New Zealand, although far from the podium in hop production, is famous for its hops. It is often said that no hops smell like those coming from picturesque New Zealand islands. What is the reason for their huge success and recognition among both brewers and beer lovers?
A bit of history
Hops in New Zealand appeared in 19th century together with European and American settlers because these islands have no native varieties. New Zealand hops that we know today are mostly hybrids of those bred earlier on European and American lands.
The first varieties grown by settlers were Fuggle, Golding and Spalt. All three were quickly acclimatized in the new areas.
However, the start of World War I forced farmers to find a variety that was more economical for their trade. As a result, the California Cluster hop was chosen, the New Zealand version of which was called Cali. This one acclimated just as quickly and soon became the most common variety in New Zealand. Unfortunately the monopoly of one variety turned out to be fatal, because Cali was susceptible to diseases, namely to black rot of roots. By 1940, after several years of trying to eradicate it, the disease had spread to such an extent that it destroyed entire crops. This forced farmers to find a new, more resistant variety. It was decided to cross Cali hops with several other hops - the result was three new varieties - First Choice, Smooth Cone and Calicross.
New Zealand hops today
Further development and the desire to refine the hops into more intense and diverse flavors led the local market to the state we see today. At this point, New Zealand hops are some of the most highly regarded in the brewing world, and brewers around the world have gained access to them relatively recently.
New Zealand now has an extensive growing region, with many varieties, but the largest number of farms are in the Nelson region, on the North Island.
They grow closer to the equator than the largest hop-growing regions in the northern hemisphere - it's about 41-42° south, where there is a temperate coastal climate.
The capital of the Nelson region is the town bearing the same name. Interestingly, the conditions that prevail in that area are also ideal for the growth of Sauvignon Blanc grapes. It is from the combination of these words that the most popular New Zealand hop - Nelson Sauvin - got its name.
In comparison with such a hop giant as the United States of America, New Zealand harvests relatively few tons of fresh hops annually. The result of the former is about 39 500 tons per year. In contrast, New Zealand harvests about 1,500 tons.
Why are these hops so highly regarded in the world?
New Zealand's high ranking in world hop sales is due primarily to their unique aromatic properties - no hops harvested in any other part of the world have such rich notes. In addition, each of the new varieties grown is incredibly fresh and impossible to imitate elsewhere in the world. Citrus and grassy notes, along with lingering aromas of fresh tropical fruit, characterize most of the varieties coming out of this island nation.
For example - Doug Donelan, the former CEO of NZ Hops in one of his interviews stated that the American Cascade hop, which was supposed to be equivalent to its original version, was so different from the American version that they named it "Taiheke" so that customers who purchased this hop would not think they were ordering the same variety offered by American farms.
What conditions do New Zealand hops grow up in?
One of the most important factors that give New Zealand hops their characteristics is, of course, the climatic conditions there. To get the best yields, hops there require 15 hours of sunshine a day for about 120 days - no frosts. Of course these are usually met.
Motueka hops, often called Saaz B, are an example of how strongly the weather of the region in which they grow affects the development of hops. It is a hybrid of the Czech Saaz hops.
The most popular varieties of New Zealand hops
There are three basic divisions of hops: aroma hops, bittering hops and all-purpose hops.
Aroma hops are those that are characterized by high aroma properties. They have alpha acids which give bitterness to the finished beer but these, at least in theory, play second fiddle.
Bitter - in their case the main role is played by the amount of alpha acids which give the finished beer its bitterness. This does not mean, however, that they have no aromas. Sometimes their base is very rich.
Universal - these are the hops which have both a wide range of aromas and a large amount of alpha acids in them, thanks to which we can use them both for aroma hopping and for hopping with alpha acids.
However, which hops have which properties should depend on individual taste, there are many hops which in theory are intended for bitterness but could easily be used for aroma.
Nelson Sauvin (universal) - is described by brewers as "breathtaking". Due to the complexity of its oils and the fruity aroma it produces, it is one of the most popular hops grown in the Nelson area, as well as throughout New Zealand. Strong notes of white grapes and sweet tropical fruits are noticeable. Most often used for Pale Ale type beers with a strong fruity aroma. Alpha-acids 10-15%.
Nectaron (aromatic) - one of the newest cultivated hop varieties originating from the New Zealand islands, perfected over 17 years. It is the older sister of Waimea hops. It exudes aromas of pineapple, peach, grapefruit and passion fruit. Great for any beer with a distinctly fruity aroma. Alpha-acids 10-15%.
Waimea (universal) - Beers hopped with Waimea for aroma are often described as extremely rich in tropical fruit flavors. Perceptible notes of kiwi, mango, lime. Alpha-acids 10-15%.
Pacific Gem (bitter) - features an interesting fruity aroma, mainly berry notes. Usually added as the first hop to bring a balanced bitterness. Alpha-acids 10-15%.
Pacifica (universal) - citrusy aromas, but slightly different than American varieties. Notes of tropical fruit, especially orange. Alpha-acids 5-10%.
Moutere (universal) - hops with high levels of alpha acids and distinctive aromas of tropical fruit, grapefruit and passion fruit. Low levels of cohumulone (check out what cohumulone is) provide a soft hop bitterness that melts in the mouth. The high oil content and resinous character is best seen in classic beer styles including Lagers, Pale Ale and stronger IPAs or NEIPAs. Alpha Acids 15-20%.
Motueka (aromatic) - noticeable notes of lime, lemon. Plus a rich tropical fruit background and balanced bitterness. Used for the production of top fermentation beers. Alpha-acids 5-10%.
Kohatu (aromatic) - perceptible floral and resin notes. In addition, tropical fruit aromas. Alpha-acids 5-10%.
Wai-iti (aromatic) - citrus aroma: lime, lemon, lemongrass, tangerine. Alpha-acids 1-5%.
Pacific Jade (universal) - Imparts a distinct but not aggressive bitterness. Especially valued for its original aromatic properties. Intense citrus aroma with a slightly herbal background and a hint of freshly crushed black pepper. It is used in many styles, for example Pale Ale, India Pale Ale , but also in light Belgian beers - Witbier, Blond Ale, Saison. Alpha-acids 10-15%.
Rakau (universal) - flavor described as: tropical fruit, passion fruit, peach. Alpha-acids 5-10%
New Zealand hops are referred to as 'new world' hops. It is worth seeing for yourself why they entered the world of brewing with a bang and are still - despite a small share in the global market - among the most desired hops.