From hop discovery to beer recipe design July 2022
HPA’s hop breeding program generates new cultivars of interest every year, working closely with brewing customers who have the skills and facilities to provide valuable hop sensory data to determine which cultivars should be considered for commercialisation.
Join HPA’s Owen Johnston and Gail Monshing as they outline the hop commercialisation process, and discuss the different methods of evaluating the impact of experimental hops in beer with Bridge Road Brewers’ Ben Kraus and James Dittko.
A full transcript of this podcast is available below.
Owen Johnston: HPA’s breeding program is continually developing hop cultivars of interest. We conduct 20 to 40 cross-pollinations on each farm, resulting in between 2000 and 4000 new varietals each year. So Gail, tell me about these cultivars.
Gail Monshing: Well these new cultivars are in their trial phase where we are testing agronomic characteristics and desirable traits.
OJ: And so when we’re talking about traits, we’re thinking of things like yield per hectare of course, grow cost and performance in beer.
GM: All those things Owen, and by the time they’re finished in this trial period, we’ve only selected less than 1% of those original cultivars that we’ve put in the ground many years earlier.
OJ: It can take between 6 and 10 years from the original cross-pollination before it reaches brewing trials. Once we reach that stage, we’re looking to work with brewers who have the staff and the skills and facilities to generate meaningful sensory data. That’s really critical for us in determining what experimental varieties are going to achieve success in breweries.
GM: So, experimental hops are those ones that are still working their way through the system. Before Eclipse was Eclipse, we all knew it on the farm as HPA-016, Galaxy we knew as HPA-008 and Vic Secret was HPA-013.
OJ: So all of these named varieties that we know and love today could’ve fallen over at this trial and screening stage?
GM: That’s a definite, only the good ones make it.
OJ: Their limited volumes have brewers excited to be the first to trial these experimental varieties. We’re lucky enough to have Bridge Road Brewers, a pioneer of the craft beer industry in Australia, a stone’s throw from our Victorian farms. They’ve worked with us on brewing trials for a number of our experimental hops, providing meaningful feedback through their in-house sensory program.
Ben Kraus: G’day mate.
OJ: G’day. So, tell us the Bridge Road story.
BK: My story and the story of Bridge Road and beer probably goes back to after finishing high school. I grew up in Beechworth, wasn’t sure what I was going to do and ended up working in a local winery, Sorrenberg Winery, and got really interested in the process of growing things and making things, and I went off to Dookie Agricultural College and studied horticulture and a bit of oenology as well, so wine making. And then I headed off to Europe for nearly 4 years, working in wineries. But then really in Europe, discovered the diversity of beer and how much great beer was out there. So it really inspired me to do a postgraduate diploma while I was travelling and brewing through the University of Ballarat, and I worked at a small brewery in Innsbruck at the same time as well. I came home with the idea of starting a brewery, and my parents said you can have the garage, it was 100 square metres. So I got a loan to buy some secondhand equipment. We started with a 1000 litre brew kit, bottling line, and a bar. So we started installing it in ’04 and was open by ’05.
OJ: From the initial 1000 litre brewhouse, where are you today?
BK: We lasted 12 months in the garage and we were just struggling for space, which we knew we would but we’d proven the model. And then moved into here, and over the years it’s been organic growth based on the revenue we make. We’ll be up above towards 1.5 million litres a year here onsite, and we’re also starting a brewpub in East Brunswick at the moment as well.
OJ: So you’ve got that wonderful international experience, have you been able to couple that with your proximity to the local hop farm?
BK: Yeah definitely, we’ve had a great connection with the Monshing family, and Rostrevor and Hop Products Australia. So that combined with the fact my wife is Austrian, and we’re often returning to visit her family. So I’ve been lucky enough, I think we were the first brewery to take Aussie hops, I think HPA flew some hops over to Norway, and we used Galaxy and Ella, formerly known as Stella, in making an India Saison in Norway. And since then I’ve collaborated in Belgium, in Italy and with Stone Brewing in the US, all using hops grown from our neighbourhood.
OJ: Bridge Road’s beers have medalled in international beer awards right from the beginning. This is an outstanding result, but not unsurprising given your ability to adapt your processes to stay across changing consumer trends while not losing sight of your values of independence, authenticity and beer quality.
BK: We have been consistent since we started in ’05 and you’re right in saying we’ve had to adjust. If we entered the beers we were making in ’05 now they probably wouldn’t do so well at the awards. Quality is always something we’ve focused on and something we’re always improving, but also being able to adapt and change recipes and update processes. We just brewed our IPA yesterday with a new recipe to reduce bitterness. So using the same amount of hops but changing the additions and placement of additions, because we’re seeing in the market the modern preference is lower bitterness but still plenty of hops and plenty of hop flavour, and we’re always striving to do better. So whether that’s using local hops, more sustainable processes in what we do, and beer first and beer quality should always be what drives us.
OJ: Cheers. Fabulous. Bridge Road release up to 50 unique beers in a 12-month period. These are often small batch, experimental or collaborations with brewers and wine makers from Australia and further afield. Small batch and experimental beers are a great way of showcasing a new hop, but before you get to that point, how do you evaluate experimental hops?
James Dittko: We tend to use two different methods. The first one is just the simple rub and sniff of the dried material.
BK: And this method is a really good way to actually narrow down the experimental varieties and help us choose which hops might work in a beer before we go through the process of actually making the beer and taking that bigger risk. It also gives us a chance to evaluate the hop without any other influence. So there’s no grain, no water, it’s just what does it feel like, and how does it smell and hopefully we can make a good beer out of it.
JD: Obviously our favourite way to assess the hops would be in a beer, so to brew with them, and the best way we find to do that is to brew a SMASH. Which is a single malt, single hop beer. We like to use quite a neutral yeast strain. So we’ll brew the one lot of beer, split it three ways, three different hops and then the only difference between them is the hop and you can really evaluate what impact it’s having.
BK: One of the strong points of stripping that recipe right back to be a neutral yeast, low impact flavour malt, not too high ABV it’s really allowing us to assess what that hop flavour and aroma is going to be like. In terms of our hop additions, I would say that modern beer styles and also locally grown hops tend to both lend themselves more to late hopping in fermentation. So when we’re doing these trials, we’d be looking to just dry hop. And we’d dry hop levels somewhere between 5 to 10 grams per litre.
OJ: So let’s assume that we’ve narrowed the field down to one experimental variety that you want to try in a more significant beer. How do you think through the constructive and destructive interference of specialty malts?
JD: Well, once we’ve done our 3 trials and we’ve got the one hop that we really like and we’ve assessed it in the beer which is the most important thing because a lot of the time the rub and sniff presents differently. So we’ve got flavour descriptors we know how it’s going to perform, and we want to add that to a bunch of specialty malts, chocolate malts, crystal malts. Whatever it is. A good example would be one we’ve used in the past which is Eclipse, or 016 as it was then. A lot of orange character, orange and chocolate goes well together, so we think cool, it’s going to work well in a chocolatey-dark beer. So take a bunch of chocolate malts and make that beer, add the hop and we just know it’s going to work well.
OJ: Is it a similar process for thinking through more complex yeast interactions?
JD: I’d say it’s almost exactly the same except it just leans on a lot more experience. So there is certain yeast strains which are going to react really well to high levels of hopping, and others which react well to low levels of hopping. And we know the flavour profile and just work out how they’re going to go well together from that experience and combine them that way.
OJ: Once a hop as gone through your in-house sensory system and you’re confident that it’s going to have a beneficial impact in beer, how do you go about building it into a commercial release?
JD: Well it’s about looking at the art and science of the process, I guess. We take a lot from those small batches and we know how that hop is going to perform, and then just scaling it up.
BK: There is also commercial reality, looking at what we feel like the gaps in the market are, how we can utilise those hop flavours, to fill that gap. We have a lot of in-house discussion around developing and releasing new styles, and it could be that the hops present the reason to create a new beer or the hops could just fill a gap, and hey, this new hop will really do that job for us.
OJ: So there is obviously skill and experience in understanding beer styles, and the style guidelines will give you parameters like OG and FG, colour and alcohol amongst others. I used to thrive in that environment, but do you find it a bit limiting?
JD: Well while we’re not following them strictly, we are still following a set of guidelines loosely. We’re not going to make a 2 percent Double IPA, but in order to make that beer we’ll take those hops that might be an experimental variety, and we’ve got the flavour profile from those experimental batches and then just choose the malts and yeast that go with it.
BK: Taking into account all those things and not to forget the initial meeting that took place and deciding on what we think the market is looking for and what the consumer wants. James will be formulating that recipe whether it’s to hit low BU’s, being the modern preference of that style. So we’re steering away from what the style guidelines say and creating a beer we determine will perform well in the market. So recipe is a little bit around that. We’ll often go back-and-forth and say hey, how should we do this hop addition? Or what’s the hop selection or malt selection going to be based on performance of past recipes, our experience and also what we think is going to perform well in the market.
OJ: Knowing your brewery and being able to anticipate the variables that you need to manage is absolutely critical. Do you have any hop-specific pressure points that you know you need to be aware of?
JD: Yeah of course, and internally we have, just like any other brewery, we have our own quirks and our own parameters. But there’s obviously those basic points that we’re all looking at. So we don’t want to have the hops in the tank for too long, we don’t want to dry hop too late and create dry hop creep which has really been a big issue for people probably only starting 4 to 5 years ago we really started to understand what that was, so just looking at the timing of the dry hop to get the right interaction with the yeast.
BK: So once we’ve covered off those technical challenges and practical realities of dry hopping and managing hops we’re really able to come full circle in realising those hop flavours and aromas that we’ve envisaged here in our sniff and rub. Through to trialing a small batch, through to developing a recipe or finding a need to use that hop and then translate that from this process through to a glass in the hand of ourselves, probably just as equally important the consumer as well, having that vision realised.
OJ: Establishing this feedback loop is absolutely critical for a hop grower. It allows us to confirm an experimental variety has consistent impact in beer, that it performs across a range of beer styles and hopefully allows us to formulate some really meaningful flavour descriptors that brewers will find useful. When brewers like these guys communicate to us that they like an experimental hop and are considering using it in a seasonal or core range product, we can think about scaling up production to support their goals. Cheers. (All) Cheers.