B.C. Beer Blog

The who, what, where, when, why, and how of B.C. craft beer

BC Hop Revival

with 12 comments

You may have heard about the hop shortage that started to bite in 2007. It came about as a consequence of poor harvests in Europe and the US—where we get most of our hops from—farmers converting to more lucrative crops—especially those subsidized by the US government for ethanol production—growing demand from China, and a 2006 warehouse fire in Yakima, WA, that wiped out a significant amount of the U.S. specialty hop supply.

This shortage put the squeeze on a number of B.C.’s small brewers, nearly putting some out of business. Not only did the price of hops increase astronomically, it was difficult to even find a number varieties, particularly those used for making Northwest-style ales.

For over 100 years, B.C. had a thriving hop-growing industry. But due to declining demand and business competition, the last hop farm in the province ceased operations in 1997. Consequently, our brewers are almost entirely at the mercy of outside sources.

As a result, there has been an increased interest in reviving hop farming in B.C. Sorrento organic farmhouse brewer, Crannóg Ales, grow most of their own hops. They have two hop yards, for a total of just over one acre, where they grow Cascade, Challenger, Fuggles, Golding, Mt. Hood, Nuggett, and Willamette.

Christian Sartori stands in front of his hop nursery on the Sartori Cedar Ranch. He has planted Centennial, Magnum, Newport, Sterling, and Willamette hops (Photo © 2008 Rick Green).

Christian Sartori stands in front of his hop nursery on the Sartori Cedar Ranch (Photo © 2008 Rick Green).

Last Wednesday, I visited one of the latest entrants in the province’s hop resurgence, Sartori Cedar Ranch. South of Chilliwack, in the Columbia Valley, Christian Sartori is preparing to transplant Centennial, Magnum, Newport, Sterling, and Willamette from a nursery onto three acres. He just took delivery of a shipment of wooden poles with which to construct trellises. Overseeing Sartori’s hop production is Rick Knight who was foreman at B.C.’s last hop farm, John I. Haas.

We began the tour with a look at the field. It had already been excavated for the poles, so you could examine the underlying soil profile. It was also evident the field had good drainage. Despite recent rains, the surface was not saturated.

We next visited the hop nursery. The rhizomes had only been planted this season, yet they were already sprouting hop cones. Given that they didn’t have to compete with grass and weeds for nutrients, they had also developed dense root systems.

Knight anticipates they will be able to harvest half a hop crop at the end of next season and a full crop in 2010. The hop cones will be dried and then baled for delivery to customers. In the meantime, Sartori plans on planting another nine acres with whatever varieties local brewers are interested in.

With initiatives like these, it’s a good opportunity for small B.C. brewers to form direct partnerships with growers that are otherwise not open to them. They can play a greater role in influencing their hop supply and not have to be as concerned they will be outbid or outmanoeuvered by the larger players in a sometimes volatile market.

Advertisements

12 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. One interesting positive note on the hop shortage is that it motivated a LOT of homebrewers into growing their own hops, which is a very interesting extension of the homebrewing hobby. I planted my first hops in 2007 and couldn’t find a good discussion group on the topic, so I formed my own ‘Grow-Hops’ group which rapidly grew to about 2,000 in just a single year; we currently have 2,382 members, most of whom grow their own hops. If anyone is interested, please visit my portal at http://www.tinyurl.com/29zr8r

    Cheers.

    Bill Velek

    Bill Velek

    September 16, 2008 at 9:40 am

  2. […] owners of The Railway Club in Vancouver, decided to support their local brewers through the recent hop shortage by planting an acre of Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Crystal, East Kent Goldings, Fuggles, Magnum, […]

  3. […] Chilliwack’s hop yards provided seasonal work for my grandparents when they first moved to British Columbia, so I feel a small sense of connection to this industry and am very excited to see that hops are once again being grown in BC. For more news on this story check out the BC Beer Blog. […]

  4. Does anyone know where i can get hop cuttings on the island (preferably local organic)?

    redtide

    March 25, 2009 at 10:25 pm

  5. […] to brewing with what could be one of BC’s last remaining hop plants from our long dead, but potentially revived, hops […]

  6. […] Pretty damn busy. But all things considered, we are spoiled rotten here in the land of milk and honey. Consider this: BC Ferries is the largest passenger ferry service in North America and the 2nd largest ferry service in the entire world and with the extensive terminal upgrades at Horseshoe Bay and the addition of 3 brand new Winter Olympic branded Super Class C vessels (the largest double-ended ferries in the world), the experience has never been better. One just has to go south and ride one of Washington State’s aging ferries to realize this. So until the fixed link idea ever becomes a financially and environmentally viable option, I consider riding the ferry a integral blue-chip BC experience that is the envy of most of the world.This trip, set up by the Comox Valley Economic Development group, had us staying at Smith Lake Farm, a beautiful family estate on a 90+ acre parcel of land in Merville at the northern end of the Comox Valley, 20 minutes north of downtown Courtenay. The farm, recently purchased by a young couple happily displaced from the constant hustle of the big city were working hard to get the land back into shape for planting. While we were there, we watched them laying down a new drainage system for the main field and had interesting discussions about the viability of growing beer hops, once a thriving industy in BC. […]

    • Is Smith Lake Farms growing hop, if so who do I contact.
      Thanks
      Howard

      Howard

      May 11, 2012 at 1:36 pm

  7. […] pellets. Driftwood’s Sartori Harvest IPA was brewed instead with fresh Centennial hops from Sartori Cedar Ranch, a new hop yard in the Columbia Valley that is part of a grassroots effort to bring large-scale hop […]

  8. Bonjour Christian, I am from Ottawa Valley on Quebec side of the Ottawa River. My brother and me are planing to buy a land in Western part of Quebec close to Ottawa.
    The hops industry is just starting here. We would like to chat with you about our project. If you can stay in touch my phone is 819923-9191 alinebegin@hotmail.com
    Hope you best for your summer Aline & André Bégin

    Aline Begin

    July 4, 2012 at 7:08 am

  9. […] the hill, a vista unfolds much changed since I last visited five years ago. Once an open field and a vision in the mind of Christian Sartori, the land is now […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: