Monday, January 24, 2011

The Low Down on Simcoe®

Having trouble getting Simcoe®? You’re not alone. A ton of brewers have asked us for Simcoe®, which we don’t have, as it’s a proprietary hop owned by Select Botanicals Group, LLC, who restricts who can grow it. Our growers have not been licensed to plant Simcoe®.

A brewer in Southern California recently told me he just bought the last 3,000 pounds. I didn’t ask what he paid, but in view of the high demand and short supply, I’m sure the “spot” price was not pretty.

The scarcity of Simcoe® and the near-desperate demand prompted me to poke around. First, let’s look at the sheets. Yakima Chief Ranches,Inc. applied for the original patent in 199. They identified Simcoe® as a dual purpose bittering/aroma hop, with a hefty yield of 2300-2500 pounds per acre. The current owner of the trademark Simcoe(r) is Select Botanicals Group, LLC, of Washington.

A review of the USAHops website shows that the Washington farmers planted 237 acres of Simcoe® in 2010, up 29% from 2009. (By comparison, WA farmers planted 443 acres of Chinook, up 15%).

However, the average yield was 1,698 lbs/acre. This is a 20% drop from the year before and about a 30% decline from it’s purported average yield ( 2,300—2,500 lbs/acre). (By comparison, Chinook’s average yield was up around 8% at 1,963 lbs/acre).

I understand that Simcoe's owner has licensed three (3) farms in Washington to grow their prized invention. I'm not sure how many merchants are allowed to sell it.

It’s clear that the supply was down. A baby harvest? Pest or mildew issues? Not sure.

Why the popular demand? Let’s look at Simcoe’s chemistry:

Alpha acids: 12-14% (Chinook 13-15, Centenn. 10-13)
Beta acids: 4-5%
Cohumulone: 15-20% (remarkably low!)
Total Oil: 2—2.5 ml/100 g (huge, on par with Magnum and Centennial)
Myrcene: 60-65% (Chinook’s is 52)
Farnesene: 0% (Chinook and Centenn. “trace”)
H/C ratio: 2.1 (same as Chinook)
Storability: good
Parentage: Undisclosed (the inventor’s not telling)

Brewers have described the aroma as complex, hovering between citrusy/grapefruity and piney. I’ve read references to Simcoe® as “Cascades on steroids.” Interestingly, in Yakima Chief’s patent application, the only hops referenced were Cascade and Galena, in the context of shattering potential and shoot emergence, respectively.

So let’s say you want Simcoe® but can’t get it or don’t want to pay high spot market prices. Are there “alternatives?” Choosing an “alternative” is at best an inexact science. Do we find a cultivar with similar hop chemistry? We can’t compare parentage, as Yakima Chief’s keeping the blood lines secret. We could study key molecular markers on the Simcoe® mystery hop and on likely parental genotypes, but this would take both big time and big money.

For now, if your recipe calls for Simcoe® but you can’t get it, you might experiment with blending hops. We haven’t done the science, nor have we played with pilot brews ourselves, but our hunch is a blend of Chinook and Horizon might do the trick (Horizon for bittering only).

In our view, the spot market spike and scarcity of Simcoe® points up the need for diversification. Brewers should have access to suitable hop alternatives. Growers should have access to rhizomes without paying restrictive licensing fees. Scientists should have access to the parentage, both to develop alternatives as well as to validate disease resistance assessments.

Of course, the shortage also underscores the need by brewers to contract long term with merchants or growers for must-have varieties. In 2011, we will be harvesting our first crop of both Chinook and Horizon. We’re naturally very excited, as over the last few decades both workhorse hops have been the exclusive province of Washington growers.

Roger Worthington

PS. For more information on Simcoe®, click on:

To compare Simcoe’s hop chemistry with other cultivars, click on: and

To read Simcoe®’s patent application, click here

For more information of Select Botanicals Group, LLC, see

Click here for the trademark ownership.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hobby Hop Farmer Jim Spencer Mixing Up the Medicine

Here’s a fun story.

My neighbor up in Madras, Oregon, Jim Spencer (that serene fella to the right), read my blog about using a French Press to extract more hop juice and decided to give it a go himself. Turns out Jim is a gentleman hop farmer with an abiding passion for the noble flower.

I’ve learned that Jim’s growing Cascades, Magnum, Newport, Nugget, CTZ and Chinook – the higher alpha varieties – on just under one acre. You got to love that Oregon pioneering spirit.

Anyway, Jim took my experiment to the next level. Using Nugget cones from his own yard, he’s been brewing up a hop tea and adding it to his favorite IPA. Like me, he’s drawn to the potential power of the hop to relax the nerves and fight off free radicals. He warns that drinking too much of hop tea in the morning can render you nearly comatose (but happy) by noon (well, it might make you happy, not your boss).

Like any dedicated lab rat, Jim’s committed to his playful tinkering. As soon as he finds the right balance that relaxes without tranquilizing, we’ll let you know. By the way, we’re having fun here so if you’re a snoop for the FDA hell bent on scolding exuberant hop heads, please chill out (at least try).

From: Jim Spencer
To: Roger Worghingon
Sent: January 05, 2011
Subject: Home Hop Press Experiment


Just got a French Press Coffee Maker for Christmas. Decided to try your Home Hop Press Experiment after reading your article from the October Issue of your blog. It occurred to me that HEAT was needed to release the oils and the rest of the goodness locked up in the hops.

I put about 1/4 cup of whole hop cones (Newport) in the French Press and added 1 cup hot water (about 180F) and let it steep for 6-10 min. Then I strained it [about 4-6 ozs] into an Imperial Pint glass and topped it off with a 12oz Pale Ale (Homebrew).

The result was surprisingly drinkable. The color was that of a pinkish Hefewiezen and the taste was strongly citrusy but still had some "beer-like" qualities. With a little tweaking of the Hop-Tea to Beer ratio I think it may make a decently refreshing summer a raspberry wheat type of summer beer.

But, I think the real value of this concoction is as a Health Cocktail. Like you, I'm convinced that it is full of concentrated levels of anti-oxidants, anti-microbials, anti-cancer agents, etc, etc. I've had one of these drinks each of the last 4 nights and I've got to say I've been sleeping great, too.

I have no idea how to fit a giant French Press type plunger on a fermentation tank...but I have found a tasty sleep-aid and I may just be protecting myself from cancer at the same time.

Thanks for the tip. Hope this helps.

Jim Spencer
Madras, OR

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Competition Good for Hops, Farmers and Brewers

Attention Craft Brewers:

I hope this note finds you in a robust spirit as we settle in to the new year. Fortunately, we have much to be upbeat about – craft brewing is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal economy. Every day it seems we’re hoisting hoppier beers and welcoming more happy converts.

As you plan your future hop needs, please consider Indie Hops.

Our prices may not be the lowest you can find but they will be competitive enough to not have a significant effect on the hop portion of your COGS. If it's more, it will be a tiny fraction of the $10 more per lb. you were paying just recently and it's a fair price to pay to insure that everyone in the supply chain is healthy so that the hop supply stabilizes.

After several years of selling hops at a 400% markup, the de facto hop cartel in Yakima can afford to offer new contracts virtually at cost in order to keep you dependent on them when the next price cycle comes along. Yes, there was a tight market in 2008 and it is reasonable that brewers without contracts would have to pay more that year. However, the very next year 7,000 additional acres of hops were put in and there was no longer a shortage to justify the long contracts at record high prices. Having few alternatives, you had little choice but to agree to lopsided terms.

Do you want to reward the Yakima merchants for this behavior by giving them all of your business now that spot prices are low? Unless Indie Hops and others are around to offer competition the next time the supply tightens, you will once again have no choice.

So having said all that, I politely encourage you to continue to diversify. Buy from your current suppliers. Buy directly from farmers. Buy locally. Buy from overseas. And buy from the new guys with the lightly processed fresh pellets who believe in promoting publicly owned cultivars – Indie Hops. Spread the love, lower the risks of controversial shortages, promote hop and hop farmer diversification, and make a new friend with a fresh spirit.

Keeping competition alive will be as good for the hop industry as it has been for the brewing industry. We appreciate your support.



Available hops:

2011 crop: