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Wildfires and Hop Harvest

Coming off what was a very active wildfire season here in British Columbia, and the rest of Canada for that matter, we've been asked by several customers what impact the fires may have on this year's hop harvest. 

The short answer is that thankfully, we haven’t seen a significant effect from the wildfires on the hops growing industry here in BC, both in terms of physical danger to hop farms and their workers, as well as smoke damage to the hops themselves. 

Hop Harvest comes to a Close in the Pacific Northwest — New School Beer +  Cider

The majority of commercial hop farms in BC are located near the coast, instead of the interior, where the wildfires were considerably worse.   With most of BC’s commercial hop farms located in the Fraser Valley, just outside of Vancouver, and Vancouver Island, the hops haven’t been as affected as they might have been by the wildfires raging primarily in BC’s interior.  Despite this, here in the Fraser Valley, we did have several days with thicker than normal wildfire smoke as well as some ash falling on the hop yards, but it is still a little early to determine whether this will make much of a difference to this year’s harvest. 

Looking to the long term, hop growers in BC have a couple of other industries to compare notes with.  Firstly, BC hop growers will be looking very carefully at the BC wine industry, which unlike hops, is centered in the Okanagan Valley in BC’s interior.  The wine industry will be determining whether there is possible smoke taint or damage in their grapes, as well as dealing with the potential hesitancy and uncertainty about how to sell or market this year’s crop.  However, the comparison to the wine industry only goes so far, as hops are a very different product with different susceptibility to smoke damage and absorption. 

The second industry that BC hop growers are monitoring is the hop industry centered in Yakima, Washington, and Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  These two locations suffered considerable wildfire exposure in the Summer of 2021.  While there didn’t seem to be a significant impact on the dried pelletized hops produced that year, the fresh hop harvest was impacted.  Many breweries either cancelled, postponed, or reduced their fresh hop beer releases due to the smoke-induced yellowed appearance of the hops, or the distinct smoke taint on the hops. 

A Growing Industry: Hops Outside the Pacific Northwest - Spirited Magazine

BC hop growers rely on the fresh hop sales that happens in late August and September each year, primarily because the margins are a little higher, the workload is much less (straight from bine to brewery, instead of drying and processing the hops), and the marketing opportunities and brand exposure that fresh hops provide.  The good news so far this season is that there has been no apparent hesitancy on the part of brewers to use fresh hops grown here in BC.  Fresh hop beer lovers rejoice!

Having said all that, when life gives you lemons, you make smoked hops.  A few years ago, we launched Applewood Smoked Hops.  Basically, we took the dried leaf hops that were affected by the 2021 wildfires and smoked them further with apple wood to augment the smokiness of the hops.  Brewers can add these hops to their finished beer to add smoke flavor to make it a smoked beer.  We have sold these hops to breweries all over Canada and the US, and it has proven to be one of our more popular offerings. 

Here is a beer with apple wood smoked hops we did with a Vancouver brewery a few years back:

 Using traditional German malts and yeast, this Helles Lager was dry-hopped with applewood smoked Cascade hops, adding a delicate smoked character to this crisp and clean Lager. Unfiltered but pouring clear due to the long conditioning time, this smoked lager has a smooth and dry finish, along with a wisp of smoke.
4.8% ABV / 18 IBU


This particular beer turned out really well and had a really lovely smokiness from adding the smoked hops on the cold side, as a dry hop addition.

Of course, though, you don't want all your beers tasting smoky!  So it comes as a relief to know that despite a very active wildfire season, the hops grown here in BC haven't been significantly affected by the smoke, ash, or any other effects of the many wildfires we experienced here in the province of BC.