Yakima hops lab to collect summer samples

Tri-City HeraldJune 21, 2014 

Hops Yakima Valley

The cones from the hops plant are one of the key ingredients used to make beer. Hops farmers are growing more aroma hops to respond to the demand from craft brewers, who are looking to create a unique, distinct taste for their beer.

KRISTI PIHL — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

The Washington State Department of Agriculture's Yakima hops lab is silent for now.

But for six weeks later this summer, the lab will be bustling with 50 temporary workers collecting samples from Yakima Valley farmers for testing and grading.

"One hundred days of sun in a row, the vines just love it," said Mike Firman, acting plant protection program manager at the Yakima hops lab.

The tendrils with their leafy cones twist up a guide rope, following the movement of the sun. During harvest, the ropes and vines are cut down and the cones are dried, baled and later turned into pellets or an extract.

During harvest -- mostly in August and September -- the lab is busy for long hours, seven days a week, Firman said.

Inspectors visit fields and warehouses to take samples from hop bales for testing.

Workers use sieves and sort by hand to remove darker leaves and stem pieces from the hop cones.

Farmers don't want to see too many stems, leaves and seeds because it reduces the value of their product.

Brewers want to find only the useable part of the hops plant -- the cone.

Firman said they try to test samples within a day in order to catch any problems with machinery that could cause a lesser grade and price.

All of Washington's hops, and some from Oregon and Idaho, are tested at the Yakima lab. The testing program is funded by hops farmers.

Farmers also can choose to have a brewing value test, called a bitter acid test, performed on their hops for an additional fee, Firman said.

A moisture test also is available at an extra charge. That's something that some take advantage of because if hops are not dried enough, once they are under pressure in a bale they could spontaneously combust, starting a fire.

The lab also produces the export documents farmers need to sell their hops abroad.

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