Wednesday, 24 February 2016

New hop varieties

Every beer geeks favourite subject: new hop varieties. But to make it even more exciting I'm going to look at new hop varieties from 1955. Doing something
old and calling it new counts as innovative remember!

A hop variety bred as a Fuggle replacement
FC Thompson of Wye College gave a report* of the work of the hop breeding programme initiated by Professor Salmon. It is, as I'm sure you'll be expecting, full of fascinating facts and even has relevance to contemporary rare and sought after hops.

He points out that it can take ten years for a new variety to move from the seedling stage to commercial farm trials, so as Salmon's breeding programme started in 1906 it's hardly surprising that:
"Up to and even after the 1914-1918 war, varieties such as Bate's Brewer, Henhams, Meophams, Colgates, Prolific and Tolhurst come on to the market"
I believe most of these varieites are still in the national hop culture collection, though I know Bate's Brewer has gone. But suspect there aren't many that have been lucky enough to drink beer made with any of them.

As brewers became more critical and more defined in what they wanted these plants were eliminated from the market. As to the new varieties:
"... it is clear that for a new variety of hop to succeed it must meet some particularly need of the industry which is not already fulfilled by existing varieties."
Brewing trials were carried out at a number of large breweries and it was concluded that "many varieties showed considerable promise". However "Salmon referred to the development of a 'market resistance' to the New Varieties".

After 1930 they seemed to become more accepted and "in particular J.S. Ford and his colleagues at Messrs. William Younger's brewery, Edinburgh, became enthusiastic supporters" and new varieties began to be grown on a commercial scale. The expansion was slow though, as the Hop Marketing Board, which determined the price of hops, gave new varieties a low valuation.

It was not until 1941 that things began to change, and the war time restriction of imports may well have played a role. Further trials were carried out during the war and by 1947 there had been trials at over 70 breweries, once again with generally favourable results.

In 1944 the Association of Growers of the new Varieties of Hops was formed and demand for them was estimated at 6,000 cwt (300 metric tonnes), though only 1,500 cwt were available. The next important step was the formation of the New Varieties Committee of the Hops Marketing Board in 1948, and a new grading and valuation scheme was adopted in 1949, though at the time the prices for new varieties were not great.

By 1955 though Northern Brewer and John Ford had been upgraded to the Golding class, which really shows how Golding had stopped referring to a specific hop variety and was used as a quality (and price) indicator. There was a problem by this point that the supply of new varieties was not in balance with the demand. There was not enough production of "American substitute hops, Brewer's Gold and Bullion" or "high-resin hops of the Golding type, i.e. Northern Brewer, John Ford and, to a lesser extent Pride of Kent". Wilt-tolerant varieties, particularly OR55, were however very much over supplied .

Fuggles were the predominant variety at the time, as this much quoted statistic shows:
"Of the existing hop acreage in the country 75% is taken up by the Fuggle Variety, some 20% by Goldings and Golding Varieties and the remainder by New Varieties."
The author goes on to say why the Fuggle was so predominant:
"The Fuggle in contrast to the Goldings is a relatively easy hop to grow and will flourish on almost any soil that will produce reasonable arable crops. In the writers view this has been an important factor in establishing the dominance of the Fuggle on the hop market ..."
As the hop growers will have got a higher price for growing Goldings I've long suspected that so much acreage was given over to Fuggles because they were easier to grow.

Many of the wilt-tolerant varieties from over 60 years ago have done surprisingly well. Northern Brewer continues to be grown to this day, though John Ford lost out to it as it was more susceptible to downy mildew. Pride of Kent is no longer grown but it is the mother of Pride of Ringwood. OT48, or Bramling Cross, is also still in cultivation, as is 1147. The latter was a hop produced on that auspicious year by E.A. White, the previous owner of Whitbread's hop farm at Beltring in Kent. In 1955 it was not named but was classed as a Golding Variety along with Cobbs and Tutshams, and is now known as Whitbread Golding Variety. OR 55 (Keyworth's Midseason) was grown on a large scale but was not popular with brewers so went out of production. It has however recently been revived, as has OJ47 (Keyworth's Early). Sunshine apparently had a pleasant aroma but seems to have come and gone; but Early Choice was being grown at the time and is still around, now sold as Goldings, continuing the tradition of selling as Goldings hops that aren't really.

Other seedlings were being trialled: C2, D1, D3 and J2. The last had me reaching for my copy of Burgess' "Hops" as I had a suspicion it's another one Charles Faram have revived. And sure enough Burgess describes J2 under the name of Janus. 
  
The paper concludes that the main focus of Wye hop breeders at the time was on producing wilt resistant varieties that were acceptable to brewers as well as being good growers hops.
"Their work would be greatly helped if brewers could define, in some measure, what they require in a hop. For example, are such factors as high preservative value and delicate aroma still considered to be as important as they were in the past? Or is the answer simply that a wilt-tolerant Fuggle type of hop is all that is required?"
Over 60 years on the wilt-tolerant Fuggle is I suspect something like the second coming, not here yet but still imminent. As to delicate aroma, I think it's fair to say that currently fashion has swung the other way.















* An Appraisal of the  New (Wye) Varieties of Hops and Their Place and Future in Brewing. Journal of the Institute of Brewing. p210-216, 1955.

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