Saturday, 18 May 2013

Replacing American hops

The idea of growing American-style hops isn't a new one. Attempts were already being made before WW II to breed varieties with the characteristics of American hops which could be grown in Britain.

As I've pointed out before, from the 1860's on, large quantities of American hops were used by British breweries.

"American hops also have a characteristic aroma while they possess a high preservative value and impart a rather stronger flavour to the beers. Very few of these hops are used in the mild flavoured beers brewed in the South of England, but most of the brewers in the North and in Scotland use a small proportion, the annual consumption in Great Britain being 20,000 to 30,000 cwt.

An endeavour has been made at Wye College under the direction of Prof. Salmon to produce new varieties of hops having the same characteristics of American hops which could be grown in this country, the idea being, that they could replace imported hops and give the English grower the benefit of the increased output. Up to the present over 500 of these new varieties have been grown up at East Malling Research Station and a large number have been subjected to brewing trials. From the results obtained at least five have been selected as suitable for replacing American hops. These have been named by Prof. Salmon as follows:— Early Promise (X.35), Brewers Favourite (O.P.21), Brewers Gold (C.9a), Bullion Hop (0063), and Fill Pocket (Z.62), and already several of these are being grown on a commercial scale. Growers, however, have been discouraged in their efforts to grow these hops partly by the very low values placed on them by the Hops Marketing Board and partly by the disinclination of the brewers to buy them."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 46, Issue 4, August 1940, page 276.
To contextualise that quantity of American hops, in 1940 265,512 cwts of hops were used in British brewing*. Which means about 10% of the total came from the USA. That's considerably less than in the 1860's:

British hop imports from USA
year cwt.
1864 47,625
1869 117,102
The Temperance Record, 1870, page 214.
Kentish Gazette - Tuesday 06 March 1866, page 3.

Though that can partly be accounted for by the large drop in the quantities of hops used in Britain. In 1914 it was 559,423 cwts*, more than double the amount used in 1940. The drop in beer gravity as a result of WW I greatly reduced the demand for hops.

Getting back to those new hop varieties, Brewers Gold and Bullion are still going strong. I never realised they were Britain's response to high-alpha acid American varieties. It sounds as if they had a difficult start in the UK. Mostly because of the price growers could get for them.

"Difficulties have also arisen in granting extra acreage for their growth and efforts made to straighten this out have only so far resulted in a deadlock. In view of the exceptionally high preservative value these new varieties possess, growers had anticipated that they would obtain a high valuation and were very discouraged with the low price they received.

. . . . .

The Research Fund Committee has appealed to the Brewers' Society to endeavour to secure a more favourable valuation, from the growers point of view, by the Hops Marketing Board, in order to encourage their growth, and as a result Mr. Toswill, who has had a lengthy experience of these hops, was invited by the Hop Valuation Committee this year to assist them in their valuation.
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 46, Issue 4, August 1940, page 276.
It's understandable that farmers would unwilling to plant these new varieties in large numbers if they didn't feel they would get the price they thought they deserved for them.

Various North American hops had been used as one of the parents for these new varieties:

"While some of these new varieties have been produced from an Oregon hop as parent, those giving the highest yields and the highest preservative value have been produced from a Manitoba or a Mexican hop as the parent. These hybrids possess a rather unusual aroma derived from their parent which has probably had something to do with their low valuation, and certainly appears to be the reason for the lack of enthusiasm on the part of brewers to try them. "Brewers Gold" and "Bullion Hop," both of which are now being planted on a small scale by a few growers, have had repeated brewing trials, and those have proved that the peculiar aroma does not come through into the beer, while the flavour is quite equal to that of choice American hops."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 46, Issue 4, August 1940, page 276.
In the 19th century American hops were often criticised for having an unusual aroma. Which is why they were mostly used as bittering hops and were often kept for a year or two before use. From this description, it sounds as id Brewers Gold and Bullion really were good substitutes for American hops.

The American habit of prizing hops for their alpha acid content is also nothing new:

"It is interesting to note that in Canada and the U.S.A., where the value of hops is assessed on their preservative value as well as flavour, growers are planting "Brewers Gold" as fast as they can obtain sets from this country. It is quite possible, therefore, that in the not far distant future we shall be importing those in place of the present type of Oregons, which would indeed be paradoxical. It has been a source of keen disappointment to Prof. Salmon, who has devoted 20 years in an endeavour to produce hops capable of replacing those imported from America which can be grown in this country, that when he has achieved his object he should see the prize slipping out of his grasp. It would indeed be fitting if this war was instrumental in enabling him to see his dream realised, which is an additional hop acreage of 3,000 acres planted with his hops."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 46, Issue 4, August 1940, page 277.

Did the Prof. Salmon's nightmare of Britain importing Brewers Gold and Bullion become reality? Probably.

* 1953 Brewers' Almanack 1955, page 62.


Ed said...

Bullion didn't prove popular in Britain and isn't grown here any more. I believe it was mostly bought by Guinness because they could get it cheap as no one else wanted it.

Brewer's Gold is in the ancestry of all modern high alpha varieties, including the ones grown in Britain.

Edd Draper said...

I wonder if the different aroma of American hops mentioned in the 19th Century was in any way related to the modern citrusy aroma developed in the Pacific Northwest? It certainly would have been a shock and an unusual thing to pop up in an old English ale. But I was under the impression the citrus aroma only hailed back to Cascade in the early '70's. Anyone know if it goes back further than that? I wonder if the unknown male parent of Cascade was one of the local wild varieties we've certainly has been done on other occasions. Perhaps that's the source of the citrusy wonderousness that makes American beers so distinct these days?

Stan Hieronymus said...

Edd Draper,

As Ed (Wray) pointed out Brewers Gold is in the ancestry of most high alpha varieties, and in fact in a majority of all bred varieties.

Citra - pretty much the poster child for "new world" hop aroma - has 19% Citra in its background. It also has 3% "unknown" that is likely of American origin.

Hops found growing in the wild in America (and their offspring that were transported to the southern hemisphere) contain compounds wild European hops do not.

They are found in varieties like Cascade, Citra, Simcoe, and Riwaka.