While in the Yakima Valley for WBC18, we were treated to “Flavor Camp” by Wine Yakima Valley. This allowed us to explore 3 of the tasty libations that have roots here. We of course discussed wine, but then also moved on to learn about two other major crops in the area, cider apples (check out our video with Marcus Robert of Tieton Cider Works), and hops!
Hops for Beer with Nicholi Pitra, Hop Geneticist with Hopsteiner.
Hopsteiner is a company that grows and breeds hops. That’s the stuff that makes your beer so tasty.
What is a hop?
Hops are cultivated flowers used as a preservative, and flavoring in beer. The bitterness of a hop is used to balance the sweetness of the malt. The hop’s essential oils add a unique flavor and aroma to the beer that cannot be achieved by using any other plant in the world. The hop plant is a spiraling perennial vine that grows in regions with slightly acidic soil, ample water and a lot of sunlight. Hops can climb strings, or poles and reach heights of 40 feet. A hop’s flowers are called a Cone, and most commonly dried before use, but can also be used “wet,” right off the vine (or “bine”, since this the technical term used for plants that climb).Courtesy https://www.hopsteiner.com/faq/
So a Hop Geneticist? What do they do?
Nicholi Pitra is a Hop Geneticist, with Hopsteiner, who has a background in biochemistry, biotechnology, and bioinformatics. He breeds and then tests hops, which is a minimum of a 10 year process. He is looking to find desirable qualities in the hops, which includes growing healthy plants as well as finding those qualities that brewers are looking for.
The Yakima Valley and hops
75% of the US grown hops come from the Yakima Valley. You can see it when you are driving through. Hops farms are all along the valley floor.
Nicholi had a table filled with containers of different hop cones as well as the beers that each were used it, so we could do a comparison. We rubbed the buds between our hands, releasing the fragrance and coating our hands with sticky resin.
He talked us through some of the Hop varieties that Hopsteiner has, and the different flavor profiles (I mean, this is “flavor camp” right?)
The range is wide from Apollo which has lime, grapefruit and pine to Calipso with tropical fruit, pear, apple and mint to Eureka! With black currant, dark fruits, strong hers and pine to Lemondrop with lots of lemon and a little orange, green tea and melon. So now you know…it’s not just adding orange to make that microbrew (although some brewers might do that), these flavors can come straight from the hop. Just like you get blackberries in a syrah, which comes from the grape, you can get lemon from hops.
It’s all pretty cool and fascinating.
You can also check out our post on the whole of Flavor Camp.