Brewers’ pursuit of new beer flavors drives hop acreage growth in US

While new and experimental hops are rising in popularity older varieties like Comet are seeing a comeback among brewers. ©iStock/sivivolk

Hop acreage in the US Pacific Northwest (Idaho, Oregon, and Washington) is spreading; driven by brewers’ quest to develop new and novel beer flavors to satisfy consumers evolving tastes. 

“There is a massive desire by craft beer drinkers for brewers to come up with unique, hoppy flavors. As growers, we’re receiving contracts from brewers which directly relate to not only how much acreage we need, but the growth of the hop business,” Bill Elkins, sales representative for Hopsteiner, said.

Hopsteiner is an international hop grower with its US hop farms located in Yakima, Washington.

Hop acreage in the US Pacific Northwest is reported to increase to 54,135 acres for 2017, an increase of 6.4% compared to 2016, according to the USDA-NASS. If realized, acreage will reach a record high in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and the US.

In line with this growth, Hopsteiner has seen 4% year-over-year growth in hops acreage with the state of Washington increasing by 82% over the past six years and covering 71.9% of total US hops acres 54,135 acres in the region.

Idaho, the third largest hops producer in the US, is forecasted to experience the largest surge of hop growth with 27% more acres strung for harvest when compared to last year. Oregon, the second largest producer in the US, is expected to increase acreage by approximately 4% compared to 2016.

“We’re not surprised by this rapid growth of the hop industry as we have seen it first hand,” Elkins said.  

These regional numbers helped make the US the largest hop-growing country (on an acreage basis) in the world, ahead of Germany, according to USDA-NASS data.

Diversifying hops

While Centennial and Cascade hops still remain the most cultivated varieties in the US, hops acreage is diversifying, according to Elkins. 

The top five hop varieties strung for 2017 harvest in the United States are Cascade, Centennial, Citra, Simcoe and Zeus, according to the USDA-NASS.

“New and experimental hops are a large part of the new plantings that occur each year,” Elkins told BeverageDaily.

“In most cases the Cascade acres reduced were replaced by new proprietary varieties such as Denali, Eureka!, and Lemondrop which are in high demand.”

One surprising finding from the USDA-NASS report was the revival of Comet, an older hop with a fruity aroma, which has recently been sought after by brewers looking to achieve a “New England-type feel” for their beers, according to Hopsteiner.

With an increase of 76%, Comet saw the highest percentage increase among hop varieties grown in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.  

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