Words by Blake Crosby, CEO
Blake Crosby Reflects On Hop Harvest 2022
Another harvest has come and gone and again I am reminded how quickly a year can pass. I have sometimes wondered if this is not only something we experience with age, but if something about the tradition and cadence of farming accentuates this sense of time passing. Either way, completing another hop harvest is undoubtedly a milestone, but is also bittersweet.
Like any year 2022 had its challenges and its opportunities. The Spring in Oregon was characterized by record rainfall in the valley and above average snowpack in the Cascade Mountain range. While this made Spring activities on the farm extra challenging, the skiing was great! And it was pleasantly familiar and comfortable as a native Oregonian.
As a farm family that has grown hops in the Willamette Valley since 1900, the 2022 growing season was reminiscent of a traditional Oregon season of yesteryear. The type of seasons my dad and grandfather would remind me of, the years where Summer did not start until after the 4th of July and sunshine on Memorial Day was always a coin flip. As we know, this old Oregon was a far cry from the weather patterns preceding this season, which had us wondering if normal or average were concepts worth comparing to anymore.
Given the weather of recent years our farming strategy evolved with the drying trend in Oregon as we timed our 2022 hop pruning based on the expectation of a warmer Spring. We were wrong to assume and due to the cooler weather pattern we experienced, the hops fell far behind in normal growth and bine development going into mid-June.
One of many things the last couple of seasons reminded me was that hops are amazing plants. Their resiliency is nothing short of spectacular. The 2022 crop was no exception and the crop rebounded as the weather warmed up in early July and beyond. Some varieties adapted by growing later into the season than normal and consequently bloomed later, which helped with bine growth and plant development. In some cases, however, this phenomenon generated a smaller cone size. It appeared those fields with smaller cones did correlate with yields below expectation. Thankfully this was not a major issue and in many fields we saw fully developed plants and large cones, which generated above average yields.
We started the season with Centennial, which came in about 10% above expectations. This was especially great news as Centennial is a variety Crosby Hops is known for both in quality and quantity. I heard similar feedback from other growers in the Willamette Valley about 2022 being a great Oregon Centennial year.
Strata® was next on the list and also came in about 10% above expectations. This was a pleasant surprise given the strong demand and desire for this exciting Indie Hops / Oregon State bred variety. After Strata, we entered the first week of September, which we consider the start of our mid-season that is typically characterized by several varieties entering their maturity window simultaneously. This part of the season keeps us on our toes to ensure we capture our pick windows for optimum aroma quality and impact that is consistent with what customers expect from us. Up until this point our yields were running above average, but that started to change in September as we traversed yield headwinds with many of our mid-season varieties.
We continued through Mt. Hood, which was well below plan (-15%), Amarillo® (-8%), Sterling (-10%), Comet (-12%), followed by an uptick from Triumph (+11%), After some bumpy yield results in Amarillo, Sterling and Comet, our Triumph results brought the farm average back close to normal. Brewer quality feedback began to flow via in person and remote selections and the overwhelming feedback was favorable, which is one of the many sighs of relief we look forward to during this crazy time of year. The other sighs of relief include no injuries or accidents, no wildfire smoke, and ultimately a timely harvest completion.
As we entered the later part of our harvest season, we hosted the return of the annual Crosby Hop Festival. This marked the first year of the event since the pandemic. The evening of September 9th proved to be perfect despite high winds earlier in the day that calmed down right in time for the start of the special evening. We had over 350 special guests including employees and their families, local community members, and many of our craft customers from around the world.
It is moments like these that are not taken for granted, especially with what we have all experienced the last several years. The evening served as a good reminder of why we do what we do. As we enjoyed great beer and amazing local food together under the harvest moon, which backlit hop trellis and a Douglas fir tree line on the horizon, there was a collective appreciation for how lucky we are to be in this industry in a special place like the Willamette Valley.
On the backside of the event, we entered the last couple of weeks of harvest. El Dorado® yielded poor results and was down almost 50%. This was an eye opener and an important one for us to debrief this off season. As they say, that’s farming…
We then continued into Chinook (-8%), Belma® (+12%), Crystal (+10%), and Nugget (-11%) – a mixed bag, though quality continued to impress both internally and externally. With that we finished harvest on September 23 after 34 long days and nights. Our team handled nearly 600 acres of Crosby Estate Grown Hops in total. This is a farm record for acreage and production with volume exceeding 1M pounds for the first time in our farm history.
With harvest now a wrap, the time for reflection and appreciation is valuable. This time of year I am reminded that this is a people business. In the hustle and bustle and the daily stressors it can be easy to forget. From our passionate, hard working and dedicated staff, to neighbors that are patient with our equipment pounding the rural highways and byways for a month straight, to our loyal customer base that creates value beyond what we can ever imagine with our favorite plant in the world: hops.
I believe as long as humans crave and value genuine connection, unique experiences, and high-quality food and beverage we have a lot to be optimistic about in hops and craft. These traits are in our biology and evolution. I also won’t argue against history. For millennia beer has served as society's fermented beverage of choice and regardless of trends that come and go along the way I think the long run is still bright for our quirky industry.
With that, I am truly grateful for the amazing team of employees that make Crosby Hops possible, the wonderful land we have the privilege of stewarding year in and year out, and the countless customers and fans around the world that have made this brand so special.
I look forward to what is next and to many successful harvests to come!