This "trend" seems to be no flash in the pan, and you can quickly see that just by looking at the drop in the big brewers sales numbers. The number of craft brewers is expanding rapidly. Unfortunately, along with all interest in brewing, a few bad things have popped up along the way and you should be aware of them. One of the biggest IMHO is "hop plants for sale"- the topic of this blog.
This season I wanted to compare what we do at Great Lakes Hops with our Internet- based competitors. I ordered a similar selection of hop rhizomes from as many places as I could find. The goal was to compare service, quality, and value of purchase. I made 4 purchases from re-sellers, 3 from grower/ producers in February and waited. All were prepay, I had no problem with that, but a couple of orders didn't show til late May, and the last one showed up in mid June. What I received for the money spent did not impress me. The grower/producer rhizomes were the quickest to arrive and were by far the best quality. The ones associated with the National Clean Plant Program were the best. The resellers rhizomes arrived - many were shrivelled, moldy and dry. They looked like they had been stored for a long period, and some obviously had been cut in half! Many of these had no buds showing - resembling little dead sticks. At $4.50 each, they were no deal. The hop plants arrived last - 3" high, single stem plants at $10 dollars each. Pretty expensive, but they had varieties the others did not have. However, all the soil had shaken off the roots and the plants were not looking good.
I started noticing differences - One Cascade didn't look like the others, Centennials had dark leaf types and light green leaf types, the Fuggles all grew differently, the Magnum from one place has green stems, and from the other place had red stems, Kent Golding was healthy or sickly. What was going on? This started out as a simple competitors check, but some thing else was going on. So I decided to plant them out alongside our test plot and compare them to our stock plants as they grew side by side. (I should have taken pictures.)
I have watched them all summer and have two basic conclusions. Number 1:BEWARE! A lot of these plants are not the varieties they claim to be! Apparently, somebody out there is just throwing rhizomes in a bag and are calling them whatever, just to get the money. Number 2: There is a lot of diseased junk out there. Lack of plant vigor and virus expression in the hop leaves was common. Only the rhizomes direct from grower/producers were comparable to our virus indexed stock.