Big, bold... and British?

Mark Dredge discovers the British hops defying expectations and turning heads

article-banner

The New England IPA, named after the northeast region of the United States where the hazy and hoppy beer originated, is a modern phenomenon of a style. With its cloudy yellow-orange appearance, its lush and smooth texture, and its vibrant juicy aromas of citrus and tropical fruits from American, Australian and New Zealand hops, it’s become so popular that it’s fundamentally changed the flavour profile of beer. 

Now, thanks to the successes of British hop breeding programmes, there are modern British hops like Jester, Olicana, Harlequin, Mystic and Godiva which can give aromas of grapefruit, orange, gooseberry, passion fruit, pineapple, mango, grape, lychee, elderflower, peach and apricot, and brewers are beginning to use those hops in New England IPA recipes, creating what could be considered New English IPAs. 

BREEDING

Hop merchant Charles Faram formally started its Hop Development Programme in 2009, with the aim of breeding new hops with strong and interesting flavours to suit beer tastes which were shifting away from traditional British styles and towards more hop-aromatic pale ales and IPAs. 

When a mother and father hop are bred they will produce hundreds of seedlings, with each seed unique but related by the same DNA (like unidentical triplets). Breeders select parent hops by their favourable genetic characteristics and hope that those qualities pass to the progeny, and while most of those hops won’t succeed for numerous reasons – they don’t grow, they are susceptible to diseases, they don’t have nice aromas – some will progress from seeds in a greenhouse, to plants in a hop garden to be further assessed over a few years.

The American hop Cascade – itself bred from an English Fuggle hop – was the foundation of Charles Faram’s breeding programme. It grows well in Britain but harvests late in the year, making it susceptible to poor weather, so a female Cascade hop was crossed with an early-harvesting disease resistant British male hop. That first breed produced the hops Jester, Olicana and Most, which are true sisters from the same parents (Most can’t grow in Britain because of its susceptibility to certain diseases, but it grows successfully in the Czech Republic). 

The modern family tree grew from there. Godiva and Mystic are daughters of Jester (with different fathers), and in Godiva, Charles Faram’s breeding team noticed how the alpha acid (which gives beer bitterness) and hop oil content (which makes it smell nice) had increased from Jester: breeding was giving more flavour to these hops, and it was good flavours like stone fruits and tropical fruits. 


There is a place in the market to do english hops in new england styles

A daughter of Godiva became known as Harlequin, and again the flavour compounds increased: “With each new generation, we’re getting cleaner, more definitive flavour profiles,” says Will Rogers, Group Technical Director at Charles Faram. They’ve since bred three generations on from Harlequin and those hops will be harvested for trials in 2022 and 2023, and early signs are very promising.

“I never expected to get to the level we’re at now,” says Paul Corbett, Charles Faram’s managing director, talking of the aromas they’re developing in British hops. “And we know that we’ve got other varieties coming through which are even more intense.” 

ALL-IN ON BRITHOP 

“There’s a new era coming,” says Geoff Quinn, founder of Buxton Brewery in the Peak District. “It’ll gather momentum knowing that we can make some super tasty beers with hops from this country.”  

Quinn and Buxton began experimenting with the new English hops in 2020, using varieties like Olicana and Harlequin, plus Ernest, Emperor and Opus in their single hop Lupulus X series. That led to brewing Brithop, a modern IPA using Jester, Olicana, Mystic and Harlequin. “We went all-in on Brithop,” says Quinn, and it was a beer with aromas of apricot, grapefruit, berry and pineapple, and while Quinn says that the hops “don’t have quite the same punchy character of New World hops,” they are giving nuance and complexity, something definitively English (think floral and grassy like a warm spring morning, or consider British hops like orange squash compared to the orange soda of US hops), and definitely something new. 

Now Buxton have a series called 50 Fifty, using equal amounts of an American hop and English one, with Citra and Olicana paired in one, and Mosaic and Jester in another. The English hops “complement those big citrus flavours and aromas you’d expect in American hops,” says Quinn, where “it’s a genuine attempt to show what these [British] hops can do alongside these other ones which are rock star hops.” 

Using English hops alongside imported ones has so far been a successful approach for many brewers, and sticking to the music analogy where the American rock star hop is the lead singer, the English hops become the band and the audio mix, the guitars and drums and the production that makes it all more complete.

360º Brewing Co. in East Sussex make Special Relationship, a Hazy IPA hopped with Citra and Mosaic in the whirlpool and Olicana and Fuggle at the end of fermentation and as a dry hop. “It’s so different to what we’d seen on the market before,” says Ben Balla-Muir, the brewery’s Business Development Manager, with aromas of elderflower and key lime pie.

They’ve also brewed some Hazy IPAs and DIPAs using only British hop varieties. “We wanted to showcase what you can do with English hops, in the New England style, at IPA strength, and then go and up the ante on everything to a Double IPA,” says Balla-Muir. The beers have been a success and whenever they’ve presented their English-hopped Hazy IPAs in tastings it’s always “the beer which piqued interest the most because it was the beer that was so different to what people had come to assume by looking at a yellow hazy beer,” he says, “and in a good way it shocked their palates. 

“There is a place in the market to do English hops in New England styles,” he says. “We can show that we can still do the style that people come to expect, in a profoundly new way.” It’s this newness that’s appealing to brewers and drinkers.” 


The impressive flavour of these hops might be the headline

“I’m sick of beers that all taste the same,” says Nick Law of Hop Forward Beers and brewer of Emmanuales, referring to the saturation of Citra hopped IPAs. It was tasting Buxton Brewery’s Brithop that inspired him to make his own British hopped IPA. “Oh my goodness, the flavour on that,” he says. “To say it’s just British hops – it’s insane. It had all the characteristics of Citra and Mosaic, that juicy, hoppy, fruity quality, but it wasn’t quite as aggressive or spiky.”

Law’s all-English IPA was brewed in collaboration with Charles Faram and the 6.1% ABV beer was hopped with Harlequin, Jester, Olicana, Godiva, Mystic and Most. “It surprised me just how juicy it was,” he says, giving us another music analogy to describe the hops: “You think of Citra, Simcoe, Mosaic as like Nirvana live at [a festival]. Olicana, Jester and Harlequin are more like Nirvana unplugged,” he says. “It’s the same vibe, but more mellowed.”

CELEBRATE LOCAL

“I think there’s a lot of people out there who’ve been into beer for a long time, and have come into craft beer and educated themselves alongside the massive boom of the New England IPA,” says Oliver Webb, founder of Dig Brew in Birmingham. “But when was the last time they had something new, like really, really new, to delve in to.” That’s where English hops can offer something different. 

It was collaborating on a beer with Michelin starred chef Brad Carter, of Carter’s of Moseley, that led to Dig brewing with modern English hops, creating a powerful Double IPA that combined Dig’s love of Hazy IPAs and Carter’s focus on local ingredients, released under the sub-brand of Studio Z. A Triple IPA followed, and it’s inspired the brewery to do more – much more. 

“What if we really went for it, and if there were 20 beers on tap, all authored by Studio Z, all only British hops,” says Webb, who in early 2023 plans to dedicate a whole month to brewing only with British ingredients, making all the styles they usually do, just with local produce. “Alongside the pure unadulterated brewers’ ambition to brew the best beer possible, we want the kudos of cracking it before other people do,” says Webb. This is something Dig want to become known for because they know this is something that’s going to be more relevant and prevalent. 

“These hops will become more popular because the quality of them is increasing,” says Webb. “They are considerably cheaper than American hops - we’re talking about a third of the price per kilo - and they’re going to become better in terms of supply, so you’re not going to run out.” There’s also the environmental consideration of buying local ingredients and not having imported hops from halfway around the world. That’s fundamental to all of this: the impressive flavour of these hops might be the headline, and it’s the main reason that brewers will be using these new varieties, but just as important is the sustainability of using British hops and supporting the British hop industry, celebrating the wonderful new aromas available and also ensuring that there’s generations more to come.

Most of the new breeds of hops have come from Charles Faram’s hop development programme, but there are intensely aromatic hops growing elsewhere in Britain, like Admiral, Archer, UK Cascade, UK Chinook, Phoenix, Endeavour, Emperor, Opus, Ernest and Bullion (the latter two resurrected from historic breeding programmes of the 1930s and 1950s). These hops grow alongside classic British varieties like Golding and Fuggle, giving brewers a wide range of hops to pick from, and hops to suit all beer styles, including modern hazy IPAs.

IPAs are not like they used to be. The bright gold and bitter brews have become hazy, orange and hop aromatic, with fresh juicy aromas. Now modern British hops are transforming the New England IPA and creating New English IPAs, showing that British hops can be just as exciting as hops grown anywhere else in the world. 

Share this article