by Pat Malin
MORRISVILLE, NY — What’s new on the hop horizon? It could be an innovative variety that’s more resistant to powdery mildew or if you’re satisfied with your current bines, you might consider how to detect and improve water quality or find the best fertilizer for hop production.
These were just a few of the technical issues explored at the annual Cornell Hops Conference, sponsored by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Madison County.
Any conference strives to have a balance between providing advice for the experienced hands while trying to enlighten novices at the same time.
“Growers are fairly technical,” said Dr. Paul Matthews, PhD, a senior research scientist from Hopsteiner, SS Steiner Inc., who spoke about the systems of biology for hop crop improvement.
“Hop breeding must be integrated with production,” said Matthews, explaining that growers need to find the right balance between sustainability, durability, efficiency, water usage, hops variety, yields, resistance to mildew and disease, and chemical management.
The grower’s business is directly dependent on the environment, the processor and the customers, and they are equally as dependent on the grower, he added.
Alpha acids affect the bitterness of hops and each variety has a different percentage. Beta acids, by contrast, dissolve other time and are important in the aging process. Both types of acids, along with oils, are important in determining a beer’s flavor and aroma.
Matthews listed a few of Hopsteiner’s experimental hop varieties, such as No. 09326, which he described as having a “floral, juicy, citrusy, clean” taste with many fruit flavors.
Unfortunately, as anyone in the hops business realizes, the timeline for developing a new characteristic in hops breeding stock can take many years. “The whole process takes eight to twenty years,” Matthews pointed out.
His lecture was of great interest to Rich Michaels, Quality and Innovation Manager at F.X. Matt Brewing Co. in Utica, NY.
Michaels said Matt Brewing is one of Hopsteiner’s customers. “They do a lot of research for Matt’s on plant varieties,” he said. “As brewers, we’re working on different pieces of the puzzle. They work on the crop varieties while we work on the beer.”
Matt’s, for example, is studying the feasibility of developing a chocolate orange porter. Coffee is becoming another popular flavored beer.
The secret of any good brew is to know your supplier, know your water and know your ingredients, he said.
Just as with the variety of hops a grower chooses to grow, research is necessary to evaluate the quality of water. Michaels said growers need to determine a water’s pH level.
Michaels realized that some members of the audience might be newcomers or that the veteran growers might need to brush up their basic knowledge. He also said that not all brewers realize that water chemistry can be improved by filtering or softening and adding acid or minerals.
“Proper pH is critical for reactions to occur in mashing, worting, boiling, fermentation and aging,” he said. “We treat water to achieve a desired pH in the brewing process and in finished beer. A proper pH has an impact on beer stability.”