We began hop research in 2010 at the SROC. Hops are a perennial vine, and the female inflorescence is used to add bitterness, and sometimes flavor and aroma, to beer. Craft breweries in the Midwest are interested in using local materials, and farmers are interested in (profitable) diversification and perennial cropping systems. Minnesota reported 20 acres of hops strung in 2014. Many of these were new acres in 2013 or 2014. The majority of hops in the US are still grown in the Pacific Northwest.
We have begun to work toward answering the following questions:
How do we grow hops?
Hops have not been grown commercially in the upper midwestern United States since the hop craze in Wisconsin in the 1860's and '70's. Since then, a tremendous amount of new germplasm has been developed in Germany, England, and the US, and growing methods and tools have improved. But these production methods have been developed in climates and latitudes that are much different from those in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. For example, growers in Oregon and Washington have, through experience, determined optimum times for stringing each variety in the spring. But spring in the Willamette Valley is much different than spring in Minnesota, so we are working to determine optimum timing for stringing for 3 varieties: Chinook, Centennial, and Sterling.
Can we develop a new variety?
A single breeding program exists worldwide for generating new varieties that are available to all growers (USDA). Breeding programs elsewhere do not release new varieties to the public, and so they are generally unavailable in Minnesota. The USDA breeding program is focused on generating varieties for the large growers in the Pacific Northwest, though many varieties happen to grow well in our region as well. We would like to create new hop varieties that are ideally suited to the climate and challenges in the Upper Midwest. Our first crosses were made in 2012 and evaluation of those plants is ongoing. In addition, more crosses were made in 2014. Stay tuned, because creating a new variety takes a long time!
We are collaborating with various groups and individuals to study hop production and processing. For example, we are investigating:
Hop pedigrees are interconnected and complicated but can be helpful for understanding existing varieties or for creating new varieties. This 24×36-inch poster displays the pedigrees for over 40 varieties of hops developed by English, American, German, and Japanese breeding programs. From Brewer's Gold to Bravo, Centennial to Millenium, Chinook to Challenger, the connections among hops found in many commercial beers are compiled in a visually appealing way, perfect for hanging in your brewery or lab.