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Effects of Wildfire Smoke On Hops

TroubleShooting

Greg Lewis Idaho Falls, Idaho asks,
Q

A commercial brewer recently told me that he is concerned that volatile organic compounds from wildfires in the Pacific Northwest will condense on hops and alter their organoleptic properties. Is this a real possibility? Assuming it is, how might the tainted hops affect beer?

A

I know that wine grapes grown near eucalyptus trees can pick up enough eucalyptus oil to impart the aroma to wine. So it is does seem possible in theory that hops grown near wildfires could pick up enough smoke from the air to taint the aroma of the hops. I know that some western areas of the United States had a bad wildfire season this year and that the smell of fire and resultant ash was a nuisance to residents living nearby. As it happens, some wildfires in Washington were relatively close to hop farms.

To answer this question I looked in brewing texts and online for references about wildfires affecting hops and came up empty handed. So I then asked a friend and colleague in the brewing industry who works for Roy Farms in Moxee, Washington, if he knew anything about this topic. Roy Farms is one of the largest hop farms in the world and is located in the Yakima Valley. The answer I got in response to this question was very positive to brewers; the smoke concentration required to impart smoky aromas to hops would have to be so high as to be lethal to humans and other mammals living near the hop fields. The good news is that there have been no deaths around Washington hop fields attributed to smoke from wildfires, and thus no smoke effect on the hops either.

I thought this question seemed to meet the litmus test of something falling into the realm of the possible, but based on my limited search it seems that this may be one of those things not to lose sleep worrying about.

Response by Ashton Lewis.