All about hops

All about hops

Those who know much about Bale Breaker probably already know that we come from a long history in the hop industry.  Our fourth-generation family hop farm is just one of many multi-generational hop farms that call the Yakima Valley home.  It’s often said that if you come from a hop farming family, hops become part of your DNA.  That’s clearly true for us at Bale Breaker and many others here in the valley.  (Want to learn more about our family history?  Check out our Leota Mae blog post.)

But what’s so special about hops, and especially hops in the Yakima Valley, anyway?

The Yakima Valley in Washington state is THE most fertile and productive hop growing region in the world.  In 2017, the United States surpassed Germany as the world’s leading producer of hops and held that title into 2018 with nearly 107 million pounds produced (42% of the world’s hop production).  Washington state (and rather, the Yakima Valley) accounted for nearly 78 million pounds (73%) of the US production, at a value of approximately $425 million. That’s nearly 40,000 acres of hops planted within ~50 miles of Bale Breaker 

(You’re probably curious…why Yakima?  The Yakima Valley has proven to have an ideal combination of the right climate, day length, soil, and access to irrigation systems for hop growing.)

US hop acreage has increased nearly 95% in just six years, and during that time, the types of hop varieties grown here have shifted.  Much of the reason for the increase in acreage and shift in varieties can be credited back to rise of the American craft beer industry, and more specifically, the ever-gaining popularity of the IPA.  (IPAs are a style of beer known for a hop-forward character.)  Nationally, IPAs are far and away the fan favorite among craft beer consumers, representing ~33% of all craft beer dollar sales last year.  IPAs sold over double the next closest beer style in 2018 (seasonals at 14%), and growth isn’t slowing.  Sales of IPAs were up over 10% again last year.

But, to take a step back and talk hops, there are two main types of hop varieties – alpha and aroma.  Alpha hops contribute little in the way of aroma/flavor but are used for their bittering properties.  Aroma hops are used at later points in the brewing process and contribute the majority of a beer’s hop aroma and flavor.  In 2012, the balance of alpha (bittering) hops and aroma (flavoring) hops grown in the US was close to 50/50, but in 2018, the split was closer to 75/25 (aroma/alpha).


Why does that matter?  Well, guess what hops are primarily featured in IPAs?  Aroma varieties.  And do you know what hop variety is driving much of that growth?  Citra®.  In 2018, Citra® overthrew Cascade (after at least five years at the #1 spot) as the hop variety with the most acreage in the US, and the growth in this variety has been quick.  Acreage of Citra® in Washington state has gone from 1,670 acres in 2014 to 4,840 acres in 2018 (+65%).  Over 20% of our family’s nearly 2,000 acres of hops are devoted to Citra® as well. 

Here at Bale Breaker, we jumped on the Citra® train early on.  The feature hop in our best-selling beer, Topcutter IPA, is none other than this hop-superstar, known for its citrus (duh) and tropical fruit characteristics.  In fact, ~50% of the hop bill in Topcutter is comprised of Citra® hops, and Citra® is heavily showcased in Bottomcutter Imperial IPA and Sesiones del Migrante Mango IPA.  Have you been lucky enough to try our limited-release, award-winning triple IPA, Mount Saint Humulus (available now!)?  You guessed it. We load that baby up with Citra® too.  In fact, roughly one-third of our hop contracts each year are for Citra®.

Wait, contracts?!   Last fun fact for you today.  Why contract for hops?  Interestingly enough, there is essentially no commercial use for hops other than beer.  If the brewers (even us, located on a hop farm!) don’t contract for hops years in advance, the growers don’t know how much of what variety to produce, and therefore have no incentive to grow hops just for the fun of it…or I guess you’ll have to ask them how much fun it is.

Additional Resources:

Learn about our family farm and watch short videos on the farming process on our website.

Check out Hops 101 on our website for answers to questions like:  What is a hop?  When/how are they harvested?  Are hops replanted every year?

Get nerdy on Citra® Brand HBC 394 stats with Yakima Chief Ranches.

Get REALLY nerdy on all sorts of hop stats at www.usahops.org.

Posted February 15, 2019

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