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Hops. Those little green flowers that bring so much joy to us, especially to APA and IPA lovers around the world. Lets take an illustrated journey through the world of Hops. Yes, we all know what makes a hop a hop, but what about the history, or how much is grown where?
Northwest Hops Production
The Yakima Valley region in Washington quickly rose to being one the of top producers of hops in the US. This was because it was one of the few profitable crops that can grow in the area. Within Yakima Valley, Moxee city and Toppenish were the leaders in production by the 1920s, where there were over 1,200 acres dedicated to growing hops. That number more than tripled in twenty years, to 4,600 acres! That amounts to roughly 7.2 square miles.
Today, Washington grows just over 32,000 acres of hops. Take a look at this infographic to show how the rest of the US (and Canada) stack up using 2015 acreage numbers.

Yakima County Washington is only 4,200 Square miles, but accounts for roughly 70% of all North American Commercial hop growth.
The Early European Hop Takeover
Back in the old days, when ScrewyBrewer and TxBrew were wee babes (Roughly 736 AD), the first documented cultivation of hops took place in what would be the Hallertau region of Germany. At that time, beers were primarily bittered with herbs (gruits). It wasnt until over 600 years later that people began to realize that the beers brewed with hops had better shelf stability than their gruit counterparts.
Britain caught on even later, as they saw hops as a useless weed. Once they did accept hops as the best way to preserve beer (bittering factors were still unfavorable), they began importing hops from the Flemish region in Belgium. As taxes increased on imported hops, Britain began growing their own acreage. Just as the Northwestern regions of North America would discover, it was very profitable when yields were good. In fact, on a good year, one acre of hops could sell for as much as fifty acres of other crops. However, hop farming in Britain was a risky business, as yields varied greatly year to year due to drought, disease, and pests. By 1710, extra taxes were levied against breweries that made a beer without hops as the primary bittering agent. These taxes varied so greatly from year to year that people would place bets on what the taxes would be (similar to how Vegas will put a line on how long the national anthem is at the Super Bowl).
In the late 1800s, United Kingdom hop production peaked at a staggering 77,000 acres. This however crashed during the 1900s, falling all the way to 2,427 (2014 numbers).
Hop Nobility

Germany is the king of hops production. Its regions produce 3 of the 4 noble hops. It also produces slightly more hops than the US (based on 2012 numbers).
You probably already know this, but there are 4 noble hops; those being Hallertau, Spalt, Tettnang, and Saaz. The first three are all German. They may have lost the war, but they have dominance over the four most well-known, and widely used, hops in the world.
Growing it Green

Young hops flowers growing on a fence. Photo Credit by Dag Terje Filip Endresen
Hops are typically grown from the rhizome stage; however, planting a crown can yield greater results, earlier. Hops have separate male and female plants, and the female variety produces hops. The flowers on hops are called burrs. Those burrs then turn to cones later in the season. Depending on the weather in your region, harvest is typically between August and September. Once harvested, the hops must be dried, if not using them in a Wet-Hop or Harvest beer. After being completely dried, they are typically pressed into bales, and sent to distributors. Smaller hop operations will vacuum pack directly on site.
If we were to stereotype regions by hop flavor profiles, removing outliers, we would find a vast difference in flavors on either side of the Atlantic Ocean. The United States produces insane amounts of big, bold, fruity, and piney hops. Each year, many new types are grown, giving brewers ever-growing options. Australia also produces bold and fruity hops. In Europe, however, the flavors tend to gravitate towards flowery, earthy, mild, and a bit of spicy notes.
Violent Chemistry
Hops release their desired bitterness, flavor, and aroma profiles when dropped into a container of boiling wort. There are two types of acids that produce bitterness in beer. The first are Alpha Acids, which produce the bulk of bitterness in beer. The other are Beta acids, which are typically believed to add bitterness as the beer is aged. The longer hops are boiled, the more acids they will release; however, the compounds that produce aroma are driven off during the boiling process. To combat this loss of aroma, brewers of all levels have:
1. Added hops toward the end of the boil - Done in almost all beers.
2. Dry hopped (added hops after fermentation)
3. Hop-backed - Hops added in-line as the wort is cooled
4. Randalled - In-line addition of hops at the time of serving
Using one, or all, of these methods will dramatically increase the hop presence in your beer.
As you can see, theres a lot to these little green plants, and Im sure, in the next few years, the amount of new hop varieties will allow for even crazier hoppy beers.
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It's amazing to believe that germany grows more hops than the United States (just based on size alone!). I also didn't know that the rest of the US was so low, percentage wise, compared to the PNW.
@ZebulonBrewer I'm sure the number of small commercial hop growers will eat into the numbers within a few years as they grow. New England has had a couple farms pop up recently.
good read... thanks for the info...
One fact I always hear is, initially, New York state was the big hop producer in the U.S. in the early 1900's until there was some mold/disease that forced production to the pacific northwest. I don't know it this is true but I thought it is worth mentioning .
Hop farms are making a comeback in NYS, particularly the Finger Lakes Region. It may be related to the state's fairly new Farm Brewery license that requires local ingredients in exchange for preferential tax rates
Massachusetts was the major hop producing state in the early 19th century. So much so that they exported much of it to Europe because, I believe, UK crops weren't able to produce consistently at the time. New Hampshire and Vermont also became big (for the time) hop producers. But after a few decades the quality began to decline due to soil depletion. Farming moved to upstate New York in the mid-1800s and also spread to Minnesota. I think New York crops got hit hard with downy mildew and that pretty much killed the industry there. About that time, the late 19th century, hop farms were popping up in Washington, Oregon and northern California. The northwest has been the major US producer ever since.
Source: "Tinged With Gold: Hop Culture In The United States"
It's a book written by Michael Tomlan. Loaded with interesting information but it can get bogged down in minutia. But that's just my opinion. Minutia may be just what you're looking for. It's available in print and ebook.
Interesting article. Thank you.
"The Yakima Valley region in Washington quickly rose to being one the of top producers of hops in the US. This was because it was one of the few profitable crops that can grow in the area."
Why can hops grow more profitably than other crops in the YV region? Hops have a short growing season? Hops like poor YV dirt? Other? Would hops grow just as well elsewhere, say, Iowa, but corn and soybeans are more profitable there? Or, are Iowans just too late to cash in on the IPA revolution?
Just one point
Hop-backed - Hops added in-line as the wort is cooled
I assumed that hopback is made with hot wort.
@Goont "Using a Hop Back
A hop back is a device that is inserted in line as the beer is transferred and cooled from the hot boiler into the fermenter."
So Yes, it is in contact with hot wort, but during the wort cooling process.
@Singletrack I'm not sure what kind of dirt is in YV, but don't hops like sandy dirt that other crops may suffer in?
I do think it's a case of Iowa missing the boat, since hops do tend to be hardy. It could also be a water issue (does YV get more rain than central Iowa). Plus, someone has to grow the corn and potatoes.
The YV is quite dry with a long growing season, which is ok for the end of hop growing season. They take irrigation early on. I suspect the high levels of irrigation needed for vegetable crops make them less financially viable.
Great article. A picture and some words about the pelletizing process would also be good.
I would also love a similar article on malts. How they are made, and the differences between specialty and base malts.
Also I believe hops only will thrive at certain latitudes, thus the growing season in these regions are a nice long summer growing season.
Even though as small home growers could probably grow them almost anywhere, for a commercial stand point it is not viable.
My understanding is hops need a long day light period. That is why latitude is important. In South Africa we have one small region that produces hops, the Southern Cape. They main producers develop varieties that are less day light sensitive.
Interesting read, particularly about the tax aspect. That was just one way they slowly got rid of gruits. The rest seemed more like a witch hunt to me, from what I found in my historical research.My home brewing books also discuss this. It amazes me how things progressed sometimes.