The rise of new hops and evolving NPD June 2022

As most brewers know, new product development in the world of hops is a much longer process than the creation of the beer itself.

But hop growers and suppliers have been working hard to keep up with trends, launching new hops to appeal to brewer’s creative demands and consumer tastebuds even when new hop product development, from seedling to commercially-available hop varietal, can take well over a decade.

2020 was a bumper year for new hops, with Hop Products Australia launching Eclipse, the Hop Breeding Company – a joint venture between Yakima Chief Ranches and John I Haas – making HBC 692 commercially available as Talus, and NZ Hops’ Nectaron launching that year.

While it has been relatively quiet on the hop launch front during the pandemic, the United States Department of Agriculture has just launched a new public hop variety, dubbed Vista, and we can expect to see more in the coming years.

But hop development can be challenging, as it requires a delicate balance between agronomics and commercial viability.

“As always, breeding programs are looking for exciting new aromas at the same time they are developing more agronomically strong ones,” explained respected US beer writer and hop expert Stan Hieronymus.

“I see plenty of demand for “new” in the United States. This takes two forms. One, the hops themselves. Two, finding ways or products to get more out of the hops.

“This may be new techniques or products – for instance, yeast strains or enzymes that free thiol precursors.”

According to an annual survey from the US Brewers Association, brewers were asked about one hop they wish they could use if there was a more stable supply and the leading answers were Citra, Galaxy, Mosaic, Strata and Nectaron.

But supply and demand are two opposing forces, and demand can sometimes grow steadily, and at other times explode and then fade out.

“For instance, El Dorado… it’s not as in demand as Mosaic, but it continues to grow steadily. Same with Azacca. Strata, Sabro and Idaho 7 have come flying out of the gate,” explained Hieronymus.

“Also, although brewers love varieties like Citra that can stand on their own, they also want ones that work with others. Talus might be one of those.

“Nectaron illustrates how important marketing can be. NZ Hops has done a great job of introducing Nectaron, even though there were only 30 HA in 2021 and 62 HA this year.

“Sometimes supply gets ahead of demand, so we’ll see what happens in the next couple of years.”

The second and third largest exporters of hops to the US are New Zealand and Australia, so tapping into the US market and also finding the balance with what brewers want back home is also key to growth in those markets.

But hop development can almost seem like a dark art, so Brews News spoke to hop growers in Australasia and the US to discuss how it’s done and what they have in the pipeline for brewers in the coming years.

Eclipse, a homegrown hop

HPA016 renamed Eclipse

Brewer demand for Eclipse has exceeded expectations, according to hop growers and suppliers HPA.

“Based on brewing trials, we knew we were on to a winner, which is why we backed Eclipse with significant acreage from the get go,” explained Owen Johnson, head of sales and marketing at HPA.

“But it’s always good to have that validated with around 300 brewing customers committing to forward contracts.”

Eclipse is currently on track to become its third biggest proprietary hop variety by 2024, second only to Galaxy and Vic Secret, according to HPA, and brewers have been quick to note its strong citrus and sweet fruit notes, balanced by floral and woody aromatics.

“We use Eclipse in our all Australian IPA because it gives us some of that classic US-style hop profile with notes of citrus and pine, working well alongside the typical tropical fruit and resin flavours provided by the other HPA staples,” according to Ash Hazell at Colonial Brewing Co.

“It also goes really well by itself and has worked wonders for us in some smaller, limited releases with its broad range of aroma and flavour. No one component is ever overly dominant, providing a well-rounded hoppiness.”

There’s also an element of localism in brewers choosing hops from growers such as HPA.

“We switched to Eclipse as the supporting hop in Stayer because it’s an Aussie product,” suggested Richard Adamson at Young Henrys.

“We were originally using Kohatu and Motueka, which are considerably more expensive, in larger quantities.

“We’re now using Eclipse in much smaller quantities, which has made Stayer more cost-effective to produce. Per brew, we use 3kg of Eclipse in the whirlpool, and 5kg in the dry hop.

“I’ve always thought of hops in beer like players in a footy team. The star player gets all the attention and glory, but they wouldn’t be able to do their job if the support players weren’t doing theirs.

“In Stayer’s case, the star player is Citra LUPOMAX, but Eclipse compliments and elevates Citra, adding a layer of complexity that results in a more balanced hop profile. Eclipse has quickly become a hop I can usually identify blind. This is only the case with maybe 3 or 4 other hops.”

Indeed, Moffat Beach Brewing Co.’s collaboration with HPA, Shadow of the Moon Eclipse Strong Pale Ale, won Best International-Style Pale Ale at the Australian international Beer Awards last week.

While Eclipse was a hit for HPA, the work of a grower never stops.

“It can take anywhere from 6 to 10 years from cross-pollination to the first commercial brewing trials,” explained Johnson.

“The HPA breeding program is continually generating new hop cultivars specifically for the changing Australian environment, which means there’s more Aussie flavour hops coming our brewers’ way in the future.

“Once they reach this stage, HPA works closely with brewers who have the staff, skills and facilities to provide valuable hop sensory data that will determine the chance a particular experimental hop will achieve both brewer and consumer acceptance.”

The current front-runners in the program are HPA-029 with an estery tropical fruit flavour, HPA-033, which HPA says has a creamy mango flavour, and HPA-065, a spicy ginger and saffron flavour.

Yakima and the launch of Talus

James Monshing, regional sales manager AU/NZ for Yakima Chief Hops said that its Talus hop varietal launched in 2020 to a great response from the brewing industry.

“Brewers in general, they love the new thing so it gets a spike when it comes out, but Talus is certainly growing and has created a lot of excitement,” he said.

“Where you can use hops in the brewhouse to get a different flavour or aroma profile, that diverse aspect is sought after. Talus itself lends itself best in the hazy IPAs, American hazy IPAs, I’ve not seen too many lagers with it yet, but certainly those New World styles.”

Talus has found its feet in single hop beers like Jetty Road Brewery’s Talus More, a single hop West Coast IPA which won a gold medal at the Australian International Beer Awards in 2021, and achieving the much-sought-after accolade as a single hop beer just a year after it launched was an impressive feat.

“But it’s also finding its own as a lifter,” explained Monshing, “to maybe like 10–25 per cent of the hop bill, and lift those other flavour and aroma profiles around it.

“It’s super important to work with the brewers when bringing out new hops, brewers are obviously the best guys to get these hops into the hands of.

“But we’re designing hops and breeding hops to basically future proof them and ensure they fit into the market.”

Talus was in fact first crossed in the early 2010s in a Hop Breeding Company programme.

“It may not have been sought after then, but it’s fitting in quite nicely and fits the bill perfectly. And it’s also a late pick variety so it settles in nicely [in farming schedules at Yakima’s various farms],” Monshing explained.

NPD in the world of hops

But hop development at the farms in the US is a fine art, according to Joe Catron, vice president at Yakima Chief Ranches.

By crossing hop breeds through the harvesting of male pollen to pollinate female plants, the hop breeders then grow the subsequent progeny to the point where they can be isolated.

“That plant will mature and produce hop cones, but heavily seeded. We will collect those seeds and grow genetically unique progeny from the same cross which are siblings, and we germinate and grow those seeds into seedling plants the following spring and evaluate them. So the development of a new hop only takes one season really,” Catron explained.

But while the initial development of a new cross breed might only take a season, the process to commercialisation of the hop is a much longer and more involved process.

“At that point we will have a seedling plot, and any given year have between 30 and 50,000 seedlings we will run through each year and every year they will be in the same seedling plot to test for disease resistance and yield potential. Aroma isn’t a factor just yet, because we’re looking at agronomics at that point – ‘is it going to be viable?’ That’s really critical – it’s a fail fast kind of programme, if it’s not checking those bare minimum agronomic boxes that early [then it will not become a new hop varietal].”

Once the potential varietals have been identified, they will be planted in a larger hill yard for the next three years.

“If it’s showing promise in single hill, and it’s developing a crown, a cluster of rhizomes which is essentially an underground stem with genetic material of mother plant so we can clone that motherplant, that one seed that became one plant that became one crown will give us enough planting to plant out a seven-hill plot. So we will be able to plant out a larger population to make sure that nothing was flukey in the evaluation of that plant.”

Three distinct areas in Yakima mean that the plants can be tested in different environments, with different soil, exposure, elevation and microclimates, before they can be planted at Yakima Chief’s other growing locations in Idaho and Oregon, and then the plants will be ready to be shared and evaluated by others.

“At that point if brewers are excited about it, if we’re feeling comfortable with it, it is possible to start working on some sponsorship deals, which are not the main path to commercialisation, but we have a couple of big names like Sierra Nevada, Odell, places like that that can get their foot in the door with sponsorships.”

But the new hop product development process is not always such a linear one. Hop growers also utilise germplasms – genetic holding pool for breeds which initially did not make the cut.

“The plant may not have checked off all the boxes agronomically or brewing-wise at the time it was first bred, but has some fascinating characteristics that for whatever reason we want to breed them at a later date.

“Something can be novel but not quite make it.”

Talus is the daughter of Sabro, which itself was developed in quite unusual circumstances that were part of hop growing history in the United States.

“Sabro was bred back in the day when Jason Perrault was still just going to college and shadowing the original breeder for Yakima, Chuck Zimmerman. They had a new female in the germplasm field, a neomexicanus, but it basically never bloomed around the time the other plants did, it always bloomed late.

“There was a day when they finished the spring chores and going through and cleaning out inventory, and poured a bunch of pollen into the bowl and were going to dump it, but the neomexicanus was in that perfect stage to be receptive to pollination.

“They dumped this potpourri of pollen, and both Sabro and 472, a long-time elite line for us, came out of that cross, and Sabro became commercialised.”

The Sabro experience taught the hop growers that there can be a time and a place for a specific plant.

“Talus is a nice bridge for our profile of brands to really bring in that neomexicanus lineage we’ve been working on for decades and incorporate it and assimilate it more into our portfolio of brands.

“It’s approachable and familiar, with citrus and grapefruit and something a little new, and it takes exploration with these crosses to really define what the brand will be in our industry.

“We can bring a hop to market but it takes the brewer and their usage to find the home for it.”

Hops from across the ditch

Another Australasian hop doing well on the global stage is Nectaron. Lauren Yap, field support and quality assurance manager at NZ Hops said that Nectaron was received incredibly well by the industry when it was first launched as well.

“Prior to the new brand’s launch, Nectaron was increasingly proving itself as a dynamic power hop utilised as a standalone single hop but also gained serious traction as a hop that works well on a team hot side and cold side,” she explained.

Nectaron was developed under the NZ Hops breeding partnership and can be credited to Dr. Ron Beatson and his team at Plant and Food Research. It took 17 years to become fully commercialised and globally available.

“After sitting as a trial hop for many years, we received overwhelming rave reviews and a gentle push by several brewer partners to get it in their core brands,” she explained.

“In 2020 Nectaron officially took its name and brand and has now been rated by the Brewers Association as the 5th most desired hop on brewers wish lists – something we’re really proud of.”

Nectaron has been utilised in a range of styles from lighter lagers to hop-forward beers.

“Nectaron typically displays aromas of ripe tropical fruit – passionfruit being the most predominantly reported. It also has a piney, resinous, citrusy – orange and mandarin – backbone that we’ve heard is reminiscent of many American hops – a familiar characteristic that has allowed many of our American brewer friends to adapt their recipes toward Nectaron featured brews.”

It’s been featured in beers from Firestone Walker, Canarchy and Lagunitas just to name a few – a massive achievement for a New Zealand-grown hop which has been nearly two decades in the making.

“The process takes many years, hundreds, maybe thousands, of hops are rejected throughout the process to find a golden nugget like Nectaron,” Yap explained.

“What has helped to expedite the process is our pilot brewing system. Agronomic viability of a new hop is a massive focus, but seeing as we’re in the flavour and aroma business there’s nothing quite comparable to evaluating how a hop performs in its ultimate form – with a malty palate vehicle.

“Kerry Templeton, PFR’s Hop Breeder has brought a great amount of attention to trial hop brewing and we’re so grateful to be working with him and his team.”

But the success of Nectaron does not mean NZ Hops is resting on its laurels, and Yap said there would be a huge focus on new product development in the coming years.

“As a cooperative of hop growers we find so much of our strength and motivation working both in on-farm innovation and technical innovation.

“With so much history and knowledge of hop growing – six generations deep – NZ Hops is in an incredible position to focus on growing our own knowledge of our land and varieties, expanding and refining our hop portfolio to house the most sought after hops for years to come, and innovating farm practices for a more sustainable path.

“We are on the brink of formally launching a new trial hop innovation program partnering with some of the greatest minds in the brewing industry all over the world. Mums the word at the moment, but look out for some really fun brews coming soon!”

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