Brewmaster Unfiltered: Hop Harvest


We make a number of different beers here at Drake’s, but our focus is hop-forward beers. That requires us to pay a lot of attention to the hops we buy. We are quite particular about the varieties we use, but more than that, we care about certain characteristics displayed by those varieties. It’s all well and good to like Simcoe, but not every Simcoe presents the same characteristics. We are looking for a very specific hop with a very specific aroma. This means that when the harvest rolls in, we jump on a plane for Yakima, Washington, where more than 80% of US hops are grown.

As an aside, we mostly use US-grown hops here at Drake’s. We like the aggressive notes of pine, citrus zest, and dank- typical of US hops. They are growing some nice hops in the Southern Hemisphere -New Zealand and Australia- that have some interesting tropical notes that we dabble with, but we tend to find that there are grassy and diesel notes in the hops we aren’t fond of. We don’t do much of anything with British hops they tend towards “earthy” flavors that don’t present the brightness we are looking for. We are happy to pull in classic German Noble hops for a lager here and there, but we are quite excited by some of the new hops coming out of Germany, like Bavaria Mandarina, Huell Melon, and Hallertauer Blanc. Interestingly, all three of those hops are descendants of US Cascade, the foundational hop of the modern US hop industry.

hop-processingOK, long aside…so we are on the plane to Yakima to check out our hops. We have contracts for all the hops we buy, and we are able to select individual lots of the varieties we own. It’s a pretty intense experience: you go to a table where multiple lots of a single variety of hop are you presented, and you start rubbing and sniffing (that sounds… dirty?). For a hop that is in a year-round beer we are looking for a specific aromatic profile: we want our Chinooks to be dank and piney, our Amarillos sharp and citric, our Vanguards herbal and clean, and so on. Sometimes this can be really easy, and a hop jumps right out at you and you say, “yep, that’s 1500,” but sometimes not so much. Last year was a difficult year; it was hot and dry in Yakima, and the heat brought out some onion/garlic notes in the hops. Now there are some people who like hops like that, but we can’t make our beers with them. And if we didn’t go to the trouble to select, we could be stuck with them.

On top of selecting hops to maintain consistent flavor in our year-round beers, there are other hops we select purely hedonically, for rotating beers and one-offs. Those are both easier and harder to select as we are just looking for the best hop on the table without really attaching it to a beer. Hops like our Mosaics, Citras, and Idaho 7s end up in Hopocalypse, War Pigeon, Kick Back—hoppy beers that we welcome variation in. In fact, next year’s War Pigeon is going to be a platform for two new Eastern European hop varieties, Styrian Wolf and Styrian Cardinal. So yeah, hedonic selection… woot!hop-selection

Anyway, hop selection was a great success this year; quality was great across the board. I was particularly impressed by the Cascades, which is not something I usually am. They were very clean and vibrant with an almost “sweet” aroma (I know… how can you smell sweet? But that’s what I smelled). With a crop like this, I am quite excited for the hoppy beers we are going to be bringing out next year.

-John Gillooly, Brewmaster


  1. Robert Cumming says:

    Super informative! Thanks John!