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The Brewery on a Hop Farm

Hop Breeding & Provenance

Find out more about British hop breeding & provenance and which hop we selected for our next Seasonal Beer, Headless Chicken, a single hopped IPA.

Hop Breeding & Provenance

Our newest seasonal is Headless Chicken, an India Pale Ale brewed exclusively with Emperor hops. Emperor is a new variety that was released as CF169 in 2016 but was only officially branded in the last couple of years – to me, it comes across as orange citrus and quite floral. This is the first beer (besides a green hop in 2022) that we’ve brewed with it, and I’m pretty happy with the result!

The grist is mostly pale malt, with some cara and light crystal varieties for colour and flavour. These speciality malts are lightly caramelised, which gives some sweet balance to the bitter hops. Emperor is added at three points in the process – at the start of the boil to provide bitterness; at the end of the boil to impart flavour and aroma; and cold post-fermentation (‘dry hopping’), to add even more bright hop flavour.

But how do you go about creating a new hop variety and why would you bother when there are so many already available?

The driving force behind the desire for new flavoursome hop varieties has been the rise of craft beer – a proliferation in the number of small brewers, first in the US and then the UK & Europe, who rejected the comparatively bland massed-produced beer available in favour of something with more character.

Most breweries still use those American hops (Citra and Mosaic being among the most common examples), and in the last few years New Zealand and Australia have increased production significantly. But at The Hop Shed we want to both support local growers and minimise the CO2 footprint of our ingredients – for this reason we only use English hops in our beers. And those goals are shared by Charles Faram, a hop merchant based near Malvern, who have been working on a Hop Development Programme to come up with new varieties which need to not only be a great contribution to beer, but also agronomically viable.

Hop development is a lengthy process. Initially, two plants with favourable characteristics will be crossed, and thousands of individual plants will be grown in a greenhouse – these are tested for the disease resistances they’ll need in the field as well as overall vitality. The next stage is to grow individual plants outside – it is at this point that hop cones are produced, but only by female plants, meaning around 50% will be discarded. The cones that are produced can be tested for aroma, which is done by rubbing the cones to release the oils, and plants with new or interesting aromas can be marked. Hop plants however take 2-3 years to produce a full crop, so yield cannot be assessed accurately until the following year.

Once the plants have produced a full crop of hops, they can be harvested and processed for brewing. We have done several trial hop brews this year, and information about the flavours imparted is fed back to Charles Faram – it can be very different from the aromas found during the rub, and we’ve had several exciting results! Successful varieties can then be expanded to being grown in full rows. These are tested by more brewers to gauge uptake by both breweries and customers, all the while the plants continue to be assessed for disease resistance and yield.

If it passes these final hurdles, a hop will be given a name and officially released! From thousands of seedlings, whittled down over 5-10 years, one or two may make the grade. Charles Faram have had a number of successes over the past few years (Olicana, Harlequin, Godiva, Emperor and more) which really make English hops a viable alternative to those from overseas. With an increasing need to protect the environment and minimise the negative impact we make on it, that can only be a good thing.

Thanks for reading; if you have any feedback or questions my email is rob@thehopshed.co.uk. I plan to try and do one of these posts for each seasonal beer we release with more information about it, but if you have a topic (simple or complex!) you’d like to know about, feel free to suggest it and I might try and squeeze it in somewhere!               

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