Ornamental Hops

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A captivating component of the beer brewing landscape

Hops are as valuable to beer drinkers as grapes are to wine connoisseurs—they provide the bitterness that gives each brew its unique flavor and personality. As an ornamental, the Hops plant is captivating because of its complex draping structure, its flexible nature, and the sheer conversation value of growing this beer ingredient in the home garden. As a result, we decided to work with four cultivars this year from the famous Oregon USDA breeding station that delivered to the craft beer industry the fuel that ignited a revolution and changed a way of life.

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Hop bines grow to about 25 feet tall and 3 feet wide

Surprisingly, Hops do have ornamental value in the landscape. They grow on a deciduous woody vine that dies back to its rhizomes each fall. These bines, as they are called, grow to about 25 feet tall and three feet wide, so the plant is effective for creating green screens. Be aware, however, that you need to place Hops near a structure like a fence, a post or a trellis so they can climb—the extensive bines require support.

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Bines take the shape of the structure they’re climbing

Another way Hops are useful is for creating under-deck screening. Simply attach strong twine ropes to the deck and then anchor them to the ground below; Hops grow quickly up the twine and the big broad leaves create a green wall. These plants can easily be trained to cross over an arbor as well—they’re sturdy but flexible so the bines take the form of whatever structure they are climbing. In addition, the female plants bear ornamental cone-like fruits that dangle down in large, eye-catching clusters. 

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Eye-catching fruits dangle from towering bines

We also know that home brewing is a big deal here in the Midwest, so a reliable source of Hops attracts customers. For variety we decided to work with four different types of Hops instead of just one. These four are famous for their flavor, their ability to grow in Midwestern soils, and their place in Hops history.

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Each beer gets its unique flavor and personality from Hops

In any beer brewing conversation, the initial Hop cultivar to discuss is ‘Cascade’, released in 1972 by the Oregon USDA breeding program. ‘Cascade’ is considered the first, the most popular, and the flagship flavor for American-style craft beers; it’s an essential component of many Pale Ales and IPAs. Originally developed as a hardy replacement for European cultivars, ‘Cascade’ was shunned by the major breweries of the 60s and 70s, although Coors flirted with this variety for a while. It took the introduction of Liberty Ale, named for the centennial of Paul Revere’s ride and still sold today, to open the doors for the craft beer and home brewing movements to embrace this variety.

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‘Cascade’, take me away...

‘Cascade’ is known as an aromatic type, light on bitterness and famous for its fruity/citrusy flavor leaning toward grapefruit. It grows well in most climates, has strong disease resistance that the European cultivars lacked, produces strong yields, and delivers a well-rounded German-style flavor to boot. One whiff of the little green flowers and you’d swear you were keg-side at the local brewpub.

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Dual purpose Hops add aroma and bitterness

Released by the same breeding team in 1990, ‘Centennial’ became the second anchor in the craft beer market. As modern craft beers moved away from bitterness for bitterness sake, the demand for a well-balanced Hop grew. ‘Centennial’ leads the market for dual purpose Hops—those providing both aroma and bitterness, but remaining clear and bright. Known as beautifully balanced, ‘Centennial’ doubles the bitterness of ‘Cascade’ while imparting a floral/citrusy flavor that leans toward lemon.

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For a distinctive “flavor punch” Hops are added at the end to finish a beer 

In many ways, ‘Mount Hood’ was developed to prove that American cultivars could deliver the same authentic European tastes. It came about because of a greater demand for a true, classic German flavor that could be grown in American soil. ‘Mount Hood’ has direct lineage from Noble cultivars that provide German and Belgian beers with their distinct flavors. Cleverly, the Oregon breeders also addressed the need for high yields in weather over here and the result was ‘Mount Hood’. In brewing circles, ‘Mount Hood’ is often used as a flavor punch—added late in the process to finish the beer, bring up its flavor, and give it a distinctive polish. This variety is known for its spicy and herbal notes.

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Classic European and American flavors 

‘Willamette’ is similar to ‘Mount Hood’ in its mission, only this Hop selection seeks to deliver classic English flavor. It has a more fruity profile, adding both herbal and floral notes to the mix. ‘Willamette’ is especially known for the pick-ability of the Hop fruits at harvesting. It’s used in Pale Lagers where the aroma needs to be more refined for a drink with low-to-moderate bitterness. Intensity here is moderate and sweeter, and—like ‘Mount Hood’—‘Willamette’ is used to polish up a beer to its full potential.

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Varieties may look the same but an enthusiast can sniff out the differences

Culturally, ‘Willamette' grows very similarly to the other three varieties and visually all four have very similar looks. It’s in the aroma where an enthusiast can sniff out the differences. We have to say that this is an enjoyable plant category to explore. Ornamental Hops might be a crazy idea, a brilliant one, or just flat-out fun for the aficionado. At the end of the day, growing the soul of beer in our backyards is simply downright cool. All of these plants are in active use today, so you can grow the Hops that made the actual beer you’ll be drinking at the next attitude adjustment hour—and you have to admit, that’s pretty neat.

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Kick back with a cold one and enjoy the beer garden

All four varieties will be available in the one-gallon size this spring.

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