In September John Fearless Co. visited Washington State’s Yakima Valley – a hop-growing epicentre, producing something like 85% of all US-grown hops – to see how the hop harvest was coming in. During the growing season Yakima Valley experienced similar conditions to those seen in California’s vineyards, but the hop crop was unaffected, quality looks good and yield average, with the total harvest volume record-breaking off the back of another increase in acreage. According to the USDA, there was a 6.5% increase in US hop area (to 54,135 acres) between this year and last, though word on the ground in Yakima Valley was that the actual increase was even bigger. Last year, the US surpassed Germany to become the world’s leading hop producer.
This big crop arrives at a time when growth in the US craft beer market has slowed from double to single digits, and with hop inventory in the US already at record levels: as of 1 September 2017, inventory was estimated at 98 million lbs, up 15% from 85 million lbs the year before. The hop market has thus tilted in the buyer’s favour: they can be confident of securing the material they require on a spot market basis, with multi-year contracts only necessary on some of the rarer varietals. As varietals previously hard to get become more available, brewers are able to commit to their use on a longer-term basis, while simultaneously seeing the cost of hops decline as a percentage of their overall costs.
One of the Yakima Valley hop farms John Fearless visited was CLS Farms, producer of some of the hop varietals John Fearless can supply. CLS has spent ten years breeding a hop – named Medusa – from the neomexicanus hop plant indigenous to the Rocky Mountains and northern Mexico, until it has arrived at a plant both hardy enough to be grown in Washington state and interesting in its aroma profile. Medusa is thus one of only two hop varietals on the US hop market that can claim to be a 100% indigenous US hop varietal, with no breeding from anywhere else, and the only one to be 100% secure in this claim.
Medusa hops were available to touch and smell on the John Fearless stand at the California Craft Beer Summit in Sacramento, September 7-8, probably the best-attended summit in the three years of Fearless’s presence (there are now over 900 breweries operating in California). Medusa hops were present also as an ingredient in a ‘northeast-style’ cloudy IPA that John Fearless collaborated on with Sonoma’s 101 North Brewing; in fact, this IPA was produced from all Malteurop malts, five New Zealand hop varietals, and two experimental Washington state hops (including Medusa) – all of which was supplied by John Fearless. This beer, with its tropical aroma profile of mango, pineapple, and passionfruit, gained very wide appeal at the show.
The appeal of the hops John Fearless is able to offer also transcends borders. Outside the US there is an increasing interest in US hops: John Fearless is seeing interest from Mexico, South America, South Africa and South Korea. Mexico in particular is experiencing its own craft beer movement, with a growing interest in IPAs, hoppy ales and barrel-aged beers. Going forward, with the 2017 US hop harvest a good one, John Fearless will be able to offer customers both – international and domestic – the innovative hop varietals they seek.
John Fearless can provide: base and specialty malt; aroma and bittering hops; fruit purées; fruit and wine grape juice concentrate; fresh wine grapes (during harvest); and oak barrels.