YCH is thrilled to congratulate Doug Weathers of Sodbuster Farms in Salem, Oregon as the recipient of the Harvest 2016 Cascade Cup presented by the Hop Quality Group, a non-for-profit brewer’s organization established to help connect the brewing community with hop growers and their processes. Hop Quality Group’s aim is to promote hop quality to the greater craft brewing industry with the mission statement “oils over alpha."
Knowing that a little friendly-competition can help showcase what craft brewers define as quality (especially when it comes to hop aroma), the Hop Quality Group decided to launch the Cascade Cup following the 2012 harvest. Cascade was chosen as the variety of focus due to its value and importance in the craft industry (#1 most popular variety), as well as its vast acreage in major commercial growing regions. After five years, the Cup has become a defining factor for what craft brewers deem quality, and an opportunity for growers to showcase their craftsmanship in the field.
This year, the award has come full circle in a sense as Weathers' father farmed the first off-station trial of Cascade hops for Oregon State University during the late-1960s. Weathers remembers one of his first experiences with the variety stating, “I remember them as very long-armed bines that scratched our necks as we moved irrigation pipe. We planted one of the first commercial yards of Cascades that were bred by Dr. Jack Horner for OSU and released in 1971."
When asked what he enjoys most about growing Cascade hops, Weathers remarked, “The shape and look of the cones as well as their spicy pine aroma.” He commented further stating that the 2016 Cascade lot had particularly nice green, and classic pine aroma which may have contributed to being a winning entry.
For Sodbuster Farms, delivering quality and sustainably produced hops is at the core of their mission. They define quality as not just what hop cones look and smell like (although that is important), but rather by what can be done to deliver a sustainable product that brewers are looking for. From Doug and Audrey as owners, to managers Frank Davidson and son-in-law, Jake Lorentz, and all of the middle managers and people that work hard to raise and harvest the crop, everyone at Sodbuster Farms is excited to receive the Cascade Cup knowing it is a reflection of their work. As the fourth YCH HOPS grower-owner to win the award in five years, Weathers commented, “it goes to show that we, the ownership at YCH, strive to deliver on every hop the sustainable “Farm to Kettle” approach to all parts of our businesses.”
According to Matt Brynildson, Brewmaster of Firestone Walker and member of the Hop Quality Group, the harvest 2016 Cascade Cup received 36 entries -- the most to date. Sodbuster Farms was awarded the trophy because “Their brewers cut stood out as bright, balanced hops that exemplified Cascade as a variety.”
Brynildson explained, “We judge the hops blind, focusing mainly on aroma through a hop rub. It takes a number of judges and judging rounds to determine the winner. We are looking for hops that exemplify true to type characteristics. These include citrus and floral aromas that are in balance with the herbal spicy nature of the hop.” The judges panel consists of leading craft brewers from around the country who comprise the hop selection teams of their respective home breweries. This ensures each judge is familiar with Cascade hops' growing and brewing characteristics.
The positive response from American hop growers with this competition has been thrilling for the Hop Quality Group and is viewed as a great opportunity for networking between hop growers and commercial craft brewers. While the future may bring additional varieties to the competition, the group wants to continue cultivating and refining the current competition structure.
On behalf of the Hop Quality Group, Brynildson remarks “It is critical that brewers understand where their raw materials come from and what it takes to grow quality hops. Great beer simply can’t be made without quality hops. The craft brewing movement has radically changed both how hops are used in the brewing process and the kinds of hop derived flavors that brewers require to make their beers. A large amount of the hops we use are not boiled in the kettle, but placed directly into the maturation vessel. Our definition of quality has changed from the classical brewer’s sense. Our hope is to work with growers to first learn how the hop growing world functions and thrives. Secondly, we want to assist in providing information and knowledge from our side of the process that results in better hops and a sustainable future for both growers and brewers in this new age. What we have come to find out is that growers are every bit as passionate about growing hops as craft brewers are about brewing beer. Connecting those forces catalyzes positive change."
As a grower-owned hop supplier, YCH echoes these sentiments. Hop utilization in the brewing process has evolved as well as the demand for unique aromas required to make beer. There is a shared passion among brewers and growers. Facilitating knowledge and feedback between growers and brewers through suppliers and friendly competitions like the Cascade Cup not only results in better hops, but a more sustainable future for both brewer and grower.
Photo credit: Gary J. Weathers (header image) & Hop Quality Group (judging panel)