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Hops Insider: What’s the Future for Boutique Hops?

With hop harvest behind us, now is the time to find unique new varieties (before everybody else knows their names).

Stan Hieronymus Oct 23, 2023 - 12 min read

Hops Insider: What’s the Future for Boutique Hops? Primary Image

A row of experimental hops with a chance to join the USDA Elite Line. Photo: Stan Hieronymus.

When Russian River reintroduces Pliny for President for the 2024 election cycle, drinkers may be surprised to smell and taste an unexpected lime note—courtesy of Zumo, a hop variety they’ve likely never heard of before.

Shaun Townsend, who heads the breeding program funded by Indie Hops in Oregon, calls similar cultivars “boutique hops,” and he suggests there’s room for more. “Brewers may, quote-unquote, ‘paint’ with these specialized hops to achieve a desired flavor and aroma in their beer,” he says.

Anton Lutz at Germany’s Hop Research Center Hüll would agree. Several years ago, he predicted some new varieties might be grown on as few as 50 to 200 acres, and “maybe a new [one] is good for only five to eight years. More varieties. More change. More intense flavors.”

That might sound great to brewers, but creating niche varieties and balancing their supply and demand is no easier than for cultivars grown on thousands of acres.

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