The Craft Beer business is booming – and our thirst for the bright and bitter flavours of IPAs and Session Ales is driving the demand for hops like Citra, Chinook and Galaxy. Muskoka Brewery’s lineup of beers doesn’t shy away from the hopped-up craze (Double Mad Tom anyone?) so I asked brewery Founder and CEO, Gary McMullen, about how he gets his hands on the best hops, trends in hop flavours, and the return of hop growing to Ontario.

How does Muskoka source and find their hops?

We moved from contracting our hops one year in advance, but now we contract about 80 percent of our hops as much as three or four years in advance. It’s very challenging trying to figure out what our supplies and needs are going to look like four years from now. Often with certain hops you discover you can’t get enough of them, or the price has gone through the roof.

Any awesome new varietals you’ve tried lately?

We’re trying two interesting German varieties called Hallertau Blanc and Hull Melon coming out now that have some of the more tropical fruit and citrus flavours, experimenting to see if we can blend them into existing beers or create new beers with them.

Who would you say is leading the development of new hop varietals right now, brewers or growers?

I think brewers are feeding back about what they’re looking for in terms of aroma and flavour—some breweries have even created their own hop farms to get what they want. Brewers want to make a beer that have certain characteristics and are requesting hops with those attributes.  Growers in turn, need to make sure that any hop they commit to growing has high yields per acre, and be mold and mildew resistant.

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Do you feel there’s pressure on breweries to be able to get their hands on the latest varieties to change up their beers?

I think it does matter. When it comes to a core brand like Detour or Mad Tom we want the consumer to have same experience every time so we’ll blend varieties together and blend from year to year as well to maintain consistency, but brewers are under pressure to be innovating in that category as well.

Is this important mostly in hoppier beer styles like Pale Ales and IPAs? Or can it apply to any style?

As a brewer the mandate we have is always want to be trying new things. With Cream Ale we wouldn’t change the staple aroma hop in the beer, which is Cascade. But we play around with different bittering hops to try to accentuate the grapefruit flavour and also move the time when we add the hops during the brew process to accentuate the aroma too. There’s always movement in beer. We dry-hopped our lager using the Saaz varietal but it didn’t work. But when we blended Cascade in with the Saaz and dry hopped it, it turned out to be a pretty nice profile, but didn’t quite fit the category of lager, sometimes people get hung up on that.

Have you seen a change in the way hops are grown and marketed?

The way the hop industry is growing feels to me like it’s moved from being a commodity to certain types of hops as being seen as a brand.

If you google El Dorado hops it should take you to site of main grower, they’ve almost created a brand.  The implications of that for the grower are substantial because they can attach more value to it and charge more.

A big change is happening in terms of hops becoming a vital part of any beer profile. Hop growers know that and consumers know that too, which is indicative of hop prices as well as more money available for R&D for more hop styles.

Ontario used to produce a ton of hops – but there are virtually no hop farms left, is there a future for hops in this area?

Lots of good things are happening in Ontario! We looked at Harvest Ale and said could we make that an all Ontario beer a few years ago and almost pulled it off but with the volume we make it’s hard to get enough of the same supply of hops to make a beer for the commercial market. Ontario’s hop industry is still in R&D mode to determine the best climates and the micro-climates for hop growing throughout Ontario.

Cool, have you ever used a hop with Ontario origins in a beer?

Clear Valley Hops in Collingwood, Ontario has an interesting micro-climate, somewhat protected by Blue Mountain, with less rain and shielded by weather systems.  They have an interesting hop that was found growing wild when they started their farm. Clear Valley commercialized it and named it Wild Turkey: its bitterness is mid-range with some grapefruity, citrusy tones and a bit of a spiciness. We used it in a saison for La Carnita.