Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Mittelfruh Code: Hop Varieties and How They Are Named

With the subject of hop shortages on many brewers' minds, a result of the "Great Global Hop Crisis of 2008." There have been more than a few farmers in the area looking into the feasibility of growing hops here in Kentucky. Whether that will work out or not is irrelevant to me, what does interest me is what these new Kentucky grown hops be named. To properly name our new hop, we must first examine how other hops got their names. For that I turned to Mark Garetz's book Using Hops which talks about where different varieties of hops came from and the names associated with them.

Although there is only one hop species ( Humulus Lupulus) that is useful for brewing, there are many varieties, or cultivars, in that species. Each of these varieties has different brewing, growing and storage characteristics. Almost all of the hop varieties in use today are the result of hop breeding by hop researchers and not mother nature. In the early days, this consisted of selecting those plants that were desirable, but now more sophisticated techniques are used to create new varieties.

Garetz's book states that in order to keep track of all these hop varieties, common names are associated with specific varieties. Some of these names are traditional, while newer US hop varieties have their names chosen and sanctioned by a group consisting of the USDA and hop research centers. The newer names are usually chosen by the person responsible for breeding the original cultivar and sometimes by the hop brokers that have invested in growing the first commercial scale plots. The choice of names is fairly arbitrary, sometimes they are named after a place (Cascade, Mt. Hood or Willamette) and sometimes just a nifty sounding word (Tomahawk, Bravo or Warrior). Traditional European hop names often were named after the person or institution that bred or selected them, and also often have the place where they are grown included in the name, which is different than in the US where hops named after places generally have little to with where they are actually grown.

European hops names usually reveal something about the variety and in what region they are grown. The reason for this is that most of the important European varieties only produce the desired brewing qualities when grown in a specific region. Through many years of natural selection, varieties that are indigenous to the growing area have emerged, and these are called land races. These indigenous varieties are typically named for the place where they emerged, mainly because only one variety was grown there, so there was no need to be more specific. Some of these varieties are still grown in their place of origin and some are not.

European hops may have the same variety name as the place where they originated. But because these hops may no longer be grown in the place after which they are named, the place where they are now being grown is attached to the hop name as an adjective. For example, a common hop from Germany is the variety called Hersbrucker. It originated in the Hersbruck region. It is called a Hersburcker because it came from Hersbruck. Think of it this way, if you come from New York, you could be called a New Yorker. The "er" is always part of the variety name. If this hop was grown in the Hersbruck region, this hop would be called a Hersbruck Hersbrucker. But most of the Hersbrucker grown today is actually grown in the Hallertau region. Hersbrucker grown in the Hallertau region would be call Hallertau Herbrucker.

This gets confusing because there is also a Hallertauer variety. When it is grown in the Hallertau, it is called Hallertau Hallertauer. Now I'm going to throw one more curve at you: One of the most prized hops in the world is the noble hop Hallertauer Mittelfruh. This doesn't seem correct because there is an "er" on the first word. That is because the real name for this hop is Hallertau Hallertauer Mittelfruh. Mittelfruh means "middle-early" and has to do with the fact that this hop matured "middle-early" in the growing season. Hallertauers that matured at different times just weren't the same. So Hallertauer Mittelfruh is a sub-variety of Hallertauer. To shorten the name up, most people leave off the first Hallertau since all Halletauer Mittelfruh is assumed to be grown in the Hallertau region.

Now let's move on to British hops. In Britain, hops are not named after the place where they were grown, but sometimes are named after the person who selected the hop. Goldings is named after Mr. Golding and Fuggle is named after Mr. Fuggle. A lot of the newer English varieties start with the word Wye because they were developed at Wye university's hop research department. Examples are Wye Target, Wye Northdown and Wye Challenger. Sometimes they add the place as an adjective on the front of the hop name just like the Germans. Those Goldings grown in the east part of Kent are sold as East Kent Goldings. And sometimes there are British hop names that are arbitrary like the US Hop names, such as Northern Brewer and Brewer's Gold.

Other European hops don't follow any rules concerning their names. Saaz is named for the town near which it grows in Czechoslovakia (the town is now called Zatec in the Czech Republic). When marketed outside of Czechoslovakia, it is usually called Czech Saaz to distinguish it from the Saazer variety grown elsewhere. Slovenia grows hops and they add "Styrian" on the front of the hop name. Styria is actually not is Slovenia, but Austria, they probably added the "Styrian" because it sounded better and appealed to the old Austro-Hungarian Empire where these hops were marketed. Which brings up an interesting point about the marketing of Slovenian hops. Styrian Goldings is indeed grown in Slovenia, but it is not a Goldings variety. It is really Fuggle, but the hop merchants there called it Goldings because they thought they could get more money for them (since Goldings was more highly thought of than Fuggle). To this day, the strategy still works, Styrian Goldings are more expensive than Fuggle, yet you would be better off just getting the real English Fuggle, cheaper.

So what to call the new Louisville grown hop? The traditional German way, Louisviller Louisville. Or if the Louisville variety is grown in Frankfort we could call it a Frankforter Louisviller. I guess we should use the arbitrary US naming system, which is pretty much whatever we want. Cardinal hop? Derby hop? Barbaro hop? How about Thoroughbred? Let me know if you have any better suggestions.

never trust The Sober Brewer
Jerry Gnagy


Derek said...

Louisville Big Bone Licker?

Scott said...

Most informative - we are facing similar questions here in Vermont where there is a state-wide push to re-establish the hop industry so that local breweries/pubs etc. can have a local source of ingredients. I just this morning dug up and replanted a few cuttings from a 200-year old hop garden, variety unknown, and if it does well we may have to come up with a new name for it...
Scott, Home Brew Guru of Vermont