British-grown hops reduce Brexit effect, says brewery

By Fred A'Court

- Last updated on GMT

Hop for joy: revellers celebrate as Hogs Back Brewery completes third crop harvest
Hop for joy: revellers celebrate as Hogs Back Brewery completes third crop harvest

Related tags: Hops

With some imported hops costing 60% more than a year ago, Surrey-based Hogs Back Brewery says it is benefiting from its decision to grow its own varieties on a 3.5-acre plot adjacent to its brewery near Farnham.

It has just harvested its third hop crop, accounting for approximately 15% of its annual requirement.

It hopes to eventually grow a quarter of the hops it uses and to source 70% within walking distance of the brewery.

This year saw hops dried in a new oast house, built just three miles from the brewery and the first in Surrey for more than 50 years.

Sustainable brewing

Managing director Rupert Thompson said the initiative is part of its commitment to local sourcing, reducing food miles, sustainable brewing and taking greater control of the ingredients in its beers.

"The hike in hop prices, firstly because of a shortage of US varieties and then the post-Brexit referendum fall in sterling has subsequently delivered another benefit, as growing our own hops gives a level of control over one of our key ingredients,” he said.

British hops have aroma notes said to include tangerine, citrus, grass, grapefruit, chocolate, blackcurrant, spice, pepper, apricot, marmalade, mint, honey, floral and molasses that help give beers their distinctive flavour.

Four varieties have been harvested by Hogs Back this year: Fuggles, used in its TEA (Traditional English Ale) beer; Farnham White Bine, a traditional local variety that Hogs Back says it has revived from near-extinction; English Cascade, used in Hogstar English Craft Lager; and a newer dwarf variety, Pioneer, used for the first time in its 2017 Home Harvest Ale.

Harvest festival

To celebrate the harvest, the brewery has staged what it hopes will be an annual hops seminar in London.

Attended by other brewers and those from the hop-growing and research industries, topics included: hop breeding; flavour attributes of British hop varieties and the 2017 UK hop harvest, and trends in the global hop market.

Presentations were given by hop experts Peter Darby of the Wye Hops research centre, Ali Capper of the British Hop Association and Paul Corbett of Charles Faram hop merchants.

Rise in commercially grown hops

Capper told delegates that today there are 31 commercially grown hop varieties produced in Britain compared to just 13 in 1998.

A number of new varieties have been grown with others in the pipeline.

Corbett said that on the world market, prices are levelling off or in some instances are now decreasing.

Among the challenges facing the industry are more competition with more hops being planted in all countries meaning that volumes are catching up with or overtaking current demand, particularly in the USA.

However, he said there are new opportunities too.

Session beers

The demand for session beers is growing and British hops are more 'sessionable'. In the UK a session beer is considered around 4% ABV.

Craft beer development in new countries is increasing so the export market will be key.

More acres can be planted if needed and new varieties are being developed all the time.

The UK is the seventh largest producer of hops of 22 countries surveyed. UK coverage last year was 920 hectares.

However, production is still small compared to the world’s largest producers, despite the UK being the sixth largest consumer of beer.

By far the biggest are the United States and Germany which have 40,000 hectares of hops between them.

Related topics: Beer

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