By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- A South Dakota company has turned to Idaho in its effort to show that freezing instead of drying hops results in better tasting beer.
The project, if successful, would benefit Idaho growers because the company plans to purchase the hops in-state and freeze them at a frozen food processing plant in Nampa.
But Gem State hop growers aren't sure what to make of the project because the idea is new to them.
"I've heard of a lot of ways and means and methods to preserve hops, from microwaving them to drying them on tarps, but I have not heard of that one," said Idaho Hops Commission Chairman Mike Gooding.
The effort came to light after Dakota Hops owner Steve Polley applied for a specialty crop grant from the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to continue a five-year research project that is testing the brewing value of freezing hops.
The $55,000 grant request was not funded but Polley said his effort continues and his research has shown that freezing instead of drying hops results in better tasting beer.
"We know it works. Now all I have to do is convince the rest of the world," he said. "There's no way a dried hop can even come close to frozen hops."
Conventional wisdom has been that freezing hops turns them to mush, Polley said.
"We know that's not true because we've been freezing them for three years," he said.
Breweries prefer fresh hops right from the vine but that can only be done once a year at harvest time, he said. "The closest thing to that is the frozen hops."
Gooding, who grows hops in Parma, Idaho, said he would keep an open mind about the project but also said Polley would have to prove his idea works before growers embrace it.
"Change is slow in the hop industry," he said. "It's not something we're going to do at the drop of a hat."
While he remains skeptical at this point, "there is a lot of capital investment involved with drying and preserving hops and if there is a way to reduce that cost in the future, I'm all for it," Gooding said. "My mind's open on this one."
Polley's project has mostly involved the participation of some small home brewers but it has recently switched its focus to larger-scale brewing trials with several large microbreweries.
Deschutes Brewery of Bend, Ore., is in the early stages of producing beer made with frozen hops provided by Polley, and brewmaster Brian Faivre said the beer "has a very unique hop character and aroma."
"We're not at the point where we're willing to step out and say it's better than any other hops," Faivre said. "But it is very interesting."
Polley has focused on Idaho for two reasons: Idaho is the third-leading hops producing state and has several large frozen food processing plants that could freeze, package and deliver the hops.