Intoxicating and mysterious, aroma hops lend the kiss of flavor and essence to beer that draws us in for another sip. Craft brewers in North America have stoked a love affair with their creative offerings designed around aroma hop character. They’ve ignited passion, debate and bonds worthy of any romance.
Humulus lupulus is the botanical name for the common hop family. This translates into “earth wolf”, or “soil wolf”, reflecting the plant’s tenacious growth habit. Following an ambitious spring climb that reaches dizzying heights around summer solstice, the female plant sends out sidearms bearing delicate floral blooms that develop into aromatic cones- the “brewer’s spice”.
Hops are indigenous to North America, but early English and German settlers carrying only their dreams and favorite beer ingredients introduced their European cultivars. Hop yards took hold for a time in the east, then made a mid-nineteenth century move west to escape disease pressure. Today nearly all commercial hop farming takes place in the northwest, with Washington’s Yakima Valley the largest industrial producer, followed by Oregon’s Willamette Valley and Idaho’s Boise and Snake River Valleys respectively.
Legend holds that August “Gussie” Anheuser Busch, Jr., while holding the family reins of Anheuser-Busch, jump-started the development of USA hop varieties to reduce dependence on European hops. This action led to the USDA-ARS Hops Research and Breeding program located at Oregon State University. Aroma hop varieties were the early focus of the breeding effort, resulting in the majority of prized USA aroma hops such as Cascade, Willamette, Mt. Hood and Centennial. The new varieties brought improved disease resistance and yield to USA growing regions, offering brewers a stable supply of world-class aroma hops to further their craft.
Oregon’s Willamette Valley is blessed with a growing environment in which aroma varieties thrive. Over time though, industrial beer forces have moved toward high alpha acid “bittering hop” varieties, reducing Oregon’s leading role as the country’s primary hop growing region. With downstream processing infrastructure concentrated within the Yakima Valley’s larger-scale farming and high alpha acid production, Oregon’s niche with prized aroma varieties has been somewhat hidden. Indie Hops specializes in Oregon-grown aroma hops, with processing infrastructure based in Oregon hop country to preserve and deliver the captivating quality for craft brewers across North America.
Noble lines, born in the USA:
The last twenty years of the twentieth century saw a focused effort by the USDA breeding program at Oregon State University to develop varieties interchangeable with noble European hops, along with the promise of better disease resistance and yields. The prized German variety, Hallertauer Mittelfruh, mothered thousands of offspring on USA soil, with only four surviving the royal gauntlet. These four varieties- Mt. Hood, Liberty, Crystal and Ultra- were released beginning in 1990, each worthy of its noble lineage yet born in the New World and carrying subtle American traits. Learn more about these hops by clicking on individual varieties listed to the left.