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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Future of Willamette Hops

Via Rooftop Brew, we have some potentially disturbing news about a mainstay of craft and home-brewing, Willamette hops:
I received word from the Hop Growers of America Conference that ABI (Anhuesher-Busch InBev) is going to stop using whole hops in their product and start using extracts. Additionally, they are going to stop using Willamettes, something they have spent the last year and a half touting on billboards in our region. This could have some major ramifications for local growers (who are being paid not to grow the varietal) as there are some limitations on what can be grown here because of susceptibility to downy mildews (guess what, it’s wet here.)
Willamettes are an older American cultivar that come from Fuggles--a classic English hop dating back 150 years. A decade ago, it accounted for a fifth of American production. I've used it regularly for my own homebrew. It's a wonderfully versatile hop, equal measures of herb and spice with a tiny bit of NW citrus/fruitiness.

I'd like some confirmation on this, though. It doesn't quite square with what I heard when I visited Hopsteiner in Yakima now more than a decade ago. At that time, they said the macros used extracts exclusively made from high-alpha hops. The reason is obvious--since hops are only used to balance malt, not contribute flavor, you want the highest level of alpha you can extract, thereby reducing the number of hops you have to use. At that time, craft breweries were worried their flavorful, lower-alpha hops were endangered by this trend. Maybe that was just at Hopsteiner, though--or maybe I misheard. Anyway, some confirmation would be good. Still, a worrisome rumor.

(Hat tip Maureen Ogle.)

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