Craft beer explosion has hops growers looking at Virginia farming … – Washington Times

Hops haven’t always been trendy.

Pliny the Elder referred to “humulus lupulus” in a botany survey just decades after the birth of Christ, but there’s no record of people using hops for brewing for another eight centuries — in France. By the 1600s the English were cultivating hops as well. Dutch and English settlers brought hops to the New World soon after.

Hop vines — called “bines” — grow vertically on trellises up to 40 feet high, producing cones and flowers that are harvested in August. Brewers use lupulin, a bitter oil from the hop cone, to flavor and preserve the beer. They can practice “dry hopping” or “wet hopping,” mixing either dried or fresh (wet) hops with the drink.

In the early years of the new United States, most hops were grown in New York during the 1800s, but downy mildew and insect pests blighted the crops, driving production out west. The desert climate of Yakima Valley in Washington provided a highly inviting environment for hops, said Rob Sirrine, senior extension educator at Michigan State University. Now, Washington is the nation’s biggest hop producer, with Oregon and Idaho close behind. In 2016 the U.S. was the largest hop producer in the world, followed by Germany, the Czech Republic and China.

In 2007, Mr. Sirrine said, the industry faced a shortage: Low yields in Europe and a warehouse fire in the Northwest strained the supply of hops. At the same time, the craft beer industry was taking off.

“Hop production has expanded to the East solely because of craft beer,” Mr. Sirrine said. Meanwhile, he said, the hops industry in the Northwest is “stronger than ever.”

Farmers should be able to grow hops successfully in Virginia, Mr. Sirrine said, but there will be a learning curve. Timing is crucial for

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