As Cascade Saccades

Behind the Bines by | Jan 2014 | Issue #84

2013 has been a pivotal year for the production of US aroma hops. For the first time, the US hop industry has grown more hops for aroma than for the commoditized bittering acid. In the blink of an eye, we have seen a swift, measured response by the US hop industry to beer’s call for more interesting, flavorful hops and by the craft drinker’s budding taste for IPA.

The biggest driver of this change has been a 40-percent increase in Cascade acreage from 2012 to 2013; over 2,000 acres in the Pacific Northwest have been converted to Cascade. First introduced to the public in 1972 and used for a short time by Coors, now Cascade is the second largest variety by acreage, according to BSG Craft Brewing.

One notable effect of the increase in Cascade acreage is its widening harvest window, producing greater variation in aroma and flavor quality. In 2013, Cascade was harvested as early as the last week of August to the third week of September. The brewer’s yearly pilgrimage to the Pacific Northwest for hop selection is today more important than ever because of these variations.
This significant widening of the harvest window for Cascade requires brewers to become more aware of the possible aromatic differences that can be had between Cascade lots harvested at different stages of maturity (that also goes for every variety that the brewer has a vested interest in procuring). The overall increase in aroma acreage has led hop growers to reevaluate harvest windows for many hop varieties. The public is starting to acknowledge the importance of harvest maturity to the aromatic potential of all hops.

The aromatic character of Cascade evolves as cones mature and lupulin glands fill with essential oils. In general, early-harvested Cascade hops may have between 0.3–0.7 percent essential oil with an aroma still dominated by green, grassy notes. The absence of desirable floral and citrus character is noticeable. An early to mid-harvest Cascade, at approximately three to four days after first pick, starts to pick up some floral character, but green, grassy notes persist. The essential oil content at this stage of development may range from 0.7–1.0 percent. A mid-harvest Cascade starts to shift permanently away from the green, grassy aroma complex and enters into a fully expressed floral aroma with moderate, balanced citrus notes. The Cascade hop becomes recognizable as an aromatic spice, with important fresh, juicy, orange nuances. The essential oil content of a mid-harvest Cascade can range between 1.0–1.5 percent.

At the mid-to-late harvest development stage, Cascade begins to assume significantly increased aromatic strength. Floral, fresh orange-citrus and now pine notes peak at full intensity as the essential oil content in the lupulin glands spike to between 1.5–2.0 percent. Late-harvested Cascade, which may occur at about two to two-and-a-half weeks after the early pick (for the 2013 crop, this date was around September 13th in Yakima, Wash.), can morph away from the traditional fresh floral, citrus and pine aromatic of Cascades.

As the hops hang on the bine, and essential oil content peaks upwards of 2.0–3.0 percent, some oxidation of the oils will occur. Cascade takes on some “noble” aroma properties, such as herbal and woody, which begin to develop and can then dominate. This “noble” character that develops opposes the tendency to develop onion and garlic notes (commonly referred to these days as “OG”).

When first bred in the late 1950s and through its commercialization in the 1970s, Cascade used to be the aromatic renegade in a lineup of traditional commercial hops. Now it is the staple varietal for many of your and my favorite beers, and has paved the way for the explosion of flavors we are beginning to accept from our good friend, the hop plant.