Hops: What are those?

Hops are the female flowering seed cone of the humulus lupulus plant. They grow on a bine (not to be confused with a vine!) between the 35th and 55th parallel. The plant requires long, hot summers and cold winters to successfully grow. The bine will use most of it’s time its first three years of life expanding its root system so it’s maximum yield won’t be attained until year 3. When fully mature, an acre of hop bines will produce over 1800 pounds of hops. The hop industry in the United States is centered in Yakima Valley, Washington. Over 90% of domestic hops are grown there. In 2015, the hop industry was measured at $345 million dollars, an 11% increase from 2014.

Before the craft beer explosion, hops were readily available to brewers. Now, new entrants into the beer brewing industry have a tougher time finding access to hops. Large breweries are signing multi-million dollar contracts with hop farmers for access to the quality and quantity they need to support their production schedule over the life of the contract. Hop farmers are then, in turn, only producing hops in quantities agreed upon in the contract plus what they can confidently sell, limiting the amount of excess hops that hit the open market. The growing popularity of hop-intensive IPAs are further stressing the hop industry.

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