3 Things Every Brewer should Know about Hops and Food Safety

Small scale regional hop production has exploded over the last 5 years providing many eager folks with a chance to grab a piece of the craft beer scene.  

However many small growers are clueless about food safety guidelines meaning brewers bear the responsibility.  

Here are 3 questions to ask when purchasing hops from small-scale growers.

1.  Ask for chemical application log and licenses

Hops fall under pesticide regulations like all crops and require that the grower possess a pesticide applicator’s license and a logbook recording all chemical applications.  Each state has its own list of approved chemicals and it is too much to expect a brewer to understand what these things are and how they should be used.

pesticide-sign

Simply asking to see such records sends a powerful signal to growers that you are in-the-know about crop chemicals and that growers should be ready to provide records.  If the grower cannot or will not produce the records then think twice about those hops, especially if using them for wet-hop brews.

2.  Ask to inspect their hop harvesting and drying facility

Hops fall under the 2011 Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) and require ALL growers with a farm gate value of more than $25,000 to register and comply with FSMA regulations.  Farm food safety covers inspectorsanitary practices, worker hygiene, harvest and drying facility cleanliness, pest exclusion, everything you’d want to see if you were buying produce from a CSA for example.

Again, many small growers either are unaware/unwilling to comply or fall below the minimum threshold ($25K) value to be covered.  Regardless a quick tour can reveal any potential issues that a brewer should be concerned with, for instance:

  • Storing chemicals and farm equipment in the same building as harvest and drying

  • Signs of pests (bird nests, rodent activity, etc) in the harvesting/drying area

  • Harvesting/drying/packaging taking place outside or on gravel/dirt floor

  • Dry hops being stored loose (no baling) or without environmental controls (temperate and relative humidity)

  • Noticeably diseased, discolored, or malformed hop plants/cones 

Even the very smallest grower can comply with these simplest of food safety measures so do not be afraid or embarrassed to point out things that make you uncomfortable. For more information on FSMA and hop harvesting please see USA Hops website.

3.  Ask for evidence of Food Processing Certification

For brewers using regional pellets, demand evidence of a food processing license from your state. If your state does not include hops on their list of processed foods the FDA regulations apply at the least.

All hop processors must comply with FSMA but there is a grace period for processors to ease into the program.  Still there are small processors who believe they are exempt from such regulaticertificateons and therefore do not have the appropriate control in place to ensure a safe processed hop pellet.

10 years ago there were very few manufacturers offering equipment for hop processing.  Now there are several companies (domestic and foreign) who have modified (somewhat) small pellet systems intended for wood and animal feed for use with hops.  

Here are a few questions to quiz your small processor:

  • Ask for evidence that these systems meet FDA requirements

  • Ask whether or not the processor has a recall plan in effect (they must if they are licensed)

  • Inquire about a HAACP and whether or not it applies to them

  • How do they generate and store lot numbers?  How are you notified if there is ever a problem with contaminates?

  • How does the processor handle hops from various growers?  If there is a problem from a blended batch how does the processor find the source of the issue?

  • Ask about the acceptation/rejection criteria for incoming raw hops

Don’t be surprised if you receive a lot of blank stares and mumbling.

Hops are a food product.

Period. End of Story.

If you would like help navigating the food safety requirements for hop please do not hesitate to contact us at Gorst Valley Hops at this address: brewers@gorstvalleyhops.com

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Wet Hop Aroma (or why the hell does my beer smell like grass!)

lawn-cuttingHop harvest is upon us and the aroma of freshly picked cones is heavy.  Along with this special time comes requests for “wet hops” or cones fresh from the field with no drying.

Brewers and beer geeks alike seem gaga for wet hops (soon to be pushed aside for pumpkin atrocities…) so what’s the deal and why are they so unique?  Honestly, to me they all smell like lawnmower and here’s why.

What’s so Unique about Fresh Hops?

Besides the obvious (i.e. 75% water vs 8% in a dry cone) freshly harvested hops have a few unique aroma chemistries that vanish upon drying, regardless of temperature.  Most folks pronounce the aroma to be “fresh” or “sweet”, neither of which are aromas but we get their meaning.  So what’s in these beauties that gives that impression?

Bear with me as we take a dive into the deep end of the hop chemistry pool.  Remember my earlier rants about aroma compounds and their volatility: Some molecules turn to vapor faster than others.  This is important since the compounds that small “fresh” are mostly associated with plant stress like, say, mowing a lawn.

Fresh is a Cry for Help

when plants are wounded, stressed, or otherwise mplant screaman-handled they produce chemicals that easily vaporize to warn other plants and predators that something untoward is happening.  Plants have stores of these compounds at the ready just in case.  When we smell an intact plant leaf we may be able to detect a slight “vegetal” aroma.  We’re not smelling chlorophyll folks.

When the plant tissue is crushed (like in a hop rub) these compounds are released and we perceive the aroma.  Now really…how often are we exposed to crushed and mangled plant leaves?  If you live in suburbia or the country it’s around you all the time from April through October:  Lawns.

It Smells so, so Grassy!

open coneYes, grass emits these compounds in bucket loads and for me is a deep-rooted fragrance of my childhood.  I love the aroma of cut grass…just not in my beer.  So what’s going on in hops, grass, tomatoes, palms, etc and how do we keep it or lose it?  Simple.  It’s all about heat.

The Culprits

Our primary culprit is a frequent offender by the name of (Z)-3-hexenal.  This chemical is very volatile and has an extremely low odor threshold of 0.25 parts per billion (ppb).  Doesn’t take much to notice for sure but it doesn’t stick around long.  Soon after release it transforms into a more stable but higher odor threshold chemical called (E)-2-hexenal.  This is the compound synthesized for the fragrance industry on a large scale.  It’s called “leaf aldehyde” so read through your cologne and perfume ingredients because it’s in there.

Secondary to these aldehydes is an alcohol molecule called (Z)-3-hexen-1-ol.  But more importantly they are both soluble in alcohol and in wort but not water.  This is important because it tells us something about how to use them in the brewhouse.

Take It or Leave It

So if we want to keep this aroma strong and center stage the wet hops MUST be added no earlier than whirlpool.  The hot wort will drive off the chemicals and the essence is gone.  Hot hot is too hot?  Anything over 110F and goodbye hexy!

But that’s not all bad.  There are many, many more volatile aroma compounds buried in the wet cone that can be overwhelmed by the hexenal brothers.  Reducing the grassy aroma by adding very late boil to knockout can allow these other more floral components like geraniol and nerol to shine through.

Cut the Crap about “Low Temperature” Hop Drying

Hey there Hop Fans…for once I get to take a back seat to an absolute AUTHORITY on food product quality, especially hops.  

There is so much hyperbole around hop drying that it is cringe-worthy.  Time to set the bar with authority and expertise.  Gang, I introduce Mr. Daniel Dettmers, leading expert on food processing quality and preservation, world-wide.

How low can you go? The truth about “Low Temperature Drying”

Sorry if it seems I’m boasting, but Gorst Valley was (and still is) the pioneer in low temperature drying for the hops industry.

The term “low temperature” seems to have many growers and brewers confused. What is Low Temperature?

150F?

140F?

135F?

100F?

45F?

Let’s explore this concept and see what is possible.

Is heat a bad thing for hops?

Heat is bad. Period. End of story.

OK, heat helps moisture evaporate, which is good. We want that moisture to leave our hops to prevent rot.

But heat also drives away oils, aromas and all the wonderful flavors we want from our hops to flavor our beer. At 100F, the oils and aromas evaporate quickly. At 140F, the heat breaks down alpha acids and we lose bittering potential. Above 160F, the hops rapidly turn yellow like straw and taste about the same. No one goes much above 140F but many define “low temperature” drying as 135F. Is that really as low as we can go? 5 little degrees? Isn’t 135F still driving away many of those flavoring compounds?

Why add heat then?

The drying process is dictated not by temperature but by the relative humidity (RH) of the air. The lower the RH, the thirstier the air is. Thirsty air grabs more water from the hops and dries them out faster.

So how do we lower the relative humidity? The easiest way is to heat the air. It doesn’t remove existing moisture but it does increase the holding capacity of the air. So the warmer the air, the lower the RH. Air at 50% RH and normal temperatures can drop to an RH under 10% at 140F. This gives us a huge drying potential and can dry out our hops very quickly…but at the cost of crappy hops.

Is there an alternative to heat?

There’s always alternatives but everything has a cost. Air at ambient (outside) temperatures below 100F does a fine job of drying down to a hop moisture content of 20% or less. What’s the draw back? It takes more air (i.e. bigger fans) and more time. If the relative humidity falls low enough, hops can be dried using nothing but ambient air.

In areas with naturally high outdoor humidity, we cannot rely on having a dry day (i.e. low RH) to dry our hops properly. What we can do is use that outside air to drive most of the moisture out and then use little heat or a lot of dehumidification to finish off the drying process.

By keeping the drying process at 100F or less, the hops can retain significantly more oils, aromas and other things that makes our beer taste so good

Why not go colder?

Often we have heard, “If ambient temperature is better, then I’ll go lower. I’m going to dry my hops in my walk-in cooler.” Slow down there cowboy, that’s a bit too low. As the air temperature goes down, the relative humidity goes WAY up. A walk-in cooler typically runs at a relative humidity of 80% or better and can only remove minute amounts of moisture. The hops will slowly rot in their cool environment.

What is Low Temperature Drying then?

Gorst Valley would like to set the bar for the industry…and set it low. In our dictionary, “Low Temperature Drying” means drying at 100F or less without any unnecessary heat addition to the process. This is our AromaSmart process and we extend it all the way through our pelletizing process.

“Wait!” you say. “What does ‘unnecessary’ mean? Ah-ha! You are still adding heat at the end of the drying process!” No, it gets cold in Wisconsin. During some of our late season harvests, the night time temperature can drift near the freezing range so it’s sometimes necessary for us to warm the air up to keep the hops from freezing but this is rare.

What’s the drawback of true low temperature drying? It takes us a longer. As much as 5 times longer but we feel this extra effort is worth it to produce the highest quality hops possible.

The AromaSmartTM Pledge

At Gorst Valley Hops, we pledge:

  1. No Heat. If it is 75F degrees out, we will be drying those hops at 75F to preserve the flavors and aroma’s for our brewer’s kettles.
  2. We use dehumidfictaion. We have linked up with a dehumidifier manufacturer that leads the way in providing dehumdfiers to the agricultural industry. No heat added to finish drying our hops.
  3. We keep it cold. Our hops travel from the dryer to the baler to the cold storage where they stay until they are run through the pelletizer while covered in a blanket of cryogenic nitrogen. It keeps the pellets below 100F while chasing away the oxygen.  Oxygen is worse than heat during processing.
  4. Vacuum packed and frozen until they reach the kettle. Why put all this work into quality if we aren’t going to protect the final product?

End of Story.  Accept no hyperbole.  When someone says their hops are dried using “low temperature” ask them what that means.  If it’s above 100F then call bullsh*t on that!

Bitter Truth about IBUs

I received a great question last week from a brewer about his IBU report and why it was so much higher that his calculated expectation.  Like everything else about hop chemistry the answers are many and muddy.

So What’s in an IBU Anyway?

We all know that the International Bitterness Unit is intended to convey the bitter level in beer.  It can be calculated and it can be measured directly.  Many brewers are satisfied with calculated IBU and for their styles it may be fine.  To understand why a calculated and actual IBU level could be quite different we need to look at what’s being measured and how the measurements are made.

Bitter stuff

Both methods are concerned with isohumulones, or the isomerized alpha acids.  Non-isomerized alpha acid is not a player since it conveys no bitterness.  There are other components that may be perceived as bitter but they are not part of the determination.  More on that later.

Calculating IBU should take into account hopping rate, alpha acid level, hop storage index, and utilization in the kettle.  Direct measurement of beer is quite different.

We use a spectrophotometer to measure IBU directly from decarbonated beer.  Solvents are used to separate the isohumulones and the liquid is scanned with ultraviolet light.  The machine measures how much of the light is blocked by the molecules and the data is given as absorbance.  Plug the data into a formula and you have your IBUs.

Not so fast…

When isohumulones are extracted from beer other stuff comes along for the ride.  That other stuff ranges in molecular size and can affect the machine readings and appear as if the IBUs are higher than they really are.  Lupulones (beta acids) are easily extracted and can muck up the readings especially if one is using a very high beta variety.

Beta acids oxidize rapidly and the break-down products interfere with the 275nm UV wavelength aimed at the iso-alphas.  Some beta acid oxidation products provide some bitterness to beer but many are not pleasant at all.  This is where the alpha/beta ratio come into play.

Compounding the Bitterness Bungle

Brewers faced with aging hops have a data point they can use to adjust how much more hops they need to use to compensate for alpha acid degradation:  Hop storage Index (HSI).  Plugging the HSI into the brewing formula will adjust the hop quantity needed to hit a given IBU level.  But humulones are not the only acid aging in that duck-tape sealed hop bag in the cooler.

Beta acids are oxidizing too but the HSI doesn’t take that into account.  So using a hop with a very high beta acid (Huell Melon for example) combined with a higher than typical hopping rate due to old hops adds up to quite the surprise.

In this case the measured IBU value was 30% higher than the calculated value but the palate said it was not that bitter.  However the flavor had a lingering, deep palate bitterness that stretched down the throat.  Where do we suppose that’s coming from?  Yup, the oxidized beta acids.  The brewers added more and more hops to hit their mark and hopefully amp up the aroma too but they were adding loads and loads of oxidized beta acids that were not welcome.

So What’s a Brewer to Do?

In a few rare cases (some trappist styles, lambics, etc) oxidized beta acids are beneficial and even sought after to add that bit of complexity.  But for the most part brewers should be aware of the HSI and beta acid level and how it can interfere with IBU math.  HSI is critical to ensuring consistency so stop ignoring it and simply adding more hops.

Shhhh…super secret trends for 2016 and beyond

Let’s be honest…no one has invented a new beer style.  But what is old is new again and we can learn from the past and make new, fresh takes on time-honored beer styles but with 21st century flair.

Each of these varieties could be an entire blog post of its own so I won’t submerge the topic.  Feel free to comment of send us a message to discuss ad nausium.

Goze

Yes, sours are gaining more recognition (as they should) in the lexicon of US craft brewing.  But it’s not a simple as tossing some bacteria into the secondary.  Goze is perhaps the least known and most easily approachable sour beer style but how do we make this and American standout without the west coast skunk?  Would you like an easy button?

Euro-American Daughters

Let’s trace history.  We need to look at the foundations of this style and learn how we can bump it up a notch with out US hop spice weasel (Futurama reference…sorry).  How do we make this classic style our own when hops play such a minimal role?

Let’s look to the US daughters of the European noble varieties, specifically Sterling, Willamette, Mt. Hood, Crystal, Liberty, and US Tettnanger.  Each bring a substantial European character tot eh brew yet provide an astounding American kick-ass presence that makes for something unique.  Americans are nothing if not unique.

But let’s remember that this style requires that the malt, bacteria, and yeast essence shine through.  Hops get third billing in this beer style but we believe that surgical execution of US-European hops are precisely what the Doctors’ prescription calls for.

Lambic

One step up the sour notch is the lambic.  But in our opinion this is the most difficult to master since we have the added component of fruit not to mention absolutely disgusting rancid hops.  Yes you read that correctly.  Lambics are extremely challenging to wrangle and perhaps among the most flavor-complex beasts the beer world has conjured.

A good friend of mine (and genius brewer), Grant Johnston, gifted me a rare copy of Lambic from his former teacher and I absorbed it in about 6 hours on Christmas day.  As an aroma/flavor geek and plant scientist I was captivated by the nuisances in this style and quickly understood why there were so few vary good examples.

I’ve had a few brewers request “rotten” hops for labics. Hops for lambics are far from “old, cheesy, or aged” but require a rather special handling and an extra step referred to in the antique literature as “sweating.”  The chemistry involved is boring and tedious but it involves creating very rich tobacco-like earthiness and by-passes the standard cheese and nasty feet aroma of old hops.  Again…contact us it you want to know more.  We get out of bed for this sort of geek.

Balanced Session

Imagine that…a balanced beer that we can have drink two or three of without getting an ulcer.  The idea of session is not new (far from it) since most beers were “sessionable” just a few decades ago.  However what has been lost is the concept of BALANCE in a beer and how to create a potion that keeps the clientele coming back for another pint while debating the finer points of dart fletching.

First thing a balanced session needs to address is the how the hops will complement the malt.  So many sessions are just lower alcohol hop-bombs and are far from “sessionable” with aggressive thiols and astringency that higher alcohol and heavier malt bases help to temper.

The Doctors’ advise looking to the malt character first, being careful to take it easy on the specialty malts since they can add considerable astringency.  In general decide what sort of backbone the beer will have and try some of these parings:

  • Light and Dry (Pilsners)– low to moderate astringency hops with floral character and a bit of herb.  Look to the Nobles and the US daughters.  Going for fruity?  Snag some of our Late Chinook for a tropical blast.  Cashmere works nice too.
  • Ambers –  definitely low astringency hops.  Nugget is a great utility player and has a pleasant honey-herbal thing going on as a dry hop.  Galena as a dry hop can add mandarin notes as a dry hop but easy on it due to astringency.  Brewer’s Gold will add more of a herbal spiciness  and turn the Amber to the more rugged, rustic side.
  • Pale Ales – moderate to high astringency hops are expected here.  All the old favorites (Cascade, Centennial, Bravo, etc) are go-to contributors.  Looking for something different?  Try a dash of Sorachi Ace, Triple Pearl, or Top Secret.

Doctors’ Prescription

We’re experiencing an unprecedented number of new brewers entering the ring with their favorite hop-bomb palate wreckers.  There is a place for that (apparently 70% of the local beer outlet is given over to these right now) but honestly not much stands out.

Prescription – Take two balanced ales or lagers orally once per day and note what works and what doesn’t.

Don’t be alarmed if the flavor and aroma seem dull or muted.  It will take some time for the taste buds and nerve endings to regenerate after all of those nuclear hoptastrophies.  Let us know how the recovery is going!

Where is my dry hop aroma?

Forget what you thought about hop oil content relating to dry hop aroma because it’s wrong…

Okay…maybe not wrong but it needs some revision based on recent work by Dr. Thomas Shellhammer at Oregon State University (http://oregonstate.edu/foodsci/people/thomas-shellhammer).  Dr. Shellhammer’s lab staff presented data at the most rencet Hop Growers of America nation conference that proved very scientifically that there is ZERO corellation between hop total oil content and perceived dry hop aroma.

What???  Yup.  It was a very well designed study illustrating that indeed the majority of the aroma associated with dry-hoppiness comes from the very small and highly volatile molecules that just so happen to be extremely heat sensitive (another feather for the no-heat dried AromaSmart brand).

Little Rascals

The data show very high correlation between farnescene, ratio of linalool to geraniol, a compound called beta damascone, and a little whiff of terpen-4-ol.  Interestingly none of the other major oil components (humulene, caryophyllene, myrcene) showed any effect on dry hop aroma.  Hmmmm……

But that doesn’t mean those other components are not important to beer flavor.  We know that sequiterpenes humulene and caryophyllene are critical for adding herbal spiciness and a touch of dankness but they need to oxidize before they contribute (boil, boil).  We also know that myrcene is important as an aroma enhancer because it can take on a number of fragrances depending on concentration.  But unlike the sesquiterpenes myrcene is very heat sensitive, usually lost during long boils.

What about dry-hop duration?

Great question.  Again Dr. Shellhammer’s lab comes to the rescue via a graduate student and his Master’s thesis.  In said thesis the author illustrates that aroma extraction is complete within 6 to 24 hours depending on temperature.

Before you send me nasty comments it should be noted that the data show that the extraction process is complete within that time frame but it says nothing about flavor and aroma development.  It is well known that aging impacts beer (good and bad) during which time some of these aroma molecule precursors are changing to become noticeable.  Bound aroma compounds like linalool undergo acid hydrolysis or enzymatic cleavage, resulting in linalool concentrations increasing over time.

So how does this help my beer?

Honestly, we’re not sure yet.  Most of the small molecules responsible for dry hop aroma are extremely difficult to measure and quite fragile when exposed to high heat.  Until we can develop a cost-effective screening for these rascals I’d trust your nose.

Quest for the next big thing in hops

Massive melon.  Extreme cattiness.  Super dank.  Rich stone fruit.  These are just some of the descriptors given to me by the brewers with whom I shared a panel discussion on hop and beer quality in Chicago recently.  None of their responses surprised me since they follow the palate trends of their customers.  Almost on the tail of their responses I was asked what I think the “next big thing” will be in hops?  Hmm…how to answer?  Sarcastic and cynical (my natural state) or prognostic and contemplative?  Easy.  First one then the other.

Cynical Response

What is the next big thing in hops?  How about restraint, artistry, and the concerns for crafting a well balanced beer?  Speaking with a beer writer from the Chicago Tribune we both commented on the pervasive presence of IPAs and other beer mash-ups that  while they bear no resemblance to a pale ale (the P.A. in IPA) they are labeled as such because the moniker is immediately recognizable as having “more than typical” hop addition.

Of course my snarky comment got a few giggles, most from the panel brewers and a few smirks in the audience.  Even though I go sarcastic for the first shot I am also serious about understanding the interest and apparent voracious, almost compulsive need by the ever expanding consumer.  After the panel I asked some of the hoppier hop-heads why they can’t seem to get enough of the bitter suds.  By far the most common answer was “I’m new-ish to craft beer and the IPAs are so much more flavorful.”

Interesting.  I resisted the impulse to launch into geek-speak soliloquy about flavor and sensory science but I digressed.  How much of the “IPA” trend is based on shifting technology in hop varieties and how much is due to the rapid influx of new beer drinkers that maybe only know the Red, White, and Blue beer their parents drank around campfires?

Reflective Response

What makes a new hop variety so special?  Depends on who is asked.  Growers want disease resistance, high yields, easy pickability, and oh yeah…something salable.  Brewers want notable character, a new color in their paint palate so-to-speak.  They want good storability, and recently a more reliable supply at a reasonable price.  Consumers want…?  Marketing tends to look at historic trends to project future action, so it looks like more IPAs.  But my question is…how much farther can hop breeding go to create something novel?

We have an entire gamut of flavors and aromas available for brewing that would be incomprehensible 30 years ago.  Want watermelon and papaya with a base of pine resin and burnt rubber?  No problem.  How about a super dank, musty, rotten month old litter box with just a pinch of flowers?  Got that too.  Need a spicy zing of a hop with a dash of old lady perfume and maybe…uh…some banana?  There’s probably a variety out there for that too.  So I question whether or not another “shade” of hops really adds more dimension to the industry.

Where do we go from here?

That being said, there are numbers breeding programs all over the world looking to hit the new variety lottery. But I’m a bit of a strange duck and as such I like to look to the less obvious for sources of invention and ingenuity.  There are varieties that have since slipped away from commercial brewing that are more than a century old yet still have agronomic and brewing potential. I also look to nature for successful breeding experiments.  Amarillo is such an example of open pollination and natural crosses.  However, the issue still remains of assigning value to these discoveries.  The market is telling us where to look but the consumer driving the market may not know exactly what they want, only that they like what’s in from of them.  So who’s to say a brewing pioneer can’t/won’t buck the beaten IPA path and demonstrate something new?  If that new thing takes off, the balance of hop varieties would need to shift to accommodate.

What’s Real?

Long story short…i’m not being glib when I answer the “next big thing” question with another question.  Breeders are following trends based on brewer demand.  Brewers are basing beers on consumer demand.  In large part, consumers aren’t quite sure what they like, only that they know what they don’t like and that is based largely on social cues (IPAs are hot so I’m supposed to drink them to be hip) and sheer statistics (if IPAs are the majority of beer styles produced, it is highly likely that IPAs are being consumed at a higher rate than other styles…so let’s make more IPAs).

And I’m not anti-IPA in any form.  I believe forecasting the next big thing in hops (or beer) is highly improbable.  Like all my answers in the hop/beer world…it depends.

But I can say this… it’s TOP SECRET.

What to Know when Buying Hops from Small Growers

Small scale hop growing is all the rage today, with dozens of folks entering the market every year across the US.  Much of this new production is taking place in regions that have little to no history of hop cultivation let alone a trace of any wild, native plants.  While this is not necessarily an issue the bigger concern is adapting and inventing new production practices to address the uniqueness of the growing conditions and the steep, steep learning curve of new growers.

So how can a brewer be supportive of the new endeavors while protecting their own quality and supply contracts?

Start Small
Most small growers have little yield to spread around and are most likely hesitant to engage a brewer for fear that they cannot approach the brewer’s needs.  I’ve experienced this several years ago when I first started out, having less than 50 pounds across 5 varieties.  Our early brewer customers (now very good friends) supported us as they could, incorporating our hops into specially brews or for tap room only creations.  Building new relationships takes time; trust requires nurturing and honesty.  Be honest with the small grower.  Tell them exactly what you’d prefer to have and with what you can make due while they become more seasoned producers.

Be Patient, Be Honest
These growers are nervous about approaching brewers mainly fearing rejection.  Every brewer is ridiculously busy and have little time to spare on casual requests or inquiries about purchasing hops from the farmer down the road.  Direct them to resources on-line or in the community to help them get their answers if you don’t have time.  And there are more people asking about hop production now than in recent memory so take a hard line on how you plan to address these people.  You will witness which growers are serious by their actions which leads to the next point…

Is this a Business of a Hobby?
As a brewer, ask if the grower is running a farm or is this a part-time affair.  True, many businesses begin as a serious hobby but I can tell you that producing hops on ANY scale must be a vocation if quality is the goal.  I’m still confronted by growers who are weekend farmers that think I’m trying to drive them out of the market by talking about “hobby” growers.  Quite the opposite actually.  I have years of experience working with brewers of all sizes and often share my observations with these growers who hear things they may not like because it weakens their daydream.  Trust your gut.

Be Extremely Clear and Mean what You Say
If you don’t use whole cones then let the grower know.  If you only want 22lb units, analyzed and purged vacuum sealed then make that abundantly clear.  If you require samples of various lots before picking one suitable please let them know.  If/when the grower meets your requirements be prepared to buy…at least something.

If you would rather not deal with them, then kindly tell them that you do not purchase hops in such a manner.  Please don’t put them off by setting hurdles in front of them because some will see that as a challenge!

I’m confident that many of you have encountered the question about purchasing from a small local grower.  Hopefully I’ve given some insight and something useful to help deal with the encounter!