HortResearch of New Zealand is working to develop a hybrid hop that, according to hop breeder Ron Beatson, is not just another ‘High Alpha’ hop, which is where most global hop development has previously been focused. Instead Dr. Beatson is “taking the established New Zealand hybrids and crossing them with the traditional European aroma varieties, the latter of which have been used in brewing for well over 100 years. The result is a hybrid plant well adapted to New Zealand growing conditions that produces hops with unique flavour profiles perfectly suited to brewing ‘craft’ beers.” Many such aroma hybrids have now been produced.
“The idea was that fewer hops could be used to achieve the same bitter taste, making brewing more cost efficient. But consumers are now demanding more flavour in their beer and are prepared to pay a premium for that, so high aroma hops are back in vogue.”
Armed with funding from the grower-based industry body New Zealand Hops Ltd and the Foundation for Research Science and Technology, as well as support from New Zealand’s major brewing companies Lion Breweries Ltd and DB Breweries Ltd, HortResearch is now further developing its plant-breeding strategies.
An example of the novel flavours possible from such breeding is the HortResearch-bred Nelson Sauvin variety, which imparts distinct grape flavours to beer.
Most organic hops used today come from New Zealand because the country “is free from many of the pests and diseases which plague hop crops around the world, and this, combined with [their] clean, green image and innovative hop varieties make us an attractive option for brewing companies looking to source high-quality raw materials for brewing.”
Brewers are also seeking to explore further potential health benefits beer may offer consumers. Hops contain a number of unique polyphenols which have been associated with potential antioxidant benefits for humans. Clinical trials in the US and Europe are currently examining their effect on mitigating challenges to human health such as cancer, arteriosclerosis, bone deterioration, obesity, and diabetes to name a few.
At present many of these beneficial compounds are not harnessed in sufficient quantities by traditional brewing methods. Dr Beatson says the industry is now seeking ways to include greater levels of polyphenols in beer, and HortResearch is seeking to breed hops with increased polyphenol content.