by Tony Forder
In amongst the literature thrust upon us at the new German Hop Museum in Wolznach, Jim Koch of the Boston Beer Co. stared out from the cover of one of the hop growers’ bulletins. Jim’s a popular guy in the Hallertau hop-growing region. Last year he received an award (Chevalier of the Order of the Hop) for his help in perpetuating the fabled Hallertau Mittelfruher hop. In the mid-1990s, Koch bucked conventional wisdom that claimed the variety was doomed. He convinced a handful of farmers that by changing growing patterns and sanitation practices, the “Mittlefruher” was still viable.
The said hop is one of 16 varieties cultivated in the Hallertauer region, mostly in small, family-run plots which are sometimes referred to as hop gardens. Hallertauer will never be a player in the global market of commodity hops, where price is determined by alpha content; its future hangs on the demand for high-quality aromatic hops. With the revival of specialty brewing, it’s a future that looks a little brighter than it did 20 yeas ago.
Still, like the German brewing industry, the hop growers have also seen consolidation and the number of farms dwindle. But now the Hallertauer region has another booming business piggybacking on the efforts of the hop growers—tourism. You can bike, hike or ride through the rolling Hallertauer hills during the Bavarian summer (the air heavy with the scent of hops), visit spas, stay in boarding houses or hotels and, of course, slake your thirst to your heart’s content with fresh Bavarian lager.
Research is a big part of the German hop industry. Recently, a variety of health benefits were linked to the tannin xanthohumol, found solely in the lupulin glands of hops. So positive was the news that the brewers at Bavaria’s university brewery (Weihenstephan) produced a beer called Xan. Professors there even told us that, “A day without beer is a health risk.” (For more information on Bavarian hops, visit www.hopfenland-hallertau.de