What makes the hops that Monastery of Christ in the Desert sells most interesting is not necessarily that monks grow them, but that they are bred from native American hops, otherwise known as neomexicanus. This can be a bit confusing because the botanical name has nothing to do with the state of New Mexico, where the monastery is situated and the hops were bred.
So a quick bit of history: The genus Humulus likely originated in Mongolia at least six million years ago. A European type diverged from that Asian group more than one million years ago; a North American group migrated from the Asian continent about 500,000 years later. Five botanical varieties of lupulus exist: cordifolius (found in Eastern Asia, Japan), lupuldoides (Eastern and north-central North America), lupulus (Europe, Asia, Africa; later introduced to North America), neomexicanus (Western North America), and pubescens (primarily Midwestern United States).
Popular European varieties, such as Saaz or Hersbrucker, may be simple humulus lupulus, but many of today’s most popular hops, such as Citra and Mosaic, are the offspring of both lupulus and neomexicanus.
Todd Bates, who lives between Santa Fe and Taos, began collecting hops growing in the wild in the mountains of northern New Mexico in the early 1990s, eventually starting a small breeding program on the organic farm where he lives. In 2011, Eric Desmarais planted several of the varieties Bates developed at CLS Farms in the Yakima Valley. Those included one called Medusa, which Sierra Nevada Brewing used as the lone hops in Harvest Wild Hop IPA last year.
Bates supplied the monks at Christ in the Desert with several other varieties, which they began growing in 2010. The monks have been selling their own beer since 2006. Monks’ Ale is produced under contract at Sierra Blanca Brewing in Moriarty, New Mexico, where the monastery owns some of the equipment used to make more than 15,000 cases a year.
The monks grew five varieties for harvest in 2015—Amalia, Chama, Latir, Mintras, and Tierra—all bred and named by Bates. They began selling their hops at HolyHops.biz in 2014, and although they are rather expensive, the hops sell out very quickly. Customers include commercial breweries in Ireland, France, and Germany as well as commerical brewers and homebrewers in eighteen states.
PHOTO: COURTESY MONASTERY OF CHRIST IN THE DESERT