Podcast Episode 262: Eric, Claire, and Alex of CLS Farms Discuss the Past, Present, and Future of Hop Farming

Eric and Claire Desmarais, fourth and fifth generation hop farmers, and Alex Nowell, former director of brewing for Three Weavers and an advisor to CLS, dig into the recent evolution of hop farming, current harvest challenges, and tools that brewers can use to select better hops.

Jamie Bogner Sep 23, 2022 - 6 min read

Podcast Episode 262: Eric, Claire, and Alex of CLS Farms Discuss the Past, Present, and Future of Hop Farming Primary Image

Photo: Joe Stange

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The currently hot market for hops that has persisted for about a decade now is a bit of a historical blip. From the ’60s through the ’00s, the hop market experienced structural decline, as reduced demand for bittering hops and a focus on alpha acids hit growers from both sides. However, the accelerated growth of craft breweries around 2012 ushered in a new set of demands and opportunities for hop growers. In the 10 years since, growers have planted roughly 18,000 new acres of hops in Washington state. Higher prices mean that growers finally have the resources to make significant upgrades to farm operations, and the outlook is far different than it appeared just a decade and a half ago.

Yet there are new challenges. The lifespan of fields has shortened dramatically, the costs involved with turning over fields has increased, and the market has become more dynamic than ever.

In this episode, Eric Desmarais, his daughter Claire Desmarais, and technical advisor Alex Nowell discuss the state of the farm right now, including:

  • changes in harvest timing strategy
  • the impact of picking time on aroma and flavor
  • evaluating hop readiness for harvest
  • the challenging state of the 2022 harvest and what that means for brewers
  • managing risk in planting new varieties
  • dialing back speculation on new varieties such as Sabro
  • how to be effective as a brewer when selecting hops
  • getting past the lag between initial brewer excitement about new hop varieties and sustainable farming volumes, once that excitement wanes

And more.

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Jamie Bogner is the Cofounder and Editorial Director of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine®. Email him at [email protected].