The hop crop is a hot topic as the craft brewing industry’s thirst for new, locally grown flavors and aromas powers how and where farmers grow the key ingredient in beer.
“The incredible rise of the craft beer industry over the past decade changed and propelled the hop industry, particularly leading to new, experimental markets in the Great Lakes region,” said Dr. Neil Reid, professor of geography and planning at The University of Toledo, who is affectionately known as the “Beer Professor.” “With 810 acres dedicated to farming hop plants, Michigan is now the largest hop producer in the country outside the Pacific Northwest.”Reid, who is teaching a new class this semester at UT titled The Geography of Beer and Brewing, will speak about the impact of the craft beer revolution on the American hops industry at the 10th annual Wisconsin Hop Seminar hosted by University of Wisconsin-Extension on Saturday, Feb. 16, at the Hillsboro Brewing Co., located at 815 Water St. in Hillsboro, Wis. The deadline to register is Thursday, Feb. 7.
The event connects craft beer brewers, such as the brew masters for New Glarus Brewing Co. and South Shore Brewing, with hop growers and University of Wisconsin experts in a variety of fields, including plant pathology and breeding.
“We want to focus on the relationship between the brewers and the growers because it is necessary for the small industry to succeed,” Carl Duley, Buffalo County agricultural agent for the University of Wisconsin-Extension, said. “Michigan has grown a lot faster than we have when it comes to hops production. In 2017, about 300 acres of land in Wisconsin was devoted to hops farming. That’s up from nearly nothing 10 years ago. It’s exciting to see the supply side of the business evolve.”
Reid is an expert on the craft brewing industry and its economic geography. His research is focused on the industry’s growth in the United States and its potential role in helping to revitalize neighborhood economies.
“Craft brewers demand locally grown hops, experiment with different varieties of hops, and use more hops in beer production compared to mass-produced beers,” Reid said. “For example, an Imperial IPA [India pale ale] uses four pounds of hops per keg. A Pilsner, like Budweiser, uses 0.3 pounds of hops per keg.”The volume of craft beer sales increased nationwide in 2017 to 12.7 percent of total U.S. beer sales, but more than 23 percent of the $111.4 billion U.S. beer market, according to the Brewers Association.
“A bigger share of money is being spent on craft beer,” Reid said. “The way these small, independently owned brewers are collectively challenging Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing is part of the local foods movement. And farmers in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin — as well as 23 other states — are starting to see this as an opportunity to diversify and meet the demand.”
Reid said the hops farms in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin are small compared to ones in Washington, Idaho or Oregon that together grow 95 percent of all hops in the country.
While four ingredients go into making beer — hops, barley, water and yeast — hops have grabbed most of the attention of consumers since its flavor and aroma are dominant.
Until around 2011, farmers in the Pacific Northwest mostly focused on alpha hop varieties that are used to give mass-produced beers like Budweiser and Miller Lite their bitterness. Instead of alpha, independent brewers want aroma hops that give beer flavors such as orange or fragrances like pine, and dual-purpose hops that are a hybrid of aromatic and bittering hops.
“In the last 10 years, alpha hop production in Washington dropped from 73 percent down to 26 percent of hops produced,” Reid said. “Craft brewers are driving the change to aroma and dual-purpose hops.”
As mass-beer makers focus on consistency so each bottle tastes the same, Reid said craft brewers enjoy creativity using different combinations of more than 125 varieties of hops, including Citra, Cascade, Chinook, Centennial and Mosaic.
To learn more about the evolving appetite of craft beer drinkers and the experimentation of craft brewers, tap into Reid’s blog about the beer industry at thebeerprofessor.com.