Colorado may not be the best-known hop growing region in the U.S., but according to experts, it is producing some of the best crops.
This month, Billy Goat Hop Farm in Montrose took the top accolade at the annual Cascade Cup competition and became the first grower outside of the Pacific Northwest to do so.
Hosted by the trade association the Hop Quality Group, the Cascade Cup is an annual contest in which experts, fittingly, judge Cascade hops based on their appearance, aroma, and other factors. The event has taken place during the association’s yearly Hop Convention since 2013.
“Cascade hops have long been an important part of craft brewing,” Matt Gallagher, spokesperson for the Hop Quality Group, said in a statement. “For the first time in its history, the Cascade Cup is leaving the states of Washington and Oregon and heading to the Rocky Mountain State.”
That’s notable because the Pacific Northwest is the country’s undisputed powerhouse of hops, the ingredient used to add bitterness and aroma to beer. About 99% of those grown last year in the United States come from Washington, Idaho and Oregon, according to the Hop Growers of America.
Cascade hops are one of the backbones of American-style IPAs and can be found in thousands of IPAs across the county.
While Billy Goat Hop Farm co-owners Chris DellaBianca and Audrey Gehlhausen have previously attended the Hop Convention, 2023 marks the first time they entered the Cascade Cup.
“When Chris told me that we won, I thought he was just trying to fool me,” said Gehlhausen in a statement. “Then Vinnie Cilurzo, the co-founder of Russian River Brewery, called to congratulate us. We’ve been flying high ever since.”
At 32 acres, Billy Goat is among the largest independently owned hop farms in the state. Drinkers can often find their bounty of bittering and aromatic hops in beers during the fall when local brewers showcase fresh hop recipes. In 2022, the farm also hosted its inaugural Southwest Fresh Fest, featuring about a dozen craft breweries pouring beers made with Billy Goat hops.