The real reason behind all the new proprietary hop varieties

A good friend of ours, who happened to win one of the “Brewer of the Year” awards at the Great American Beer Festival told us a good brewer can use one hop variety and, depending on how he uses it, get the flavors he wants. He then, over the course of the next year, proved it to us by brewing half a dozen popular craft beers with the same legacy variety probably considered boring by today’s standards. I’m sure his statement was a bit of an exaggeration … maybe the world needs more than one hop variety … but you get the point.

Last summer during harvest, we had a steady stream of brewers stopping by to visit the 47Hops complex. Something one brewer from a very large craft brewery said stuck with me. He said they never had to think about mixing different varieties or getting creative to reach a certain flavor profile because all the hop merchants always give them everything they want. You could see his eyes light up at the challenge of having to mix certain varieties to achieve a specific flavor profile.

Yet another brewer friend of ours from overseas told us that some new popular proprietary varieties are simply popular because they are very forgiving during the brewing process. We asked him to elaborate. He continued, “It just doesn’t take so much skill to brew with them. It’s not possible to make so many mistakes. That kind of takes the challenge out of it.” Maybe he was exaggerating a bit too. The friend who said that is a very talented, but very humble, brewer.

All of these comments make me wonder if all the flavors and variety development in the hop industry are there to give brewers more options … or is it to further divide growers and merchants and give them something else to fight over. I would bet on the latter. What if the purpose of proprietary varieties has very little to do with brewing in the first place? What if creating new proprietary varieties is just a means to an end? What if an unintended consequence of all the new hop varieties on the market is that they actually take away from the creativity craft brewing represents in the first place? Wouldn’t that be ironic?