Chris Baum and the brewing team at Varietal Beer in Sunnyside, Washington, have nothing against fresh hops. After all, Hyperion—a double IPA packed with 600 pounds of unkilned Simcoe from two nearby farms—won a silver medal in the 2022 Great American Beer Festival’s Fresh Hop Beer category.
However, other than fresh “wet” hops, Varietal doesn’t use hops from the current crop year in any of its beers. In fact, Hyperion was dry-hopped with Centennial, Chinook, Simcoe, and Zeus harvested in 2019 and 2020.
“It’s mostly a cost thing, and availability,” says Baum, Varietal’s co-owner and head brewer. Located amid hop dealers in the Yakima Valley, Varietal is in a better position than most breweries to go shopping for hops that some might call leftovers. Nonetheless, its beers—such as Sup Cuz IPA, which won silver at the 2021 GABF—prove that while older hops may be cheaper, the real reason to buy them is that they can produce award-winning beer.
In October, Glacier Hops Ranch sponsored a webinar for Brewers Association members that addressed just this topic, bluntly asking, “Are Older Hops Still Any Good?” “We export a lot, and [overseas] we cannot sell anything but current crop year,” says Glacier CEO Tom Britz, who moderated the panel discussion. Larger breweries in the United States are more willing to use hops from previous crop years, but brewers at smaller and newer operations are more likely to think of hops “like fresh produce.”
That’s understandable, but it’s a mistake.