Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hop History With Dr. Haunold, Part V.
Perle: Is it an Alpha Hop? An Aroma hop? Or Something In Between?

The Germans, to this day, insist Perle (pronounced Purr-lay) is an aroma hop. When grown in Germany, the alpha acid content is a reliable 7 - 8% -- not exactly the subtle levels of an esteemed Hallertauer mf, which hover below 5%. That disparity, however, as a matter of historical record never stopped German hop merchants on the hunt for premium prices from suggesting a mild Hallertau “infusion.”

Not until, that is, they were busted in the late 1970s by a scientist who, at an international meeting, stood up and said, “Wait a minute you bearded Bavarian boys in lederhosen, this hop you call Perle quacks, waddles and paddles like a Northern Brewer. Pray tell, what’s in it?” For years the Germans resisted disclosing the pedigree, vainly trying to keep the lid on the truth as long as possible, during which time they could happily exploit the alleged Hallertau lineage.

Finally, in 1978, the Germans gave up the goose and admitted their beloved Perle was actually the progeny of a Northern Brewer crossed with a male of unknown pedigree (I guess it could have Hallertau bloodlines). As hopworld “dust-ups” go, this was big – big enough to draw out the young Dr. Haunold, our very own People’s Hopmeister and delightful stickler for the truth.

Trust, but Verify

Al recalls that during the 1960s and 1970s the Germans jealously guarded their rhizomes like the proverbial rich ugly old maid with her silver spoons. But, he noted, the Germans wanted something he had just cooked up: Galena and Nugget. “So we made a trade. But I forced them to confirm that their Perle rhizomes were indeed the offspring of Northern Brewer and an undisclosed male parent. I was skeptical about their boast that Perle belonged in the vaunted noble family, so I did some testing.”

In 1980, Al propagated a plot near Corvallis, harvested same and tested it. The alpha of the German grown Perle hovered around 8%, but the alpha in the Oregon grown cones shot up to 11%, with some tests ringing the bell at 12% or slightly higher. Al and his chemists had spent years evaluating “noble aroma hops” in order to figure out their mystique so he knew a little about the major quality components that traditional brewers expected from these esteemed, boutique hops for which they had unflinchingly paid premium prices.

But what made the Oregon- grown Perle richer in alpha acids? It’s all terroir, baby. The answer, to this day, remains something of a mystery, but if Al were to speculate --speculation being a rank and vulgar practice of histrionic lawyers and pseudo-scientists, -- the good hopmeister would offer the following.

Size Does Matter

Oregon’s hop yards line up with the 45th Northern Parallel, while the German yards are further north on the 48th Latitude. As a rule of thumb, the closer a hop vine is to the equator, all other things being equal (ceterus paribus!), the higher the acid in the cone (as a % of weight). Added to which, size does matter: the smaller the cone, the bigger the alpha juice jolt (your basic inverse relationship). Oregon Perle cones were generally smaller than their German grown sisters, but probably due to a confluence of agronomic, water supply, soil quality and climactic factors, the Oregon yields tended to be higher. So there – rank, raw, crude, unwholesome speculation.

The question you have to be asking by now is, OK, how does any of this affect the price of hops in Hubbard, Oregon? Here’s the deal. Let’s say you’re a brewer. Your recipe calls for Northern Brewer. We suggest you consider Perle. Why? Oregon - grown Perle has higher yields than Northern Brewer. Indeed, the main driver of N. Brewer in the States for years was Anchor Steam Brewery, but few growers wanted to hassle with it since the yields were so low, in part because the hop was infected with several viruses.

Yields of US grown Perle (mostly virus-free) are reliably between 1,400 and 1,600 pounds. Both are touted for their “minty” or “evergreen” flavor, but Perle has higher alpha, and stores quite well – as Al puts it, “Perle is a good keeper.

Think Globally, Buy Hops Locally

If you’re vacillating between US Perle and Germany Perle, consider these factors. The US - grown Perle has much higher yields and probably more reliable (Verticillium wilt is not the scourge here that it is there).You will get 20% more alpha. You will be keeping US growers alive. Buying locally will also save you money, especially today in view of the strong Euro and weak dollar. And besides, why reward the Germans for perpetuating the myth that their Perle has Hallertau bloodlines, a ruse designed to jack up both the mystique and the price?

Finally, let’s say you want to examine those lovely cones on the vine dangling in the summer breeze. Are you going to book a flight to Munich? With Oregon - grown Perle, which matures earlier than most sister hop varieties in the Valley, you can walk the Salmon - Safe certified hop yards at the Coleman farms like a kid in the candy store. “I’ll take a bale of this, two bales of that…”

Unlike the cultivars we’ve discussed to date, Al did not breed a new Perle derivative. He was simply the first to pry a few rhizomes from the Germans and plant them in Oregon, where in fits and starts they’ve flourished ever since. In the 2009 BA Hop Usage survey, brewers surprisingly continued to buy more German Perle than US Perle (29,550 lbs vs. 21,965 lbs, respectively).

Indie Hops will plant Perle on the Coleman Farms near St. Paul, Oregon, in 2010 with our baby harvest in 2011. We’re excited to get brewer feedback as, over time, who knows exactly what exciting flavors and aromas await. Al’s expertise stops when the hops hit the boil. For that, we defer to the nose and tongue of the brewer.

Feb. 12, 2010

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