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
1/24/11

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

http://www.yakimachief.com/hopvarieties/simcoeyc014.html

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

http://www.indiehops.com/haunoldpub-privchart.asp and
http://www.indiehops.com/aroma_variety_survey_chart.asp

To read Simcoe®’s patent application, click here

For more information of Select Botanicals Group, LLC, see http://wa.14thstory.com/select-botanicals-group-llc.html

Click here for the trademark ownership.

4 comments:

  1. This is a great explanation of what's happening with these new aroma varieties that have gained so much attention in recent years; Simcoe, Amarillo, etc. These new aroma varieties all seem to be taking the same path (i.e. proprietary/patented/controlled growing) which forces a brewer to establish contracts in order to guarantee access to the hops at a reasonable cost.

    However, there is a downside to this approach; brewers developing recipes might shy away from using these varieties because of the lack of access to them. My brewery (Idle Hands Craft Ales) is a perfect example of this where we had developed a recipe that used Amarillo but now can’t source the hop at launch so have gone back and reformulated the recipe to use a different (non-controlled) hop that CAN be found on the open market. I know of one other brewery that has had to raise prices significantly for essentially the same reason; lack of availability of the hop which has caused a significant backlash from its fans.

    I can tell you that I’ve learned my lesson and will be less inclined to even look at these proprietary hops in the future because the risk is too high that I won’t be able to find them when I need them. Even if I could get a contract, I’m still looking at 1 to 2 years before I realize the benefits – a lifetime in this business. Brewers, especially new ones can’t afford either the high costs associated with buying these hops on the open market nor can they wait for a contract to kick in to source them – especially when they can’t accurately predict the needed amount.

    I don’t know what the answer is but from a buyers perspective I think the patent owners approach is doing more harm than good to the craft beer market and wouldn’t be surprised if we see a backlash from the brewers at some point.

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  3. We’re naturally very excited, as over the last few decades both workhorse hops have been the exclusive province of Washington growers.LOL Account

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