The Sterling hop hails from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. This region of the Pacific Northwest is known mostly for its vineyards and wineries. Much like grapes, hops depend heavily on the climate in which they grow. The moderate temperatures in this area make for ideal conditions for the growth of amazing aroma-type hops. The terroir also contributes to much bigger harvests than other hop growing regions.
Schlafly’s relationship with Crosby Farms started years ago when they were helping us to process some of our raw hop cones into a more efficient form. In 2015, some of the Schlafly brewers went to visit Crosby Farms and ended up giving some of their hops the “rub and sniff” test. From there, the brewers started testing out some of their different hops. The Sterling hop was selected to trial after the 2016 Pacific Northwest hop trip.
“This hop is nice and subtle,” notes Head of Brewing Operations, Emily Parker, “I really liked the citrus and floral characters. They weren’t a punch in the face. I think this hop could do some great things in a smooth beer like a lager.”
Hops (humulus lupulus) grow from a large climbing vine, that usually hangs from a trellis or support wire. In the best climates and conditions, hop vines can grow almost 25 feet in one season. The hop cone itself is actually the flower of the plant. Hop cones grow only on female plants, while the males are used only for creating hybrids. These cones are where the lupulin glands are located. The lupulin glands give the hops their different aromas and flavor profiles.
The Sterling hop was first bred in 1990, but wasn’t released until 1998. It comes from a hybridization of the Saaz and Cascade hops. It has medium alpha-acid levels, usually coming in around six to nine percent. Sterling is a medium size hop with broad petals.
Being based in the Midwest, Schlafly’s relationship with farmers is natural, yet unique in the craft beer industry. We work directly with those that grow our ingredients. Due to these relationships, Schlafly is often asked by the hop growers to provide feedback about how the hop performs in the brewing process. They want to learn what aromas are released, what flavors develop as the hop is boiled.
As this became a repeated request, Schlafly has developed a standard approach to trialing hops. We brew what is called a SMaSH, or Single Malt and Single Hop beer. The only variable in the brew is changing out one sole ingredient, the hop. The same amount of hops are used in each brew (32lbs), these are added at the same time (beginning of the boil) and the same malt is used. This allows us to isolate the changes to the beer in from the hop. Thus, a Hop Trial.