Making the right selection with hops
The craft beer movement reinvigorated the brewing industry by placing a renewed focus on the ingredients that go into making beer.
The ingredient story has been a powerful tool to connect consumers to the romance of the brewing process and that has been important for the growth of the segment.
This is true also for brewers. It is inspiring and energising to be hands-on with ingredients through standing at a selection table, and it can add to the story in a beer.
But while hop selection is an experience, it’s also just one piece of a complex puzzle involved in consistently getting the best ingredients into the hands of brewers.
Hop Products Australia’s (HPA) head of sales and marketing Owen Johnston said the company takes a different approach while recognising the reasons brewers like the idea of hop selection.
“HPA does take a different approach to selections,” he explains.
“And that’s because, besides the experience and the romance, selection is really about the industry managing the diversity of its supply for the benefit of only a small number of brewers.”
He describes HPA’s mandate as producing the highest possible quality hops with the lowest possible lot-to-lot variations for all brewers.
“That’s about equity,” he says. “And we have some really fundamental advantages in delivering that mission compared to other regions.”
“We aren’t 27 independent farmers contributing to a co-op, we’re not however-many growers there are in the Yakima Valley in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, and we certainly are not the 1000-plus growers in the Hallertau.
“As one vertically integrated producer, we unify our farming practices as much as possible across our sites.”
Johnston says that amongst HPA’s advantages, it uniquely understands its own varieties.
“We’re the only ones in the world growing them. That eliminates a lot of the variables and diversity already,” he says.
“But we also know the impact of the delay and complexity that selection adds to the process.
“We know that hops such as Galaxy aren’t very stable in the bale and that rapid processing and getting them into pellets, the modified atmosphere foils, and the fridge as soon as possible is in all brewers’ best interests.
“We have invested heavily in state-of-the-art processing and packaging to ensure freshness and quality. To do something to undermine that seems counterintuitive.
“With the control we have, selection offers little gain and a lot of potential downside.”
When it comes to its portfolio of international hops, Johnston said HPA applies the same approach.
“We travel to Yakima every year to select hops on behalf of all our customers in Australia and New Zealand, and that means ensuring the highest quality we can in order to meet what we know are our customers – all of our customers – expectations,” he said.
“That doesn’t sound as romantic as individual selections look on socials, but it’s actually an important job.”
He said that HPA’s relationship with John I. Haas in the US affords it privileged access that benefits all brewers.
“We feel we have an unassailable advantage in selecting great hops for the Aussie market,” he said.
“In a tough year for hops, like Centennial had this year, it’s important that we’re there to be really thorough in the selection process.
“We got to select from the entire crop that Haas brought in, and we got to select product that was true-to-type Centennial, that we know has the characteristics that our customers want and expect.
“That does strip out some of the romance for a brewer by not being able to select a standout, holy grail lot of Cascade or Citra or Centennial, but that’s also by its very nature unreproducible.
“We have a process of fault finding and eliminating lots that don’t stack up across various physical criteria, right through to COA review, and raw hop sensory.
“And that provides confidence and certainty to our customers for every lot of beer they produce.”
Johnston’s views are echoed by brewers and judges.
Chris Swersey is a former supply chain specialist for the US Brewers Association and competition director of the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup.
He recently moved to Australia and is now the Technical and Development Brewer at Tribe Breweries.
Swersey, who has previously worked with HPA on hop selections, said the company has a huge responsibility in selecting hops on behalf of Australian brewers.
“Being on their selection panel was a fantastic experience, and very, very eye opening in terms of seeing what HPA offers,” he said.
“It’s hugely important because if no one is selecting, and you’re 8000 miles away, whatever comes off the boat is what you’re going to get,” he said.
“If there’s a misstep, that can really hurt on quality, and HPA does a really good job of managing the quality of the hops coming into Australia.
“I run our sensory panel at Tribe and we have noticed it there, and in the quarterly assessments of our inventory, that the consistency is a big benefit to us.”
He said brewers in Australia are thousands of miles away from Yakima, which makes for a long supply line, and consistency matters.
“There are a couple of hundred farms in the Pacific Northwest and every farm is different; every farm has different rootstock, different soil, different weather outcomes, different processing.
“In the end you have dozens, or hundreds, of lots of Cascade, or Mosaic or Citra, to figure out which ones you like.
“Brewers like to have that control, but most brewers don’t get it, it’s impossible to run thousands of brewers through your selection.
“Most don’t have the financial muscle or the position at the head of the line.”
HPA is committed to delivering consistently high-quality Aussie and international hops for all their brewing customers across Australia and New Zealand. By understanding the supply chain challenges unique to each growing region, and taking accountability for selections where it makes sense, HPA are ensuring that brewers of all sizes get equitable access to, and can benefit from, the material HPA supplies.