Hops were introduced to North America in 1629. They were grown for domestic use in Virginia as early as the mid-17th century, and became an important crop by the early 19th century. In 1808 the first commercial hop yard was established in New York, and production remained in the Eastern states until crop diseases related to the moist climate moved farms to the West Coast. Today, hop production is concentrated in Washington, Oregon, and California.

Hops are indigenous perennials grown between 35 and 70 degrees latitude north. Supported by a system of poles and wire as they flower, they are picked by machine and then dried in kilns. The plant needs a great deal of water during the growing season to produce high yields and in eastern Washington, irrigation is necessary. While hops grown in Yugoslavia and the Williamette Valley need 18-20 inches of water, in the Yakima Valley hops require 30 inches. The Yakima Valley and the western end of the Gobi Desert are two of the most arid regions in which hops are grown. Eastern Washington farmers produce some of the best hops in the world. Today, even prestigious and exacting German brew masters buy hops from growers in the Yakima Valley.

The hop plant is a perennial spiraling vine which will grow in almost any climate given enough water and sunlight. It can climb either string or poles and can reach heights of over 25 feet and the hop is a climbing plant that looks like a vine. It is a perennial and each spring the roots put forth many shoots. Each shoot, called a vine, climbs upward toward the sun and wraps itself clockwise around any available support. Little hooked hairs on the vines help them attach themselves to the twine or ropes that hop farmers provide, but they will wrap around just about any reasonably rough surface, including the wooden poles of your porch railing. That is what makes hops such popular ornamental plants. They can form a beautiful privacy screen that is very popular in suburban back yards. Flowering occurs in July when the plant is said to be in "burr".

The essential oils are what give hops their unique aroma; each variety has its own distinct profile. The smell of hops freshly crushed in your hand is quite often different than that in a finished beer. This is due to the fact that the major components in hop oil, beta-pinene, myrcene, beta-caryophylene, farnesene and alpha-humulene, are not usually found in beer. However, fermentation and the oxidation products of these compounds, especially humulene epoxides and diepoxides are considered contributors to "hoppy" flavors and aroma. The exception here is with dry-hopping, where some of the hop oil components do survive into the beer intact.

Researchers have not been able to duplicate the complexities of hoppy character by adding pure chemicals in any proportion or combination. Consensus is that there is a synergistic blend of several compounds, some of which may have not yet been discovered.

Hop researchers, using capillary gas chromatography, have detected and identified more than 250 essential oil components in hops. Twenty two of these have been pinpointed as being good indicators of hoppiness potential. They are subdivided into 3 groups, humulene and caryophyllene oxidative products, floral/estery compounds, and citrus/piney compounds.

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