Melbourne-based ingredients distributor Bintani is exploring a new way for brewers to select hops as it looks to meet the ever more complex demands of Australia’s brewers.
The business is running a trial through which they hope hops will eventually be offered by their growing location as well as at what stage of the harvest window they were picked.
Virgil Gamache Farms’ Amarillo will be the first hop to be trialed with the new choices.
Justin Fox, head of sales, products and development at Bintani said the Australian market had reached the point where this level of granularity was possible.
“You need a certain volume to be able to select your hops in this way,” he said.
“We’ve been protected in Australia as the weight of Bintani and other hop distributors means that, as an industry, we get some priority at the selection tables and are able to secure hops picked at the optimal time. Customers reap the benefit of the communal nature of this purchasing strength.”
He explained that the standard flavour profile of Amarillo is created by blending hops harvested at different times of the picking window.
“As a hop variety increases in popularity, it presents challenges to growers to maintain the flavour profile expected by brewers. This is typically maintained through blending,” he explained.
“You mix a little of the start, little of the end – the skill of processing is to mix hops picked at different times together to create the same flavour profile.
“The flavour profiles of Amarillo on the edges of the picking windows have always interested brewers in the US.”
Diversifying the offering
Fox said some brewers have fallen in love with early or late picked hops at selections and as a result have a very different “typical” Amarillo profile that they look for.
“Diversifying our offering is essentially a step in showcasing the different aromatics Amarillo can deliver to Australian brewers.”
As hop flavour expert, Dr Tom Shellhammer told Radio Brews News recently, the stage at which hops are harvested impacts upon their flavour profile. Giving brewers access to these is a logical move, allowing them to choose the profile they want.
Fox said that there are two schools of thought on the benefits of both methods, the blending and “purist” route of using hops picked at just one time and from one region.
“Some think it’s more challenging to blend, in the same way a whisky distiller blends different barrels of whisky,” he said.
“It’s a difficult blending exercise to create that distinct flavour profile of Amarillo from a vast array of growing regions and harvest times.
“However flip that, and by doing that you’re essentially muting some of the expressions that come and go in that picking window.
“With Amarillo, you get passionfruit early, which develops into citrus notes, and then grapefruit, then becomes more dank and herbal all the way round to the onion and garlic notes that develop late.
“If you put them altogether you’ll have a balanced profile, but you’ll be dulling the key grapefruit, grassy and citrus notes.”
He said that Amarillo is seen as a hop that delivers a certain flavour profile, but that by deconstructing and analysing hops down to aspects of their terroir, even greater control over the flavours of beer can be achieved.
This year, a Washington-grown middle-pick Amarillo is joined by a tropical expression Amarillo which is a combination of an early pick Idaho-grown and a middle pick from Washington, as well as a German Amarillo which is 100% grown in Germany and processed on a T-45 plant.
“As the Amarillo growing regions have developed, we have seen all these crazy nuances through different farms and picking windows at selections. Instead of balancing that out so we get all the same thing, the thought is to pass that back to the brewer,” Fox said.
“Brewers, they’re doing it anyway. As they are sipping it, they wanted more of this flavour on the front, more of this on the back. They’re looking for ways to tweak beers. Most brewers will never be happy,” he said.
Fox explained that the more than 100 hop varieties available are tools at the disposal of brewers, and within those varieties there are even greater nuances which will help brewers create their desired flavours.
“We’re giving the brewers finer control,” Fox said.
“What we’re doing is breaking it down into finer detail and in a more deconstructed way so these hops can be used to achieve the flavours they are really after.”
The desire for more complexity in hop flavour profiles has been fuelled by demand from Australian brewers themselves.
“The desire to have something different is stronger than it’s ever been,” he said.
“Previously, if you had a good recipe and you liked it you’d never want to change it. That’s flipped, and now there’s a thirst for people to have new, fresh and different tastes. To the point where a core range beer may be something that continually moves, such as a single hop or seasonal IPA.
“There’s also a volume piece driving it. To isolate and put a batch through a pelletiser which takes five tonnes, you have to be confident that the flavour profile will translate successfully into beer, and that the interest in those flavours is strong in the market.
“It has to coincide with what the industry is ready for, the volumes in Australia now work for us to play in this space,” he said.
Trying something new
In addition to demand for more and stronger flavours, Fox said there was impetus on the part of hop growers to look in ever-greater detail at flavour profiles.
“There’s more technical, analytical work being done with the hop growers. Sensory panels are becoming stronger and hop breeding programmes are getting better at isolating different aromas,” he said.
“The growers and breeders are fully aware of the desire for innovation in flavour, and working harder than ever to achieve it.
“Once we would have said a hop was just fruity, now we pay a lot more attention.
“We don’t look for something we know, we look for something we don’t know, we want to experience something new and that drives us to challenge hop growers and breeders to create new experimental hops.”
He said the change was part of a move away from trying to replicate European hops, and look more into the influence of terroir.
“Instead of trying to replicate what exists in one region, we’re looking at regional differences.
“Wine makers might say we’re a bit behind, but in the craft beer revolution, this is the part of the journey that we’re up to – looking at the influence of terroir, and how we communicate that with the drinker.”
Fox said that the “thirst” for the new and different when it came to beer was not likely to stop anytime soon.
“In all aspects of life, people are wanting new experiences. If there are new flavours, as long as brewers are able to integrate them well into a beer there will be interest. The most important thing in beer, I think, is balance.
“As long as people are still able to get that balance, there will always be a thirst for flavours that people haven’t seen before.”