Not only does he believe that hops are the rock stars of the beer world, but James Arkell, master of the Worshipful Company of Brewers and chairman of the 170-year-old family-owned Arkell’s brewery in Wiltshire, England, goes one step further, saying “they add romance to beer.”
While the acreage for hops grown in the United Kingdom has been in decline in recent years, he is confident for their future.
His optimism is fueled by the fact that although the United States craft beer sector accounts for only 1 percent of world beer production, it requires more than 10 percent of the world hop crop for it.
Good news indeed for Britain’s hop growers, as last year half their harvest was exported to the U.S. Arkell was in London to present the British Hop Awards 2014 top accolade to Jonathan Adams of Worcestershire-based farm S J Adams & Son.
Adams was named the overall winner for his sample of Goldings, chosen for its rounded complexity encompassing delicate floral and citrus overtones with slightly spicy and earthy notes in the background.
Adams says, “This is such a great achievement, winning the overall champion of 2014 hop competition. For the business it’s an opportunity to get our name recognized by the brewing industry, and hope sales for the future will look more promising.”
And he says there is a huge potential in the U.S. for British aroma hops, with Fuggle and Goldings leading the way.
“The characteristics of English hops and the uniqueness of aroma qualities make them appealing to the U.S.,” says Adams.
Dr. Peter Darby is one of the world’s top hop researchers and the public figurehead behind Wye Hops in Kent. He says, “British hops are to be recommended for giving drinkability rather than impact. All the flavor notes are there in the British varieties but in an understated British way compared to their U.S. counterparts. It is like the same tune being played by a string quartet compared to a brass band.”
Darby spends most of his time developing new hop varieties, and he thinks U.S. brewers should look out for Endeavour, Jester and Olicana, which are starting to be produced in larger quantities.
Darby says, “There are several selections going to farm trials in the next couple of years which will, without doubt, excite the U.S. market, but these, as yet, have no names to look out for.
“The British varieties Boadicea, First Gold, Pilgrim, Pioneer and Sovereign are, perhaps, not well known to many U.S. brewers despite having been on the market for a decade or so. All offer something different and interesting.”
Richard and Ali Capper run Stocks Farm in Herefordshire. Family-owned since 1962, with 100 acres of hops, it’s large for a British hop farm. Most are about 30-50 acres. But typical for U.K. hop growers, it is multi-enterprise. In addition to more than 100 acres of hops, they have 100 acres of apples and some 300,000 chickens.
Capper is an energetic promoter of hops for the British Hop Association (BHA), using the experience she gained working in London in marketing and advertising.
Capper says, “For American brewers, the latest trend is session beers. Beers that complement and sit beside IPAs, beers that you can drink more than one glass of.
“And to create great-tasting session beers, the hops used need to be delicate and yet complex. It’s the complexity that gives depth of flavor, and this delicate complexity is what British hops are famous for across the world of brewing.”
She says there is there is a science behind the delicate complexity.
“The British climate is maritime with even fairly even rainfall throughout the year. The majority of other hop-growing regions in the world are much hotter in the summer and much colder in the winter, and all require irrigation. It is the terroir created by our unique climate that produces hops with lower levels of myrcene than in the same hops grown elsewhere in the world. Lower levels of myrcene deliver a more delicate aroma and leave room for more of the other hop oils, which provides the complexity of flavor.
“So if a brewer wants complexity of flavour with delicate and broad aroma profiles for session beers, British hops are uniquely able to deliver what he or she needs.”
However, she admits that one of the disadvantages of Britain’s terroir is a lack of highly intense aroma hops.
“But as with all rules there are exceptions,” says Capper, “within the range Jester Admiral, Bramling Cross and Target all pack a hefty punch of aromas, and are all used for IPAs and dry hopping to great effect.”
Other characteristics British hops have that make them attractive to U.S. brewers are their competitive price and sustainability.
Nearly a quarter of the U.K. hop crop is grown as the hedge system (typically no taller than 10 feet), which has enormous environmental benefits—less spray usage, more natural beneficial predatory insects for pest control, and more biodiversity.
Also Boadicea remains the only variety in the world with natural resistance to the hop aphid and does not require spraying to control this pest.
Capper says British hops are the least irrigated in the world—they use the least amount of water to grow because the climate has a fairly even rainfall throughout the year.
“The majority of world hops would not grow without irrigation. In England our climate is perfect to grow hops in a very sustainable way—without irrigation. Most British hops are never irrigated, and even those on light sandy soils are only irrigated for a short periods in the growing season.
“Most British hops are in a delicate flavor range, and that makes them perfect for pale ales, good drinkable sessionable ales and of course stouts.”
And Capper says it would be great to see U.S. brewers using the provenance of British hops in their marketing of these beers, by using the BHA logo. “After all it is the unique British terroir that gives British hops their wonderful delicate and yet complex characteristics,” Capper says.
British hops on the up in the U.S.
First Gold: spicy, orange, marmalade aromas
Pilgrim: spicy pear and autumn fruit aromas
Sovereign: grassy, herbal, floral aromas
Target: pine, sage and citrus
Endeavour—a daughter of Cascade: citrus and summer fruit aromas
British hops to watch out for
Jester: tropical fruits, lychee, grapefruit
Minstrel: spicy, berries, orange citrus
Archer: floral, peach, stone fruit
Olicana: mango, grapefruit and passion fruit
Phoenix: molasses, chocolate and spice
Visit britishhops.org.uk for more on British hops.