The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that Oregon will harvest 11,571,900 pounds of hops this year, about 3 million more than in 2014. What are we growing? Here's a look at the top five varieties in 2014, according to the Oregon Hop Commission.
Nugget hops were first bred in Oregon as part of a USDA program in 1982. By 1991, Nugget had taken over 14 percent of production in the nation. While Nugget is loved for its resiny, woody and herbal aromas, the versatile hop is mostly used as a clean bittering addition, added early in the boil to give hoppy ales their signature bite. Brewers love Nugget hops because they hold most of their bittering capacity for many months after harvest.
When researchers at Oregon State University first released the Cascade varietal as an aroma hop in 1972, there wasn't much of a commercial market for it. A grapefruit-forward hop with a spicy, citrus characteristic, Cascade was not well-suited for a time when beer came in two flavors: light and dark. But as the craft-beer revolution began, so did the rise of Cascade, now the most popular aroma hop in the nation. The variety can be credited in large part with the floral, citrusy trend in craft beer, stretching all the way back to BridgePort IPA, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Anchor Liberty Ale—three of the most important stepping stones in the history of craft beer.
A fruity, peppery, aroma hop with modest bittering properties, Willamette is well suited to many styles of beer, from New Belgium's Fat Tire to Widmer's Hefeweizen. The hop, which was first bred in 1976 and now accounts for about 20 percent of U.S. acreage, is a nice blend of traditional Old World flavor and newer, bolder American aromas, making it a popular choice among brewers for its versatility.
The yin to Cascade's yang, Centennial hops are often used in parallel with the famed citrusy varietal. Centennial hops are sometimes referred to as "Super Cascade" due to their higher bittering properties. First bred in 1974, they're named for their public release during Washington state's centennial celebration in 1989. Though not as aromatic as their smaller, older brothers, their excellent blend of floral and bittering characteristics make them well-suited to extra-hoppy styles. Centennial hops are a centerpiece of craft classics like Bell's Two Hearted Ale, Russian River's Pliny the Elder, Fort George's Vortex IPA and Lompoc's C-Note IPA.
Developed in Oregon and released about the same time as Washington's centennial hop in 1989, Mount Hood hops are a mild, earthy variety best suited to Old World ales and lagers, though they are often used in other styles. Described as a fine substitute for more expensive noble European varietals, Mount Hood hops are used to great acclaim in everything from Pilsners and wheat beers to doppelbocks.