TOP OF THE HOPS
Checking out our hop selection in the US
We love hops. They are front and centre in pretty much all of the craft beer we brew. You know that already of course – but you may not know that 90% of the hops we use at BrewDog come from a single area of the North-western United States. The reason? The high peaks and low plains centred around Yakima, Washington produce the best hops in the world.
And every year, we go there in person to hand-select the best.
Throughout September, our co-founder Martin heads to the far corner of America with our brewers and Quality team to meet the farmers, talk to the hop suppliers and get hands on with the many different varieties we need. But it’s more than a pilgrimage. We live or die based on the quality of beer in your glass – so every box of hops that arrives in Ellon (and Columbus) has to hit our specifications of aroma and flavour. Every time.
Few other ingredients are assessed in this way. The suppliers we visit run detailed analytics – quantifying levels of alpha acids, oils and other compounds – but to get under the skin of hops, you have to get up close and personal. Our sensory team test dozens of different samples every day for weeks, breaking apart the dried hop cones under laboratory conditions to score the hops based on aroma. And if they match what we want them to display in our beer – we have a winner.
Sure, we could do this with air-freighted samples back in Scotland. But we go to Yakima to trace these samples back to the farms where they come from – and to meet the men and women working all hours to grow the cornerstone ingredient of craft beer. And we really mean all hours – throughout the September harvest the crews and machines on the farms run 24/7. An entire year’s work condensed into a four-week period.
We also head to Yakima for another reason – the experimental hop fields. Row after row of single plants or small groups solely identified by a three-digit number; the next Mosaic or Centennial amongst them. Each can take a decade to develop; the genius farmers keep track of many thousands of different varieties, crossing them together in a never-ending search for citrus, berry fruit, pine (or anything else you can think of). It’s inspiring and something we truly love.
From Yakima we get our US-grown Simcoe, Citra, Cascade, Mosaic, Ahtanum and many others. We also rock European and South Pacific hops too – Martin also went to New Zealand to check the Nelson Sauvin harvest – but these aren’t things we can order from a catalogue. Hops are fundamental to what we do. They are in our DNA as a craft brewer. So when harvest time arrives, so do we. Even if it means going halfway round the world.
Let us know in the comments below your pick of the hops that we use!