Are Your Favorite Hops in Danger of Disappearing?

Here’s an interesting nugget that came across the beer wire today.  In Charlie Papazian’s latest column on he discusses the value of hops to the innovation and creative flavors in American craft beer.  He notes this year’s excellent harvest of bittering hops will shove prices down due to the abundance of such hops.  On the other hand, demand for new and interesting flavor and aroma hops – more difficult to grow – is slowly increasing as craft brewers continue to push creative boundaries. 

We’ve certainly experienced that in Montana.  Several breweries including Bitter Root, Blacksmith and Flathead Lake have experimented with newer hop varieties, creating single hops ales out of hops like Citra, Simcoe and Galaxy.  Helena’s Blackfoot River Brewing has brewed a series of single hop ales using their single malt IPA recipe to give patrons the ability to experience the nuances of several hops.

But it was this passage that particularly caught my attention:

Meanwhile I recently learned both at the Brau show and through those in the know here in the USA that there are as many as 15,000 to 20,000 cross-bred hops planted each year.  Only about 1-2% of these make the “cut” for a second year of observation. Over an 8 year breeding and observation period most will succumb to disease, wilting, agronomic and yield factors and more take their toll.  It takes 8 year to come up with only 2 or 3 new varieties (from the original 20,000) that are suitable for sustainable harvests and brewers needs.  New varieties are projected to be able to resist disease for about 50 years before disease organisms eventually mutate and are able to attack the hop variety.

So there’s apparently a life span to new hops, which raises the question whether there’s a similar life span for existing hop varieties.  And if so, what year are we up to on, say, a Cascade? Obviously such predictions are mere guesses within the backbone of science, but I’m also not sure it matters much. Diversity in hop development seems almost assured as brewers chase a wide range of flavors and aromas.  At some point we might not even care if our current favorite disappears.

Go here for the full article.