Beautiful. Glorious. Hops
Thursday 08 March 2018
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Hops (Humulus Lupulus) are a species of climbing flowering plant of the Cannabaceae family, which are native to Europe, Western Asia and North America. However, due to its common use use in beer, settlers have introduced the plant to nearly anywhere where it will successfully grow, resulting in over 100 commercial varieties of hops being available today.
Hops grow ‘bines’ and flowers in the spring and die back to a cold-hardy rhizome over winter. The female hop flower is used in the beer brewing process to contribute bitterness, aroma and flavour while also importantly acting as a preserving agent for the finished beer.
Beer in some form or another, has been around for 5-6 thousand years, however it is unknown for sure how long hops have been used in beer, but there are many stories which showcase how important hops are to brewing culture.
Although hops were probably first used specifically for their preservative qualities, they provided a flavour and aroma to the beer which people also really enjoyed. This is why they are still used in so many beers today. It was discovered that the flavour and aroma were originating mainly in the resins and essential oils found in the lupulin glands of the hop. For brewers, the most important of these hop resins are the alpha acids. In most brewing situations, some amount of hops are boiled in the wort for one to two hours and it is during this time that the alpha acids go into solution and are isomerised into ‘iso-alpha-acids', the main bitter element of beer and also the preserving agent. Brewers use hops at many different stages during the brewing process to emphasise the different flavouring, bittering and aroma characteristics specific to each hop variety.
Brewers and breweries have several types of hop products they can use in their beers;
Whole hops - are the whole hop cone, which is dried then vacuum sealed. Some breweries and brewers like to use whole hops as they feel more organic Hop pellets are the most common form of hop product. Hop pellets are created by drying the whole hop until it contains just 8-10% moisture. They are then cooled, crushed, mixed (to homogenize the resulting powder) and then pressed into a pellet.
Hop plugs - are made from the hop flower by drying and compressing the hops that were originally developed by British brewers as a way of adding extra aroma to a beer in the cask before it was sent to the customer. Hop extracts are mainly used by large breweries where the alpha acids are extracted from the cones using heat and solvents however these are generally only used for bittering the beer, not for flavour and aroma.
Planting and Cultivation
New hop rhizomes are planted in early spring in loose soil, deep enough so that they can get adequate moisture and drainage. The Hops are spaced depending on the variety, the number of bines trained to each trellis, amount of land and the size of the harvester. The trellises are generally between 5-8m high and as the hop bines grow up to four are trained around the trellis and will climb following the sun in a clockwise direction. In the southern hemisphere, the hop cone will start developing in January for harvesting in February and March. When the cones are ready to harvest they easily come off the bine when picked and readily spring back into shape when compressed.
The process of harvesting and processing hops hasn’t changed that much only the machinery used to do the jobs. First, the trellises and bines are cut down and loaded onto trailers. In the past, like everywhere else hops are grown, the hops were picked by hand. Nowadays the bines are loaded onto hooks and stripped of their hops by a picking machine which effectively thrashes the bines to remove the hops. The spent bines are then usually mulched and used for composting. The hop cones are then spread out on large drying racks where a kiln blows hot air from underneath the hops to dry them down to about 9-10 percent moisture. The hops are then transferred to an area for cooling before they are then baled. The bales are then sent to New Zealand Plant and Food for further processing into pallets packaging and distribution.
A little history on New Zealand hops
Being a New Zealand company, we are proud of all things kiwi and there’s nothing better than our beautiful country side, perfect for growing delicious fruit, grapes for award winning wines and for us beer lovers, some of the most amazing hops found anywhere in the world.
Hops are not native to New Zealand, the hops produced are originally from the UK, European and North American lineages. They were bought over and introduced mainly by the Southern English and German settlers during the early 19th century. The varieties grown at that time were called Fuggle, Golding and Spalt, hailing mainly from England and Germany.
However, the commencement of World War One restricted imports which forced the hop growers to seek a variety that could prove to be far more economic for their trade. The result was the selection of the ‘Cluster’ variety from California. It’s rapid acceptance meant it soon became the most common variety for new plantings during this period.
This monopoly of a single variety was soon discovered to be a perilous decision, as the ‘Cali’ variety was susceptible to black root rot (Phytophthora cactorum). By 1940 it was widespread and had destroyed entire crops. The growers, unable to combat the crop disease, turned to breeding a new variety that was resistant. Even though it produced a poor yield, Fuggle was chosen for its resilience to the rot and was then crossed mainly with the Cali and some other selections. The result was three new root rot resistant varieties - First Choice, Smooth Cone and Calicross. As well as their disease resistance, these varieties were developed through selection for several other characteristics such as yield, alpha potential, maturity and suitability to machine picking.
New Zealand now has a wide hop growing region with many varieties, however most of the farms are located in the Nelson region of the South Island. Hops took to the region’s ideal sunshine, temperate climate and rain ratio with ease, so much so that hops will grow freely on the road side from Murchison to Motueka. These farms location close to the sea and the unique soil composition, as with wine grapes, imparts a distinctive character that is unlike hops grown in any other region in the world.
Hops require 15 hours of sunlight a day and 120 days without frost during the growing season and six to eight weeks of temperatures below 50C in the non-growing season to produce the best yield. Therefore hops grow best between latitude 300 and 520. New Zealand has a latitude of 41-420 South where hops took to the ideal sunshine, temperate climate and rain ratio with ease, so much so that hops will grow freely on the roadside from Murchison to Motueka. The farms location being close to the sea and unique soil composition, like wine grapes, impart a distinctive character to the hops that is unlike hops developed in any other region in the world.
New Zealand also grows American and European varieties like Cascade and Chinook. But due to environmental factors and dissimilar growing conditions, the hops are only a reflection of those same varieties grown elsewhere. For example, the Cascade grown in New Zealand has become so distinctly different than the USA it was renamed ‘Taiheke’
New Zealand hops are currently very popular all over the world and as a result, the industry has expanded considerably from a total harvest of 574,994 kg in 2011 to 760,529 kg in 2017. Several of the large breweries in the UK use New Zealand hops in their beers such as;
Brewdog Punk IPA: Nelson Sauvin
Brewdog 5 am Saint: Nelson Sauvin
Beavertown 8 ball Rye IPA: Motueka, Rakau, Wai-iti and Waimea
Weird Beard Brew co Mariana Trench: Pacific Gem
·Yeastie Boys big mouth session IPA: Nelson Sauvin, Wakatu and Taiheke
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