Hops are hard to grow, and each farmer that braves planting fields of trellises and coaxing bines up strings by hand deserves an award. So, it’s cool to see things like the Cascade Cup, which is a competition that allows hop growers from all over America to compete for producing the best Cascade hops of the last harvest “based on appearance, aroma and hop analysis of the submitted brewer’s cut,” according to the entry form. The Cascade Cup is organized by the Hop Quality Group — a craft brewers trade association that focuses on, yep, hop quality — and entries for this year’s contest were due January 6, so I’m excited to see the results. Big props to B&D Farms for last year’s big win.
But if you can’t tolerate waiting like me, maybe throw your attention over to Michigan, where the newest Chinook Cup winners now proudly reign. At the Michigan Great Beer State Conference and Trade Show, held January 11-13 in Kalamazoo, the winners of the Michigan Chinook Cup competition were announced. The Chinook Cup is specific to Michigan hop growers and is determined by a panel of expert craft brewers through a series of blind sensory tests. The competition was sponsored by the Hop Growers of Michigan and organized by Mr. Wizards Hops with coverage coming via Michigan State University Extension, which plays a big role in fostering the Michigan hop industry. From the university’s story by Rob Sirrine:
This year, judges evaluated eight Chinook entries with scoring provided for aroma, appearance/color, and brewing values. The expert judges included Alec Mull, Jeremy Kosmicki, Adam Schmitt and Jason Vrosh from Founders Brewing Co.; John Mallet, Andy Farrell, Paul Bashaw, Louwrens Wildschut and Derek Stepanski from Bell’s Brewery; John Stewart from Perrin Brewing Co.; and Jeff Sheehan from Rockford Brewing Co. Alec Mull, vice president of brewing operations at Founders Brewing Co. and current president of the Hop Quality Group awarded the sixth annual Chinook Cup to Dog Star Hops. Second place was awarded to Top Hops Farm, and Bell’s Estate Hopyard was third.
Michigan Chinook is a great example of one of the top selling hop varieties in America that can be grown with a uniquely Great Lakes flavor. Chinook grown in the Pacific Northwest is known for its spicy, piney and dank profiles. Michigan Chinook is increasingly recognized for its clean, citrusy attributes. Dog Star Hops is a great example of Michigan’s quality hop farms, located southwest of Lansing in Charlotte. The place looks beautiful. It’s a 115-acre farm that has been producing high-quality hops for a few years now. Its flagship yard of Crystal hops won the Hop Growers of Michigan 2018 Wild Card Competition, and its 2021 Chinook crop took first place in the cup last year.
It was also impressive to see Bell’s Estate Hopyard score a third-place honor. Bell’s Brewery has a few acres of hops next to its Comstock brewery, and it produces some great brands using those hops including Side Yard.
Regions around the Great Lakes have all the preconditions to propagate quality hops like Chinook: long day lengths to flower and produce adequate cone yields and those specific chilling requirements with winter temperatures below 40 degrees F for at least one to two months. Ideal Michigan conditions include sufficient spring moisture (check) followed by significant periods of summer sun and balmy heat (check) to ensure ample development of those lovely chemical compounds. Also, marketable yields of hops are produced in well-drained, deep, sandy loam soils (check, check, check).
Those kinds of conditions produced Michigan Copper, another unique Midwest lupulin experience. It’s a versatile hop rich in stone fruit, pineapple and candy notes. It pairs perfectly with those increasingly popular juicy IPAs and also classics like pale ales, lagers, Belgians and even porters and stouts.
Michigan can offer unique spins on a slew of different hop varieties — Brewers Gold, Crystal, Glacier, Mackinac, Tettnanger, Magnum, Cascade and beyond — but brewers will need to support these boutique farms if they’re going to accomplish long-term success. So I highly recommend that you celebrate growers like Dog Star Hops and Top Hops Farm with some orders. Click those links!