Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Juvenile Humor meets the Bio-Regional Slow Food movement   

PubeHops is selecting and breeding the unique hops native to the Midwest and bringing them to market for use by craft brewers. 

First harvest expected in 2016

Q: Pubes? Gross

The scientific name for Hops is Humulus lupulus, within Humulus lupulus, Small (1978) identified five taxonomic subspecies based on morphological properties and geographical location. (ref)  Here's a quick primer on the 5 subspecies of hops: 
  • H. lupulus var. lupulus - native to Europe and Western Asia. Hallertauer, Saaz, Golding, etc. belong to this group
  • H. lupulus var. cordifolius -  native to East Asia, little information available. Not to be confused with Humulus Japonicus, a related species that is an invasive weed in North America.
  • H. lupulus var. neomexicanus - native to the western half of North America. Breeding efforts in the last 20 years have lead to exciting new hop varieties like Multi-Head, Neo, Amalia, etc.  
  • H. lupulus var. pubescens - native to the American Midwest, specifically the river valleys of the Missouri and Mississippi and their tributaries. 
  • H. lupulus var. lupuloides - native to the American Northeast and Eastern Canada. Many well known "American" hops are hybrids between a member of this group and a European hop. 
Our project is focused on one of these varieties, H. lupulus var. pubescens. Pubescens means "hairy", and as the name implies the leaves of our hop vines are covered with velvety peach fuzz, likely evolved as a natural protection against pests.  Pubescens is a bit of a mouthful, and not as funny, so Pube Hops was born. 

Q: Dear God, why are you punishing the world with [your bad taste/yet another craft beer product/a hair brained scheme] and why should I read any farther when I could be mainlining the latest Netflix DramCom?

Do you support organic agriculture? Building a regional food movement? Want more flavors to choose from? Then read on.

Organic - These hops are already growing wild in our region without the aid of pesticides or chemicals, while hops bred in Europe and the Pacific Northwest often need significant inputs to survive the humid, unpredictable climate of central North America. 

Regional -  We are part of the movement to de-homogenize craft beer and food in America.  Some day we hope that IPAs from Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois will be distinguished by a hop character that belongs to the land we live in and helps solidify our sense of place. 

New Flavors - The Pubescens subspecies of hops is almost completely unstudied and untested, genetically it is the most different from its cousins Lupuloides and Neomexicanus.  Some studies suggest that its cones contain the highest concentrations of Xanthohumol.  These hops haven't been brewed with on any large scale, and very few specimens have ever been collected and assessed for brewing potential. 

Q: How the hell does this work?

 We've spent the last 4 years collecting wild hop specimens, braving muddy river banks and clouds of mosquitoes.  Now that we have a decent selection of specimens we are securing test sites so that these hops can be grown out and evaluated.  Evaluation characteristics include flavor, yield, disease resistance and growth habits. After several years of evaluation, specimens that show promise of commercial viability will get a name and move on to larger plantings with partner hop farms.  

We have also collected a number of Male hops over the years, and will be evaluating these at a seperate site. In Phase II we will perform crosses between select males and both Pubescens and commercially cultivated female hops.  (Likely Cascade, Chinook, Glacier) 

Q: This sounds awesome! How could I possibly contribute to such a noble endeavor?

A: We need:
  • More genetic material! Do you have wild hops growing on your property that you would be willing to share cuttings of? Do you live in MO, IL, KS, NE, IA, MN, AR, or SD? We can help you identify the subspecies and harvest rhizomes. 
  • Hop farmers interested in joining our field test program.
  • Breweries interested in sponsoring or collaborating.
  • A lot of help in general, feel free to reach out if you are passionate about hops and want to collaborate in some way.
  • High 5s, beers, new friends, encouragement. 
If we can help you let us knowResearchers interested in Humulus genetics may be interested in our collected wild germplasm.