As my sister and I traipsed through hop yards, fighting off prickly side-arms (vines) that would leave stinging cuts on our arms and faces and melting under the unrelenting summer sun, we used to joke that this was our great sacrifice to protect beer. That’s right, we were saving the liquid gold that free Americans can enjoy. Or so we said to make the tough days a little more bearable. We were field scouts for a crop consulting company and our main clients were hop growers. I spent three summers sampling sites in hop yards and collecting mite counts. Talk about a dream job. But as I said…we were the first line of defense for enemies to beer. Pesky little pests. Now that I am of legal age, I like to wink back at my younger self when I am enjoying a particularly cold, refreshing brew to show my appreciation for the former toils of my job.
However, it’s high time every person that gathers at a local favorite taproom; every person that pops a top of a cold IPA; every person that clinks bottles lakeside; and every person who has drank beer…raise their glass to farmers.
Without farmers, there is no beer. Without beer, there is no happiness.
Beer is made from water, barley, yeast and hops and a variety of other ingredients are used to give certain flavors and aromas to recipes. Hops are one of the critical four elements of beer. Hops contribute bitterness to a beer but can also be used to engage other unique tastes. The use of hops is vital to creating the perfect balance of taste, texture and aroma of your favorite brew. They can be added in various stages of the brewing process to make a unique blend of flavors.
In my home state of Washington, 75% of the total United States hop acreage is grown in the Yakima Valley. With ideal growing conditions, a warmer climate and advantageous irrigation systems, the Yakima Valley provides a haven for hops. Most hop farms are family-owned and run. The family farms have been passed down from generation to generation. Along with the acreage, farmers have inherited the same drive to grow the highest quality of hops. Every bine, field, cone and harvest are a testament to the hours of dedication and stewardship of growers.
In the face of triple digit temperatures, droughts, and decreasing labor force, hop growers have persevered to provide high crop yields and quality. Farmers also face challenges from threats both large and small. Pests like the two-spotted spider mite and cutworms damage crops. Diseases such as powdery mildew can spread through yards and stunt growth. Hop growers must be vigilant to safeguard the growth of healthy crops.
Consistent high quality hops and the increase of craft breweries have grown to benefit each other. The U.S now has over 4,000 craft breweries, the highest since 1873. A single barrel of craft beer requires one pound of hops. One popular craft brewery in Seattle called Fremont Brewing produced 12,400 barrels in 2013…that’s a lot of hops. Each crop means endless hours of labor, diligence and problem solving. Thanks to our hop farmers, a beer shortage is only a thing of nightmares and scary movies. Tireless work and savvy planning by growers ensure a bright future for beer.
So here I am, raising my glass to the noblest of us all. We thank you.
Cheers to hop farmers everywhere!