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Q&A with Blake Crosby

How Hop Growers Decide Which Varieties To Grow

Crosby Hop Farm grows a number of public hop varieties — including Chinook, Comet, Centennial, Golding, Nugget, Sterling, Crystal, and Mt. Hood — developed by public programs or universities and available to anyone. In addition to public varieties, CHF also grows proprietary hops, like Idaho 7™, Amarillo® (VGXP01) and Strata® — developed by private companies that require a license to grow. Here, CEO Blake Crosby explains how the company decides what to grow and reveals why Nugget after all these years is still its most reliable variety.

With so many options, how do you decide what to grow?

The first thing we look at when considering which hops to grow is customer demand. Sometimes we help create and forecast that demand if we’re bringing a new flavor profile to market, like with Idaho 7™ (in collaboration with Jackson Hop) and Strata®(from Cultivar OR91331, in collaboration with Indie Hops).

How do you decide how much of a variety to plant?

Direct communication with customers leads to contracts, which drive probably three-quarters of our decisions. Hops have one primary use—brewing—and it’s volatile and capital-intensive to grow them, it’s important to have the right inventory at the right time. To manage risk and inventory, the industry has always been contract-focused, informed by what brewers need and planting accordingly.

But in today’s market, there’s also a little more hedging required to stay current with new varietals. You can’t always get someone to contract something until they’ve tried it (understandably). With Idaho 7™ , Comet, and Strata® for example, we’ve taken calculated risks and built inventory following the “if you build it they will come” model. Thanks to our sales force, we’re confident we know what our customers want now and what they will want in the future as well.

What’s your most reliable hop variety?

Nugget. It’s good for growers and brewers, yet it’s also underappreciated.

What makes it shine for you?

Unlike some hops, Nugget truly expresses the terroir of its growing region. Oregon-grown Nugget could be an entirely new and different variety in itself. It’s dynamic, layered with citrus and fruitiness, and many confuse it for something modern like Mosaic® when we showcase it blindly on the selection table at harvest.

We’ve seen increased demand for Oregon Nugget in craft as people realize how different it is. Of course we sell a lot of it for its traditional use, bittering, but we increasingly have customers dry-hopping successfully with it. It’s super consistent but also exciting and unexpected. We’ve always been able to find enough niche interest for Oregon-specific Nugget, so we’ve kept a fair bit in the ground for it being such a low-profile hop in the overall market.