Hobsons Brewery: A Case Study

Founded in 1993, Shropshire based Hobsons Brewery has a strong ethos of sustainable practices which includes supporting local businesses and having reams of eco-friendly credentials.

In fact their use of ground source heat pumps, wind turbines and rainwater harvesting earnt them an award in 2010 from the Society of Independent Brewers – the proudly named ‘Best Green Business Award’, which they were delighted with.

So it makes great sense that when they heard about local hop farmers, Brook House Hops, just 20 miles south in Herefordshire, they were intrigued to say the least.

Owner Nick Davis, admiring the bines at hop harvest time

Nick Davis, founder of Hobsons Brewery explains: “We had heard of Brook House Hops and then they called us and I was instantly impressed with their story. Not only do they grow their own hops just miles away in the rich Herefordshire soil, but they also work directly with breweries which offers us more flexibility when purchasing. It’s great having a positive, friendly, relationship between grower and brewer.”

Hobsons started out with Brook House by trialling some UK grown Goldings, Fuggles and Chinook varieties, which went down a treat with the brewers. “We were really happy that not only could Brook House sell us the hops, but they could keep them well looked after in storage for us until we needed them. That was really helpful!” Nick adds.

Hobsons is also really pleased with the range Brook House offers. Nick explains: “After trying out the Brook House Hops, internally, people were excited. They often offer limited, special varieties of hop which helps give us an edge when brewing one off or limited edition brews. The brewers were pleased with the ability this gave us to add contemporary flavours and profiles to our recipes”.

Nick out in the hop fields

So what is next? “More visits for banana cake and cups of tea!” Nick mentions with glee, explaining how it’s been so easy to work with and get along with Brook House. “We are also looking to purchase some Challenger green hops and some full hop bines for decoration too”.

It seems Hobsons Brewery are very keen on their hops and Brook House offers them something which fits just right – a sustainable, locally grown product which packs a great punch and makes great beer. What more could you ask for?

Nick is a fan of traditional hops yet also loves new and exciting hop varieties

New Zealand Hops – What is All The Fuss About?

New Zealand hops are the most sought after on the market right now. But why? They have a tropical flavour profile that aligns perfectly with the IPA craze, which could be the main reason. But is that it? Is this the reason why most brewers find access to them limited and they are thus so hard to come by?

Hop bines

In this article, we will dig under the surface a little and explore the different reasons why hops from New Zealand are in such high demand.

They are very tasty hops

The most obvious answer to why hops from New Zealand are so popular is that they help to make great beers. These hops are cultivated and processed to a high standard – not to mention they have a flavour profile that suits the beers we like to drink – so it makes sense that they are highly sought after. New Zealand hops are also unique in their chemical composition, which is partly down to the New Zealand terroir, meaning that the individual essential oil and alpha acid composition cannot be replicated elsewhere in the world.

Hops

They are hard to come by

Beer writer Stan Hieronymus over at Appellaion Beer did some research following the 2019 New Zealand hops harvest which clearly shows why demand is outstripping supply at the moment. The quantity grown is tiny compared to other popular hops right now, so there is a mad dash and then they are gone. But things are looking up if you are keen to use types of New Zealand hops in the coming years…

“New Zealand Hops Limited harvested 44 percent more hops in 2019 than 2018. Production of Nelson Sauvin, one of the most sought out hops anywhere, increased 35 percent and Motueka 69 percent. However, demand — particularly for Nelson — continues to exceed supply. A little math makes it obvious why. Farmers in the American Northwest harvested about 107 million pounds of hops in 2018; NZ Hops 2.3 million.” (From Stan’s July Newsletter)

Insightful. Stan also mentions that New Zealand growers expanded their acreage by 70% this year, which is good news for everyone. At the same time, 90% of the 2019 crop was already sold before harvest, so it could take a while before we see the prices drop and for the hops to become more readily available.

A full report on the 2019 New Zealand hop harvest should soon be available at New Zealand Hops, grower cooperative website.

Glorious fragran hops

We love new things

There is also a very human reason why brewers are so keen on these hops; they are new. Experimenters and creators love new ways of creating their art. When a unique variety of paint comes out, artist flock to try it. When a new way of recording music is found, musicians must see what it can add to their sound.

Craft brewers are absolutely no different. When a new hop comes to town, they have to try it to find out what it can bring to their beer. It’s exciting. It is a new tool in their toolbox, something to improve the complexity of their beers with.

As dedicated hop growers and beer drinkers, we at Brook House Hops are very grateful that New Zealand hops arrived on the scene and we want to do everything we can to bring them over to the UK for brewers to play with. It’s a great time for beer right now.

Battery Hill Hops on tour

Recently, to cement our love of the New Zealand hop offering, we took the three Clayton brothers from New Zealand’s largest hop farm on a tour of UK breweries and brewing history. They found it fascinating and we had a great time.

Traditional versus Modern UK Breweries
Left: Greene King, Suffolk
Right: Camden Town Brewery, London

Our partnership with them means that we can supply hops like Riwaka, Rakau, Pacifica and Nelson Sauvin in the coming years. At present, we have some 2019 Motueka in stock online, so get in there quick if you would like to brew with this extra special, zesty beauty!

For more info on Brook House Hop’s adventures, follow us on social media: Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

 

2018 UK HOP HARVEST REPORT

Hop harvest is now winding down across the UK. Hops are only at their peak ripeness for about a week per variety – most farmers only have enough expensive harvesting machinery to just cover the acreage they grow – which means that harvest is an extremely busy time. There are still some growers picking their late higher alpha varieties and so the final numbers aren’t quite in.

However we do know that yields of the earliest varieties such as Fuggles and ‘Early-Choice’ Goldings (which is the most widely grown of the Goldings cultivars) are extremely poor – down 40-50% on 2o17 (an exceptionally strong year) and down maybe 30% on an ‘average’ harvest. Mid-season varieties (Challenger, main crop Goldings, Progress) have been less affected, and it is probable that the later varieties (Jester, Pilgrim, Target) will have recovered due to the much needed rain in late August.

Just as brewers enter into hop contracts with merchants, merchants have contracts with farmers. Typically a farmer will contract about 80% of what they expect to produce. This is so that they don’t ‘short’ the merchants in a bad year – the surplus is then sold on the ‘spot’ market after harvest. The problem in 2018 is that yields are so poor that farmers aren’t going to be able to deliver on all their contracts to merchants and this could mean that merchants can’t fulfil their contracts to brewers.

If your recipes use Fuggles and Goldings heavily, and especially if you have historically bought on the spot market, it would probably be worth checking that supply of what you want from harvest ’18 is assured. It might be necessary to use some hops from 2017 – a year in which yields were good – or even make varietal substitutions (Sovereign or Styrian Goldings for Fuggles, Progress for Goldings) in order to keep brewing.

The farm manager Henry and his team here at Brook House Farm have worked hard during the growing season. A combination of attention to detail and innovative growing techniques have meant that yields here were up on 2017. We have significant quantities of ’18 hops in excess of our merchant and brewer contracts. Quality seems good – the long hot summer has lead to some fine aromas coming from the hops which have been sampled so far. Spot 2018 Goldings, Fuggles and Challenger will be available in the next couple of weeks. Do get in touch with the team here if you would like some samples, or to visit the farm and make a selection. We are also offering contracts for premium english varieties from the ’18 crop forward.

2018 UK HOP OUTLOOK

Fuggles (above), and some Goldings varieties, are usually the first hop varieties to be harvested in the UK. We will be picking ours in the first couple of weeks of September. These hops are just going into burr. Burr is the growth stage when delicate flowers emerge on hop plants – they are the precursor of the hop cones which we harvest for making beer.

The UK is blessed (from a farming perspective at least!) by high levels of rainfall when plants need it the most – in the spring and summer. This means we get some of the highest yields of staple crops like wheat and barley in the world – all without the need for expensive, and often unsustainable irrigation systems. Unfortunately the weather in 2018 has not played along: after a wet cold spring, rain has been almost non-existent in the UK’s two hop growing regions (Kent and Herefordshire / Worcestershire). This has been exacerbated by scorching temperatures which increase the plant’s demand for water – one hop plant can ‘drink’ up to 60 litres per week in the spring. Besides the direct need from the plants themselves for water, a bit of moisture will dissolve the fertiliser which farmers spread on top of the soil, allowing plants to take it up at the optimal time.

The lack of rain has cracked the ground right open, and means that most hops across the UK are showing signs of stress. Recently planted hops (like the fuggles above) or hops on light soil will be affected the most.

 

These hops would normally be dark, lush green all the way down the bine. A lack of moisture is turning the leaves yellow (and the boy angry!).

The hops might come back – late spring and early summer in 2011 were hot and dry, which lead to sharp reductions in the yields of arable crops harvested in July and August that year. Rainfall later on in the summer though meant that hops recovered, and yields were close to long-term averages. However it is probable that the yields of early varieties such as Fuggles will be reduced in 2018.

Paradoxically a poor harvest nationally can be good for farmers (if not for brewers). Brewers need hops to make beer which means that demand is price-inelastic and makes the price paid more volatile than many other crops. To illustrate this, a 20% decline in yields could lead to a 50% increase in spot prices if there is a scramble to secure supplies. A farmer selling on the spot market would prefer £15 / kg for 600 kg / acre vs £10 / kg for 750 kg / acre. Even if price signals help clear the market in the short-term, it might be that brewers need to show some flexibility in their recipes – substituting in similar hops, or blending hops from different years.
Great weather and low levels of disease pressure meant that 2017’s yields dramatically exceeded long-term averages. This depressed spot prices at the farm gate, and probably also means that large inventories of 2017’s crop will be carried over in stores at merchants and brewers into 2018. A poor harvest in 2018 may actually then be best for the health of the industry.

CRAFT BEER AND BRITISH HOPS

British Hops are unique – Goldings and Fuggles can combine to produce great cask-conditioned beer. However modern craft beer is often built on the US ‘big four’: Amarillo, Citra, Mosaic and Simcoe – along with Southern-Hemisphere favourites like Galaxy and Nelson Sauvin.
This leaves problems for craft brewers in the UK – on the one-hand they celebrate local beer, but they themselves struggle to get the flavour they want out of locally grown hops. In the long-run, Bramling Cross, Ernest, Endeavour and Jester (and their daughter varieties) may generate the kind of interesting flavour profiles which brewers are after – there could even be a shift in taste towards more drinkable session beers which use British hops.  In the short-term what is a brewer to do though? Cloudwater and Magic Rock deserve respect for using UK extract (of Pilgrim and Target respectively) early on in the boil for alpha.
Sure – brewers can buy bitterness from CTZ or Herkules more cheaply, but buying British means that UK hop growers can stay alive to fight another day. Buying UK alpha hops is an easy way for craft brewers to support their local farmers, and ensure that our breeding programs survive to support the next generation of craft brewers.

SPOT VS CONTRACT HOP BUYING

Brewers need hops to brew tasty beer.

Hops can either be bought on contracts (you agree a price now for delivery in a couple of year’s time), or on the spot market for immediate delivery. Contracts are generally best:

  1. Hop prices are volatile – as a brewer you can protect yourself from future fluctuations by fixing the price of much of what you will need now.
  2. Farmers want certainty – planting and harvesting hops are expensive. By contracting for a few year’s supply of Amarillo, you give a farmer (and their bank manager!) confidence that they will be able to recoup any investment they need to make in new wirework or kilning machinery.

However life isn’t always simple. Maybe business is booming, you have a new brewhouse, and it runs on pellet not leaf. What do you do with your old contracts for whole-cone? Maybe you do a collab with the funky new brewer down the road, and need some hops at short-notice?

Previously these shortfalls and oversupply have been handled through notice-boards (SIBA Classifieds etc), or individual negotiations between brewers and their merchants. However things changed a few years back in the US with the launch of an online marketplace – brewers there have been able to use the Lupulin Exchange to get back into balance, and also to get hold of varieties like Galaxy and Citra which were previously difficult to source.

The Lupulin Exchange has also solved problems for farmers: crop yields depend on the weather and so growers can’t predict exactly how many hops they will have after harvest. We grew a lot more hops than we had expected in 2017 and struggled to sell our surplus at reasonable prices. Brook House Hops is partnering with the Lupulin Exchange for their European launch – by transparently dealing directly with brewers, we hope to keep the market in balance across the UK and Europe.

BROOK HOUSE HOPS SELLS DIRECT TO BREWERS

I’m really excited to announce that Brook House Hops is changing the way that hop farmers and brewers trade, by selling our hops online; making us the first direct to brewer hop grower in the UK!

Traditionally, hops are sold via merchants, however, we believe that this new direct approach will be well received by brewers who are looking for; greater transparency,  provenance, freshness and access to specialist varieties, at a time when there is a boom in craft beers.

Our 2017 hop crop will be available to purchase from April on The Lupulin Exchange, an online marketplace for hop buying; already popular in the United States. In addition, we plan to offer a sales portal through our website in the near future.

I really think that the increasing demand for craft beers requires a new approach to growing and sourcing hops. Brewers are looking for new flavours and better quality hops. We’re as meticulous about the quality of our hops as the finest craft brewers are about their beer. We all want to know the source of our fruit and vegetables why should hops be any different?

My aim is to grow the most aromatic and verdant hops in the UK as well as sourcing new and unusual varieties from the US. Much like grapes, it’s all about the terroir and there are some really interesting varieties grown in the US such as Citra and Amarillo that we want to introduce to the UK. I’ve been working closely with a group of American hop farmers and we now have a complete refrigerated supply chain to ensure that these hops get to brewers in the best possible shape!

If you are a brewery and are interested in buying your hops direct please find us now on the Lupulin Exchange.