Last Updated : 09/05/08
The Worldwide hop shortage – problem or opportunity?
here’s been much talk recently about the current worldwide hop shortage and there’s no doubt that last year’s poor harvest, especially in America, has resulted in high prices and shortfalls in supply to brewers all around the world, including here in the UK, as the Americans understandably keep most of their precious lupulin stash to themselves. Consequently, British brewers have been forced to change their recipes by adding less hops and/or searching out replacements from other sources which has led to some unexpected – and rather impressive – developments in our beer scene.
Just a couple of years ago most brewers and hop merchants would have stared at you blankly if you’d enquired about Marynka, Riwaka or Bobek, yet these hops are now firmly part of our more enterprising brewers’ canon as a result of them casting their nets further afield to make up the shortfall from America. These three – and many more – newly-discovered hops have produced some spectacular results in the right hands; Marynka is an intensely flavoured bittering hop from Poland with lots of character, distantly related to Saaz, and Bobek a so-called “Super Styrian”, a high-alpha strain of the famous Slovenian seedless Fuggle clone Styrian Golding, a long-time favourite of brewers wanting the sublime lemon jelly and mown grass aromas it gives albeit, in this supercharged form, with much more bitterness and concentration of flavour.
The biggest dark horse, however, has been New Zealand which has recently supplied some astounding hops and I can’t believe we didn’t know about them before the current world shortage. Admittedly, Brendan Dobbin used Sticklebract and Green Bullet way back in 1994 to sublime effect and the latter hop has now found it’s way onto quite a few of the merchant’s lists, but for me it’s the new arrivals which have really made their mark, namely Riwaka, Nelson Sauvin and Pacific Gem. The latter has been around for a few years being a high-alpha bittering hop without excessive personality, but the previous two new kids on the block really show us what New Zealand is capable of hop-wise.
Riwaka is an aroma hop descended from Saaz which has caused a sensation in the UK with a couple of micros making superb beer with it’s tangy, fruity bracts. The best I’ve had thus far has been – no real surprises here – Pictish brewery’s gorgeous hop-packed beast which filled the mouth with a huge fruity, tangy hoppiness akin to lime marmalade, albeit with various other citrus, grapefruit, peachy fruit and spicy notes swirling around in there too. Riwaka is surprisingly bitter for an aroma hop, of that there’s no doubt, but it’s hop character is it’s greatest attribute and it will, I feel, become a staple for brewers in the UK long after the present shortages of American varieties has eased owing to the gloriously pungent aroma and flavour it imparts which is very distinctive indeed.
As for Nelson Sauvin, what can I say except wow! This hop has a truly unique flavour which Abbeydale captured perfectly in their magnificent brew Deception which, when I tasted it in January 2008, stumped me totally… I wrote “elderflower and gooseberry hops, just like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc” without knowing of the hop’s existence, and it was few months later until I learned from the internet that this new hop was named thus as it gives spectacular gooseberry flavours reminiscent of the very wine I suggested! It truly is a stand-out hop and although I suspect it won’t attract many plaudits from the more conservative brewers owing to it’s pungency, I really hope the more enterprising micros stick with it as it has the capability to turn on it’s head most people’s perception of “hop taste”.
So, when the hop shortage eases and regular supplies resume from the states, will our micros still be crying out for Simcoe, Willamette, Tomahawk and Chinook? My reply would be yes, they are all outstanding, characterful hops, but I feel that the brewing world has changed forever due to this shortage, and in my opinion for the better. As much as I delight in the citrussy, pine-needle and rosepetal smack of American hops there is now something different available to allow brewers to cast even greater taste spells with hops, and the most interesting ones come from down under; it will be fascinating to see how these new varieties go down with brewers and drinkers in the long term, but right now they are causing considerable eyebrow-raising and positive comments from all across the board and it looks as though America won’t have it all their own way in the future hop market – which can only be a good thing for those of us who delight in the fruity, bitter and spicy diversity of the magical wolf bine…