Craft brewing has area hopping

You’ve seen an explosion of hop yards in the Yakima Valley in recent years and have probably wondered why.

Much of the reason is the growth of craft breweries, according to Yakima Chief-Hopunion (YCH Hops) interim chief operating officer Steve Carpenter.

“They typically use 1-5 pounds of hops per barrel for their ale-style beers, whereas a large lager producing brewery will use only a few ounces per barrel,” Carpenter said.

“Craft breweries are very important,” Carpenter added. “Craft breweries represent less than 20 percent of the beer produced, but utilize more than half the hops produced.”

The craft brewery phenomenon is represented in acreage and production growth on the farm. And the surge probably won’t end soon.

According to Hops USA, Washington (Yakima Valley) cultivated 22,696 acres in 2012. That number grew to 37,444 acres in 2016. Production went from 44,465,600 pounds in 2012 to 65,446,600 pounds in 2016.

U.S. total acreage in 2012 was 29,783. In 2016 it was 52,106.

Carpenter has served in several capacities at YCH Hops since it was launched in the 1980s. Initially he helped develop the vision of a grower-owned hop marketing company.

Carpenter, of a Granger hop-growing family, did his homework before becoming CEO of Yakima Chief in 2008. He served as a board member, a board chairman and on various board committees.

When Yakima Chief and Hopunion combined business operations in 2014, Carpenter was hired as President and COO and has served as interim CEO for the past 15 months.

Carpenter will return to his former role of COO on June 1, the same date YCH Hops plans to announce the arrival of a new CEO.

When the Carpenters and several other growers formed Yakima Chief, the company practically introduced the world to hop extract as a way to market and ship the essence of the hop. About 20 percent of the Valley’s hops are marketed as extract now. Steiner and Barth-Haas have extract plants in the Valley.

Perhaps because of its innovative start, YCH-Hopunion has become a big player in the industry. YCH is a global hop supplier with offices in the US, Europe, and China. It handled about a third of the US crop last year.

“We do some business with almost every grower in the PNW,” Carpenter said.

“Due to efficiency gains, the larger brewers typically prefer extracts, although we are getting more and more extract inquiries from the craft segment,” he added.

The Yakima Valley is a big player in the worldwide hop industry. It produces most of Washington’s hops, and Washington is the No. 1 producing state (nearly the only producing state). U.S. Production continues to rank at the top worldwide with Germany.

Washington, Oregon and Idaho continue to lead the U.S. There are no emerging hop producing countries, Carpenter said, but there are 1,200 new acres of U.S. hops outside of the Pacific Northwest. Producers simply need to match the demand.

“North American and European craft segments continue to grow,” Carpenter said. “Brazilian craft is also an emerging market. There is good potential in China and other Asian markets.”

Hops have certain anti-microbial properties which help preserve the quality of beer. And beer is still the No. 1 use for hops.

But new ideas are emerging.

“They are used as a natural anti-microbial in other industries such as the livestock industry, where they can reduce harmful bacteria in young chickens, for example, therefore increasing weight gains and growth rates,” Carpenter said.


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