Thursday, March 22, 2012

Columbia Debut Delayed as Meridian Steals the Show

The Story of the Discovery of a New Oregon Hop

Oh dear.

Remember Columbia? The “sexy” sister to Willamette unceremoniously banished years ago to the basement of hop history? Remember how we gleefully announced that we had resurrected this beauty? That we’d be the first to grow it commercially? And that our craft friends couldn’t wait to set her free?

Separated at Birth, Indeed
We originally reported that the hop on the left
was "Columbia" and the one on the right
was it's sister, Willamette. Turns out our
"Columbia" was actually a new plant,
which we've coronated as "Meridian
Well, we grew her, and dried, baled, and pelleted her, but a funny thing happened on Columbia’s walk down the red carpet. Since nobody had ever “dated” her before, we didn’t quite know what to expect. We suspected she’d be a beauty, with a slightly higher alpha than her floral sister, but this Gal quite simply dazzled us beyond our wildest dreams.

One by one we brought in some of the finest snouts in the land to give her a rub and sniff. It was fun to watch. We’d fill a table with several fresh varieties and our guest would do the dance, concentrating hard, earnestly associating the aroma with descriptors. Without exception, they’d take a whiff of the unlabeled “Columbia” pile and stop in their tracks, arrested, if you will, by the stunning uniqueness. We began hearing words like “Meyer lemon pie.” “Fruit punch.” “Unique.” And “wow!”

The evidence began piling up. When we harvested her, the drying room at Goschie Farms bloomed with a strikingly unique and pleasant aroma. We suspected she’d be different than Willamette, but this different? Something was …. off, in a good way.
We sent her off for a chemistry profile. More and more brewers who sniffed her were amazed at her uniquely fruity aroma. Could it be? We waited. The results came back. Per the literature, we expected Columbia’s alpha-beta ratio to come in at 2:1. But, at 1:1.5, this spunky girl flipped the ratio. She wasn’t just a shade different, she was looking like a brand spanking new leaf!

What's in a Name?
That which we call a Columbia
by any other name, say,
hmmm, "Meridian," would smell
as sweet. With apologies to Bill Shakespeare.
We ran more chemistry. It became evident that she was not Columbia. But what was she? The only pedigree that came close was Glacier. But a defining characteristic for Glacier is her super low cohumulone, at 12%. Compare that to the mystery girl’s CoH, at 45%. They didn’t match.

We ran through all the databases, looking for a match. The conclusion was inescapable: nothing matched. We had found a new hop, a strikingly beautiful new hop that packed a powerfully unique new aroma. We called our customers who had ordered Columbia and with a mixture of excitement and trepidation explained that what we thought was Columbia wasn’t Columbia. Thankfully, our customers shared our enthusiasm for this new find, and offered congratulations.

Suddenly, we had a million things to do. We had printed up a bunch of t-shirts that showcased the debut of Columbia, the famously forgotten Sister. We had to hold on to those. We had to delay putting in new acreage until we could learn more about the agronomy and disease/pest resistance of the new plant.

And we had to give our mystery girl a name. That wasn’t hard – we discovered the plant on Goschie Farms within a few meters of a country road named “Meridian. “ Meridian – a navigational term, an imaginary circle on the planet passing through the North and South poles, but also used in conversation to mean the “zenith” or “summit.” Hmm. We like that. Wherever you are, when you’re drinking a beer hopped with Meridian, you’re approaching the zenith or summit of flavor.

Back to the Basement,
Dear Sweet Hidden Sister
The good news is that when Columbia finally debuts,
we've got a boatload of commemorative t-shirts ready to roll!
As of this writing, the brewer feedback continues to pour in. One brewer has used it in a single hop lager beer, which he described as “clean” and “crisp” with a “refreshing sweet lemon character.” Meridian has also raised eyebrows and oxytocin injections (Ok, made that up) in a wide range of ales, from pales to dark roasted malt “winter seasonals.” It’s reported to play well with Belgian yeast and has a way of amplifying the zesty zing of weissbiers.

We’re excited over here, about excited as anyone should be allowed to get over the discovery of a “sexy” new hop plant. We want to thank Gayle Goschie for her well-intentioned but fortuitous “mistake,” Dr. Shaun Townsend who helped us determine that “Columbia” wasn’t Columbia, and all of our friends in the craft brew world who basically said we don’t care what you call it, we just want more of it!

At the same time, on a somber note, we’re mindful that poor Columbia, as mighty and strong and beautiful as we know she is, will have to wait another few years for her big night in the spotlight.


In Pursuit of Columbia
Dan Kopman of Schlafly Beer in St. Louis
was our first customer to order Columbia. Shown here,
on the left, with Gayle Goschie, R. Worthington and
Matt Sage (left to right). Goschie Farms, July 2011.

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