I don't care too much for British hops. There, I've said it. I know making such a statement tends to offend some of the die hard trad. fans. The truth of the matter is that to create the beers we want to make, British hops so far just haven't got what it takes to make the grade. The bigger family and regional brewers tend to use British Hops for their mainstream beers. If we did the same, we'd be pushing out beers that were the same, why would we want to do that?
|Faram's breading program planted|
5,000 seedlings in 2015
each one a new variety cross
We do have to remember that the hop growing industry in the UK is very much smaller than USA. I haven't got exact figures for the UK, but believe we have around 1,000 hectares of hop yards. In The States they have over 18,000 hectares1. There is a little more financial backing for development of unique, innovative and really stunning hop varieties. This has resulted in varieties like Citra and Simcoe, loved universally by craft beer brewers the world over. Even some of the more "established" new world hops are barely more than a couple of decades old. Cascade, on my brief research the oldest of what we'd consider "craft", was not released until 1972.
Is this the reason the British hop growers struggle to wow us? I think development of new hop varieties is part of the problem. I am lead to understand that there has been no government money put into UK hop breading for over 10 years, and yet EU money is provided for Eastern European hop growers, so my contacts tell me.
Never-the-less, I want British growers to continue to try. Charles Faram have a breading program, thank goodness, so there is hope.
Hop breeding focuses on one really important requirement - disease resistance. It seems that hops are really quite susceptible to disease. Powdery mildew, downey mildew, verticillium wilt etc are problems. There is no point growing a stunning new hop variety only to find that it is nearly impossible to grow without infestations. I wonder if it is inevitable that a variety that is resistant enough to the British weather will always tend to be more subtle in characteristics.
The problem is, breeding programs take anything up to 10 years to get a new variety from first cross breeding to selection of full commercial crop. Selection of promising cultivars have to go through disease assessment as well as aroma selection. Brewing trials at some point are necessary and if this is done in series, i.e. only after a variety has shown to be resistant, it can draw out the whole process.
|Jester - one of the successes|
One result is the Jester strain, which seems to have achieved some success, with the down side that it is hermaphrodite; it produces both male and female flowers, only the females are any good for brewing. The proportions of male to female seems to depend on weather during the season.
This radical program can bring a new variety to commercial crop only 6 years after initial variety crosses have been made. There are some 20 or so named varieties due to go into brewing trials either this coming year or next. Many of these varieties have yet to fully pass wilt tests, so there are still some risks, but some of them have fantastic aroma descriptors, so I'm hopeful.
I do hope we eventually get great hop varieties in the UK. The trouble is, I just had a quick look on Ratebeer. I know I shouldn't, but I did. One brewer who has done a large range of single hop beers, named to give the impression one particular style of beer was being killed off - you know the one. Look at the scores, tells a tale. Universally the American varieties are the ones that win.
Personally, with the bad news coming out of the overall northern hemisphere I think craft brewers need to reassess the mix of hops that go into beers. We are certainly doing that. Craft brewers of course are very happy to embrace any technology that is required to get the result we need. We're working on ideas that might just be able to achieve the same, and possibly even better results by judicious application of new techniques and ideas.
Thanks to Will Rogers for the fascinating talk at the Hop Seminar, and in advance for turning a blind eye to plagiarising his presentation. The pictures here are all stolen from the file kindly sent from Faram to my inbox.
Apologies to Faram, Stocks farm, Ali Caper and The British Hop Association for any errors, omissions or inaccuracies here. Some of the information was stored in my fallible grey matter and is liable to data corruption. Please put any corrections in the comments.
1Source: Paul Corbett's Power Point presentation from the hop seminar 2015 - exact figure given 18,307 estimated. Up from 15,382 in 2014 the increase driven by this so called craft beer revolution.