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Definitely a hop I'll bring in to play around with on a future batch.

Hops Selection 2018

Each year, the major hops producers in the Pacific Northwest extend an invitation to some of the more prominent breweries to select their source of hops for the next production year. It’s an honor to be asked, and those of us who venture out west get their choice of crops, while others gets the commercial blends that they end up producing.

Last week, Ryan and Head Brewer Brian Hink visited three of the largest producers of hops in the world.

“It was a really good year this year,” Ryan says. “Everything we saw this year was really nice. The Azacca was really nice this year, and the Centennial was great. All of it. It was a good week. It’s such a great experience being out there. We’re really fortunate to be invited.”

We got together with Brian for a little Q&A. While they were there, we sent along photographer Conner Allen who got some seriously killer pics. Check ‘em out!

CapeMayBrewery-0345Which farms/companies did you visit? What were they like?

We did selection with Hopsteiner, Yakima Chief (formally YCH), and BSG. We’ve done selection with Steiner a bunch of times and BSG last year, but this was our first year with Yakima Chief, so that was really exciting. We get a lot of our specialty hops — Citra, Mosaic, Simcoe, Ekuanot to name a few — from Yakima Chief, so it was awesome to finally be able to select them. We had a little less time than usual on this trip because we were heading to Portland to hang out with Great Notion, so we didn’t have as much time to explore the hop fields and processing plants, but we did have time for tacos! Out of context that probably means absolutely nothing, but talk to anyone who’s selected hops with Steiner or any of their employees and mention “tacos on the ranch”. They’ll know exactly what you’re talking about and get really excited about them.

Anything fun and interesting this year?

Well, last year we missed out on the tacos, so that alone made this year better. And at Hopsteiner they had these new wipes to clean off your hands, and they were pretty magical. These new wipes could be the best new thing to come out of selection in the three years I’ve been doing it. They’re called WypAll, and they just strip the lupulin-laden yellow stains right off your hands. They’re pretty awesome.

Which new hops did you find?

CapeMayBrewery-0262At BSG, after we selected our Chinook and Amarillo, they had some other samples out to check, so it was cool to do some rubbings on hops we’ve never used before. They had Idaho 7 — which we used once before on a batch of Corrosion — Idaho Gem which is a new hop, Azacca which we use every year in Follow the Gull and I absolutely love, and a new one to me called Cashmere that was fantastic! Really unique — definitely a hop I’ll bring in to play around with on a future batch.

Which hops (new or old) are you particularly interested in?

The cool thing about selection is to see the wild variance from lot to lot, and that’s the whole point of selection: to pick out the right hop for your specific beer. If you don’t do selection, the hop company takes all the remaining lots and blends them all together and then that becomes this year’s crop of Cascade, Centennial, Citra, etc.

To analogize it: you’re making apple juice. This brand of juice uses Fuji, that one uses Pink Lady, this other one uses Red Delicious, and that one over there uses Granny Smith. Each one of those brands are a distinctive individual brand for you, and the customer comes to expect certain attributes with each brand you sell. You could go down to the farm and pick out each varietal individually — you like your Pink Ladies more on the tart side, Red Delicious a little more firm and crisp — whatever you’re looking for to make that brand your own as compared to the other guy across the street selling his Granny Smith apple juice. If you don’t go to the farm to get the specific apples you’re looking for and just order a bushel of Fujis, you’re getting whatever the grower throws your way. Maybe they were picked too early and don’t have the acid content CapeMayBrewery-0338you’re looking for, or the sugar content is off from years past because it was too dry of a season, or any number of possible changes — these are agricultural products after all and will change year to year. But you know your brand of apple juice, and you want it to taste as close as possible to what your customers have come to expect. You want it to be “true to brand”, so you pick the best apples to fit your needs.

That’s why we do selection, to pick the specific lot of this particular variety to best represent our brand. Take Chinook for example — that’s one of the main dry-hops in Cape May IPA, and if we want Cape May IPA to keep tasting like Cape May IPA, we have to pick the hops that best represent that brand. We had four different lots of Chinook to select from, and one stood out as being fantastic — super fruity with blueberry notes and rich, lush undertones. I fell in love with it, but that wasn’t what we were looking for to use in IPA. For IPA, we want that classic spicy, piney, earthy undertone version of Chinook, so we have to filter out personal bias and go with the lot that better represents IPA’s true-to-brand-ness.