Mid-September means the hop harvest is in full swing in the Pacific Northewest, and to get insight on what is happening with the harvest Eric Desmarais, the 4th generation owner of CLS Farms in Yakima and Alexandra Nowell the technical brewing advisor to the farm join the Drink Beer, Think Beer podcast.
They’ve been busy taking stock of all that’s happening amid the acres and running sensory and talking with brewers. They’ve also been looking at the calendar and taking stock on the aromas and flavors that the hops present when they are picked.
It’s something that gets a good amount of attention these days. Earlier this year they hosted a seminar titled “Finding the Edges: The Intersection of Art and Science Hop Picking Windows,” and were joined by Tom Nielsen of Sierra Nevada, and Stephanie Conn of VGF Farms.
The seminar, they said, explored the diversity of hop aromas that can develop based on when a variety is harvested and in this conversation, they will share details on that and what they have additionally learned this season.
How does harvest time impact the flavor of the hops? One example that CLS found that harvesting El Dorado towards the end of September brings out its tropical and candy aromas whereas early harvested El Dorado has more citrus and melon character. It’s a fascinating subject and science.
John Holl: How are things in Yakima at the moment?
Eric Desmarais: It’s busy. All the farms are picking obviously by now, and there was a little herky jerky start because there was an early split bloom. These are things that have been talked about already, but primarily with Centennial, which is still a major variety. It started having blooms in early June and then in early July, a lot of the plants actually had a second flush of growth. And so what happened was, you had a situation where the vines had very overripe cones on them, and very then underripe cones in August.
This happens periodically, it’s not something that is super rare, but it’s probably a one-to-four-year type of event. So, there were some people who started to pick the fields and then stopped. That included us. There was a lot of start and stop, start and stop. The rest of the varieties are on a very normal curve.
I think the Centennial yields are low, well below normal. So that wasn’t a good start to most of the Centennial growers. We personally felt good about ours and they yielded very normally for us. But as an industry whole it was a pretty rough start to the season with Centennial. Now that we’ve moved into some of the other varieties, it feels like a very average, everything seems very normal and very average.”
John Holl: Normal is good, right?
Eric Desmarais: The hop market is probably fully supplied. There’s some challenges on that front. But good stable yields at the grower level, regardless of the market, are a good thing.
Alexandra Nowell: I don’t know if we’ve seen exactly what we were expecting the variety to kind of showcase itself as this year. I think the one thing that we did see on most fields was the really early sweet citrus character of Centennial. The aroma has been really, really nice.
It seems like it started off pretty advanced, I believe, because of the split blooms that happened in some of the fields. But even in the fields that we didn’t see that it’s almost like they skipped that early phase of aromatic maturity and moved on to the later iterations of what Centennial is.
It’s nice to see brewers coming to town with a better outlook than last year. There was definitely some disappointment around some varieties in the 2022 crop year. So, it’s cool to see people coming back into town a little more excited about what’s going on.
The above transcript was condensed and edited for clarity.