X marks the sweet spot

We find out about Garden Brewery's involvement with Simply Hops’ Project X programme.


We’ve been working with Croatia’s Garden for a couple of years now, and have watched the brewery go from strength to strength, nailing every beer that’s come our way and becoming well known and respected among the UK’s craft beer community. So when we heard head brewer Tom O’Hara was working with Simply Hops to create a beer for its Project X experimental hops programme, we knew we wanted to bring it to Beer52 members.

Garden grew out of the music, club and bar business of legendary British producer and taste-maker Nick Colgan, originally as a way of providing booze for his own events. With Tom at the controls though, Garden quickly became a smash hit in its own right, starting off with lagers and pale ales, before graduating onto stronger, hoppier beers, dark beers and an excellent series of sours. While the core range is rock solid, it’s Garden’s more experimental side that always makes us so excited to receive a new box of samples.

Its involvement with Simply Hops’ Project X programme is an excellent example of this; an invitation to participate in a project to help steer the development of new hops, through a series of three workshops in Germany, Australia and the US. The first, in Germany, led to the beer in this month’s box, made with an experimental form of the ever-popular Huell Melon. 

“Simply Hops was looking for brewers across the spectrum to take part in year-long consultancy, with three workshops,” explains Tom. “We only got as far as the German one before everything kicked off, but there are plans to restart it later this year. The whole idea of it was to get an insight into the future of craft and how they can better meet the growing needs of smaller producers. It was very much a two-way thing, so we also got a little inside knowledge on what was coming next, which was great.”

The experimental hop which was the focus of the first workshop, Huell Melon Enhanced, is not in fact a new hop at all. As well as working on brand new varieties, hop developers are also looking to new ways of processing their raw materials to improve efficiency or express novel characteristics.

“Cryo hops have been really big over the last couple of years,” Tom continues. “It’s a great marketing name, but really the main difference is that the hop compounds are more concentrated. So, instead of having 90% of the original hop matter – like standard T-90 hop pellets – Cryo hops have 45%, just the pure lupulin, and 55% is discarded. They’re essentially T-45 pellets.

“You do get some character from the vegetable matter that’s stripped out through that extra processing though, so beers that only use T-45 hops tend to be a little one-dimensional for me. So what people have started doing is using them in combination with standard T-90 pellets, and that gives you that extra depth, but also allows you to bring in those very specific characteristics from your T-45 varieties.

Simply Hops' German colleagues had been working on new methods for stripping non-essential matter out of its hops for some time, with a particular focus on enhancing European hops like Huell Melon, Mandarin, Bavaria and Callista.

“These hops are great – they have a really kind of noble taste and smell to them, but they’ve also got this light fruitiness. The only problem is that, compared to New World hops, you need to use a lot of them to get that flavour. So this Huell Melon Enhanced is the first of a couple of prototypes they’ve made using German aroma hops, and in this case you really get a nice hit of melon and fresh strawberry coming through, which is exactly what you’d hope for.”

Working with an entirely new form of hop must be a pretty high-risk endeavour, so I asked Tom how he went about fitting it to a beer that would bring out its best characteristics.

We didn’t want to do too much with it, so the hop can take centre stage

“I spoke to Roland, the head of innovation in Nuremberg, and just kind of said ‘what do you reckon I should do?’,” he laughs. “I mean, I obviously had some ideas of what would work, based on my experience of brewing with Huell Melon – I’ve always loved doing beers with German aroma hops, even if they sometimes don’t sell so well,” says Tom.

“Basically through the whole process I treated these as I would a Cryo Hop and fleshed it out from there. We experimented with using most of it in the dry hop and a little in the whirlpool too, and at the moment it’s tasting really good. It’s just a nice easy-drinking pale ale; we didn’t want to do too much with it, so the hop can take centre stage, and that character is really showcased. I think we’ve achieved that.”

The close, collaborative relationships between creative craft breweries, hop developers and growers is a real source of innovation in the industry, and an example of how brewers are both responding to and leading the tastes of drinkers.

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