Ramble On

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Hops Results - 2016 - @hawksbillhops

As I've mentioned a couple of times on the blog, we decided to taper the focus on the hop yards off just a bit this year while we are simultaneously working to develop the brewery in Luray.  What I had hoped this would do for us was to allow us to do an experiment or two on how we processed the hops, so that we could get some feedback on our quality processes.  So with picking and drying complete, we sent a few samples down to Ken Hurley at the Virginia Tech Hops Lab to get some key measurements.

Their page, which I linked above, includes a list of the services they offer, along with a lot of helpful information about growing the crop in Virginia.  As a management consultant with a minor specialty in operations management, I know the value of statistics, so I make it a duty to provide a sample of my Cascades every year, as we did this year.  We're also working with other growers in the Luray area to get samples from them in for testing, since we also hope to source from them once the brewery is open.

Ken will probably present his findings on the year's crop at the growers' conference next spring, which will be held in Asheville this year.  That's something to look forward to - and one of the results I expect to see from the growing body of data is some ground truth on "terroir," or how Virginia hops differ from those grown elsewhere.  With a year or two of data already in the books, he's provided some good insight already!  

Hawksbill Hop Yards sent two Cascade samples down for testing this year, and we also sent a sample from Bill Fisher's ten plant yard on Main Street.  If I'm able to gather samples from two other Page County growers, I will send those down as well - not to mention if we do go back out and try to harvest our last two rows of Cascade, I'll send a sample from that lot - and I will post a follow-up to this.

In any case, the results we received are highlighted in the table below.  I've added a row to compare them to the "US Cascade" factors identified in the Hieronymous book, For the Love of Hops.

Looking at these statistics, there are a couple of observations to make:
  1. At least in the case of Hawksbill Hop Yards, we did not dry our hops long enough in the HOP-N-ATOR last year.  The consensus is they should get to 8-10% moisture for maximum storage life - and we nailed it with all three of these samples!
  2. For Alphas, the source of the bittering effect that hops provide, two of our samples fall within the range.  One of the samples is slightly higher, but close - last year the sample from this row was in the 8% range, possibly an indication of a terroir effect.
  3. For Betas, again we are in the range on two samples, and just below on a third.  Betas also contribute a bittering effect, but one that does not occur during brewing - it is a longer-term breakdown that occurs during storage.
  4. Cohumulone is one of the Alphas, and the percentage metric listed shows the percentage of total Alpha contributed by the Cohumulone.  I've heard discussions that this one is particularly bitter, and several of the proprietary varieties were developed to reduce this component; our hops fall below what's typical for the US variety.
So we're on our way to sound crop science in the Virginia hops industry.  It goes without saying that I'm excited anytime I hear that our hops have made it into a brew - whether that is a home brew or a commercial product.  I'm especially proud of the relationships we have with some Virginia brewers, and I hope we are able to build on that foundation once our yields are mature and stable, which should happen in year three - the 2017 harvest!


JF said...

Love the science Jim! Keep up the good work and I can't wait to visit the brewery!


Retired Innkeeper said...

I am not really a beer drinker but I think it is interesting to read your process and will actually plan on coming to taste:-)

Jim Turner said...

Thanks for the comments! Send me a note at hawksbillcabin at gmail.com if you like, maybe we can arrange a farm tour or construction tour.