Donelan told Radio Brews News that seven new growers have joined the co-operative in the last 12 to 18 months, carrying on the region’s strong tradition in hop growing.
“They’ve been growing hops here for 160 years and most of the families that operate the existing farms – and even people who are coming into it – have come from hop growing backgrounds, so it’s generational,” he said.
“There’s lots of young people taking over the farms whose grandparents and great grandparents farmed the same land and grew hops.
“We’ve also had a lot of investment from families and people in other industries who have been interested in getting into hop growing,” said Donelan.
NZ Hops’ production volume for 2017 totalled 760,529 kilograms, according to its Harvest Report. Yield performance in all but a few varieties was below average, attributable to unfavourable weather conditions.
“A lot of people are surprised to find out that we are as small as we are, because we have a certain ubiquity internationally in the industry, so when people see our hops turning up in all sorts of far flung parts of the world they think it’s interesting that we could actually achieve to get them there,” Donelan said.
New hop varieties
The mix of cultivars grown by members of NZ Hops comprises 17 unique New Zealand varieties as well as six northern types.
Donelan said the co-operative continues to work on developing new varieties, with two promising cultivars now in commercial growing plots after having been selected through research brewing trials.
“One of them in particular is something that we’re fairly confident is going to have a wide appeal, it’s got a lot of big fruity punchy notes about it, so we think it will be typically what you would expect to see in an IPA,” he said.
“We’ve got another one which is little more subtle, it’s got German background… with a bit of a New Zealand twist to it, that in brewing trials has done very well.
“We’ve always got our eye out for new things that are coming through the program and we’ve got a little microbrewery or pilot plant that we put anything of interest through and just see what that turns up.
“If we think that we might have something which is a little bit special, we’ll then grow some plants and give them to some brewers to have a bit of a play with and see what they come back with.
“Hop breeding can take up to 14 years. We fast-tracked a variety recently which we put through in eight. You’ve got to have a lot of good material to work from and occasionally you’ve got to have a bit of luck,” said Donelan.
The full NZ Hops harvest report is available here.