HopX Great Lakes Hops
What is the HOP X project going down at Starving Artist Brewing?
Why is it so important to the independent future of craft beer?
How can I help and participate?
Starving Artist’s HOP X project is one of the critical steps in developing new hops for the craft beer industry. Owner and guru brewer Andrew has partnered with Great Lakes Hops; a hop plant breeder and supplier to complete sensory and brewing evaluations of new hop varieties not currently available to hop growers and craft brewers. Here is the bigger picture with a bit of history of what is going on behind the scenes.
Great Lakes Hops (GLH) is owned and operated by Lynn Kemme. GLH is one of the largest suppliers of hop planting stock in the USA. Lynn is a professional horticulturist with an intense interest in plant breeding and the potential to refresh and re-invigorate the hundreds of known hop varieties. He noted as far back as 2007 that the largest suppliers to the beer industry were quietly controlling and shifting access to hop breeding and new hop varieties from a public model to a private patented model. This shift seems to be part of a bigger overall market strategy to create near monopoly conditions that would create barriers from new competing businesses. Any newly planted hopyards outside the Pacific Northwest would eventually be limited to growing only old, less-used hop varieties. A major side effect is that beer diversity and choices would be stifled also. Small innovative craft brewers would have a lid put on their creativity and have substantial increases their operational costs in obtaining the more expensive and limited patented hops. In Lynn’s opinion, this is not be a good thing for the future of craft brewing or new hopyards; both of which depend heavily on more diversity and choices to compete with mega-sized brewers and hop suppliers.
In late 2009, Lynn started an intense hop breeding program. He collected one of the largest private collections of hop varieties in the USA. Specific individual crosses with known male hops such as 19058M were made in an effort to find new improved hop varieties for Midwest hopyards. Over 128 individual targeted crosses were made over the next two years with over 500,000 new plants grown. Since then, this large population of test plants has been grown, screened and evaluated for superior new hop plants. By the Spring of 2017, this test population has been selectively reduced down to only 450 individual superior hop plants. (Thousands of inferior or flawed plants hit the dumpster!) These few remaining female hop plants will undergo further performance field trials at GLHII; a new 35-acre facility currently under construction in Holland, Michigan. Final goal of 8-plus years of work? Maybe 5 or 6 new world-class hop varieties; if the stars align.
More than 20 improved factors such as vigor, cone conformation, pickability, yield, and disease resistance are being evaluated. A prioritized selection factor was improved lupulin and oil content of the hop cones; which is very important for finished craft beer flavors and aromas. Several crosses contain unique genetics that may create potentially new flavors and aroma profiles that do not currently exist.