course, neither Al, nor this budding hopster, would presume to be the ultimate arbiter on taste.

How about overall US consumption? Here’s where I scratch my head. It appears a few crafties continue to be willing to pay more for the mystique. In 2009, German grown Hallertau mf imported to the US ranked 17th (34,123 lbs). The US grown cultivars ranked as follows: 9th, Crystal (65,631 lbs); 20th, Mt. Hood (32,148 lbs); and 83rd out of 88, almost dead last, Ultra (250 lbs).

Missing the Boat

“They’re missing the boat,” concluded Al, when I read to him the rankings. “Mt. Hood is a superb aroma hop. I don’t understand why it doesn’t rank higher among craft brewers. Of the four Hallertau hops we bred for US production, Mt. Hood was my favorite. The flavor and aroma are excellent. High yields. Good oils. Locally grown.”

Hmmm. Why would some crafties want to spend more for German grown hops? Even if it means a bigger carbon footprint, a less reliable supply, and putting Oregon hop farmers out of work? Perhaps it’s all about the grand experience of boarding a plane to Munich in the late summer ostensibly to inspect the hop harvest. Hey, we got beerfests in the Northwest, too!

Finally, consider this. Aroma hops grow and mature differently than super alphas. They need more care, and thus their price is higher. The plots are smaller. An investment in Oregon hop farmers will help secure a diverse, reliable, sustainable, and quality pipeline in the future.

Roger Worthington

1 comment:

  1. Great write-up! As a home brewer interested in Oregon hops, I had no idea that the flavor profiles were so similar between Mt. Hood and Hallertauer. Cue the marketing guy!