What You Should Know About Prior Crop Year Pellets
Newer is better, right? Sure, but with Yakima Chief Hops’ modern T90 pellets , prior crops aren’t necessarily much different. It’s easy to understand why brewers may gravitate toward brewing each year with the freshest pellets available, but looking back might not be so bad. Take it from Chad Roberts, former Master Planner for Yakima Chief Hops and current Sales Boss and part owner of Varietal Beer Company in Yakima, WA. Varietal’s 2021 Great American Beer Festival silver medal winning Sup Cuz IPA was brewed with prior crop year pellets. “In that Sup Cuz, that was all 2017 crop, that we won with in 2021.”
Let us dive into some things you should know when utilizing hops from previous crop years.
Hops are harvested, kilned, cooled, and baled before being pelletized. Bales are measured for their Hop Storage Index (HSI) value. HSI was developed in 1979 and is used to estimate losses of alpha and beta acids during storage and handling1. The value is derived from ultraviolet absorbance measured with a spectrophotometer (HSI = absorption at 275 nm divided by absorption at 325 nm, or A275/A325). The lower the HSI value, the better the potential durability of alpha acids. Starting out with a low HSI value is only the first step in ensuring long-lasting quality.
Curious about the HSI values of your hops? They can be found on your Certificate of Analysis (CofA).
The process of converting whole leaf hops into pellets, handling practices, and storage all impact lastingness. “Our HSI benchmark for harvest is 0.25, but it’s common to see values even lower” says Missy Raver, VP of Grower Relations, Quality, and ERM.
At Yakima Chief Hops (YCH), hops coming in from the farm with higher HSI values are processed immediately to give them their best shot at a long life “We are very deliberate about our pelleting schedule. Harvest is not a ‘first in first out’ situation,” Missy adds “we look for bales that may not store as well as others, we process those first.”
The pelletizing process is critical to the stability of the final product. HSI is our starting point, and we cannot make it lower, but we can prevent it from climbing. How the pellets are created and handled is how their quality is defined.
Hop bales are broken up and run through a grinder to make a powder, which is immediately pressed through the pelleting die. This process risks exposure to oxygen and higher temperatures, but YCH has customized an in-line cooling method which preserves hop resins by continuously monitoring the temperature and keeping it low. A liquid nitrogen-based cooling system in the pellet die keeps temps down, our target is below 105°F/40°C (industry average is around 120-125°F/49°-51°C). Once finished, those pellets go through another cooling process on their way to the bagger, which flushes each pouch with nitrogen before sealing. The pouches are inert and oxygen impermeable. “We can see a slight increase in HSI in the first 6-12 months, after that it’s stable”, says Missy Raver on the stability of pellets once settled in their packaging.
Just like beer, the greatest package of hop pellets can quickly be destroyed by temperature abuse. Pellets should be stored (sealed) at 31° to 40°F/-1° to 5°C (freezing your unopened packages is okay). All of Yakima Chief Hops storage warehouses hang out year-round at 32°F/0°C. Ambient temperatures can degrade your alpha acids and cause off aromas to develop. Keep them cold! We can guarantee that T90 pellets purchased from YCH or our distributors will maintain their quality for three years and often longer, when handled and stored appropriately. Thanks to the innovation and consistency that goes into our pellet handling process, it is not unusual for our three-year old pellets to perform better than a less sophisticated current year product.
(Centennial and Idaho 7® – Sensory retests)
What about maintaining a consistent aroma profile? Our team does an evaluation with no less than seven trained panelists on every lot, from every farm, every year. “We are capable of a sensory sample throughput that others could only dream of” says Tessa Schilaty, Sensory and Brewing Research Manager. “Sensory is rapidly becoming the most important quality metric to many brewers, and we want to be on the cutting edge of helping connect them with the exact lot of hops for their needs. I want brewers to know that we take our data integrity incredibly seriously.”
Chad Roberts agrees. “Having so many validated sensory panelists is a really good indicator.” He adds “I don’t want anyone to think they don’t have to put any work in… Never just open a bag of hops and dump them in beer. Look at your CofA, look at that HSI, and always smell the hops.”
Stocking up on previous crops is not without perks. Depending on variety, you can knock off about ten to fifteen percent of the price for each year you go back – a boon for everyone struggling with the increasing cost of doing business.
Roberts suggests rounding out current crops with previous, noting that some brewers even have their previous crop blended into the newer crop to ease any changes in character. “Using too fresh of pellets, it can be a little harsh, a little green. Time rounds out those harder edges. Don’t get me wrong, we need to contract. We need to evaluate and use current crop years, but it can be balanced.”
He sums it up by saying “Yakima Chief is a high-quality pellet producer. I have run afoul of poor-quality previous crop from a couple suppliers, being a little too ‘previous crop is great!’ Now we’re a bit more cautious. But with the YCH stuff, we have a higher degree of surety.”
Our growers produce quality hops, and we will continuously push to improve our preservation of that quality. Yakima Chief Hops has one of the highest quality pellet handling programs in the world. Contact your sales representative with any questions you might have about our standout hop handling and storage practices.
We are here for you, and your great beer!
 Nickerson, G. B., & Likens, S. T. (1979d). Hop Storage Index. Journal of the American Society of Brewing Chemists, 37(4), 184–187. https://doi.org/10.1094/asbcj-37-0184