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Sweet smell of success

Spurred by the craft brew craze – more specifically, the IPA craze – hop fields in the United States have nearly doubled in size over the past five years.

And acreage continues to shift away from bittering hops to varieties that produce more aroma and flavor, according to a new release from the Hop Growers of America.

For decades, the major macrobrewers used hops with high alpha acid content – which contributes bitterness – to lightly accent their beers. The higher the alpha acids, the less hops they needed to use and the more money they saved.

The craft beer revolution changed all that. After the early “IBU wars,” where brewers tried to outdo each other with increasingly bitter IPAs, the use of more aromatic, fruity hops has taken hold.

Super-fruity Azacca and El Dorado had the biggest percentage gains in total acreage last year – at 189 and 63 percent, respectively – though their overall acres remain relatively small, according to Hop Growers of America data.

Among more widespread aroma varieties, acreage was up 50 percent for Citra, 40 percent for Mosaic and 31 percent for Simcoe.

Old all-purpose favorite Cascade remains the most popular hop, accounting for 14.7 percent of total production, followed by high-alpha CTZ (Columbus/Tomahawk/Zeus) at 12.1 percent, Simcoe at 8.3, Centennial at 7.8, Citra at 7.4 and Mosaic at 6.7.

The pendulum is projected to swing back a bit more toward high-alpha hop production, Hop Growers of America says, to hedge against potential changes in tastes and slower craft beer growth. 

Overall acreage was up 16.5 percent last year, while production increased 11 percent. The difference is largely because newer hop fields produce more slowly, and aroma varieties tend to have lower yields per acre.

Washington, Oregon and Idaho continue to produce 96 percent of the nation’s hops, with some 70 percent of that coming from the Yakima Valley.