Breeding Hops with Character

Jul 13, 2017
HPA has a long history of breeding hops with character. Through our breeding program, we’re constantly investing in research to find new cultivars that can be grown, harvested and processed in Australia to produce top quality hops.

This research associated with the program allows us to understand the inheritance, molecular genetics, physiology and chemistry of important hop traits.

Why do we do what we do?

The short version – we dedicate our time to finding new ways of bringing unique flavours to quality beers in Australia and around the world, directly from farmer to brewer. Which in the long run, isn’t a short process by any means.

On average, it takes ten to fifteen years to develop a new hop variety, and then it has to pass the market test – thus the limited number of varieties seen in market today. Due to our increasing stringency in selection over the years, we’ve been able to steadily increase the success of varieties commercialised at the end of each cycle. However, there’s never a guarantee that each will be successful, which is why we put such value on fundamental screening stages.

Seedling Stage

Year One: We create around 30 crosses with the pollen from our known males to the selected females. We use pollination bags to ensure the crosses are true to type and not contaminated with open air pollination. After cone formation, we collect the seed.

The next step involves germinating and sowing the seeds in August. Eventually the resulting seedlings are planted into field trials. Each year, around 2,000 unique seedlings survive after the first season.

Year Two: The field trials are intensively measured and evaluated for plant architecture, disease resistance, vigor, flowering, yield potential and chemistry.

Upon the conclusion of the year, the well performing plants are selected and the unsatisfactory plants are destroyed.

Selection Stage

Years Three & Four: After the seedling stages of the selection process, the surviving plants are re-planted into observation blocks. On average, we’ll deploy two plants each of around 100 unique genotypes into a block, per year. Like the above stages, these plants are tested on physical and chemical quality parameters.

Years Five, Six, Seven & Eight: In this stage, we narrow down the selection to just 20-30 genotypes. We replicate trials consisting of groupings of ~six genotypes with similar horticultural requirements. This allows more accurate screening of parameters including yield, harvest quality and hop acid chemistry. Brewing performance and sensory screening may take place during these years for the leading candidates.

Years Nine, Ten, Eleven & Twelve: Into the pointy end of the selection process. The remaining genotypes are expanded into larger test plots, of 20+ plants, for agronomic, yield and harvest testing. Training trials can be initiated and more accurate assessments of horticultural requirements required to drive quality parameters are undertaken. Further sensory investigations are undertaken in a broad range of beer settings, with specific beer styles selected where our understanding leads us to believe there is a natural fit.

Pre-commercial Stage

Years Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen & Sixteen: Every few years an emerging cultivar is of such high quality that it progresses into our final stage before commercialisation.

The leading cultivars from across the entire program, including several breeding cycles, are collated in the showcase blocks. These represent the most likely outcomes to be commercialised in the near term. Experiencing these new varieties is always a highlight of harvest time tours by our brewing partners.

Reaching the final stage, it is now time to decide which cultivar is to be commercialised!

So, what is the result?

From all this work over the decades, HPA currently has eight varieties in the showcase blocks on each farm. These varieties increase our knowledge and industry leadership, as we continue to present choice and variety to brewers in flavour and aroma potential. The next variety to be commercialised by HPA is already present among these genotypes.

The pressures of commercialisation has changed. Rapid commercialisation can come with increased risk of failure at considerable expense. For HPA, risk mitigation through extensive testing in the breeding program helps to ensure that each cultivar entering the market is well vetted for sensory quality and agronomic performance. This is the foundation on which HPA has built such a proud and successful history of hop development and supply to the industry.

What this system achieves for HPA, is that for the tens of thousands of seedlings generated, we are constantly building diversity and selecting for brewing success. We’re excited to see future results of our program, and we’re sure you are too!

In the chart below, the number of genotypes from a given cross year is shown. This is a snapshot of the year 9-11 stage of the cycle. The numbers of unique genotypes decreases over time as they actively deselected from the program. Eventually, for example only one genotype remains – Topaz, crossed in 1985, and Galaxy 1994 are two examples. Overall the number of cultivars being screened has decreased over the period shown. This is a deliberate strategy, aimed at understanding horticultural requirements of the varieties in development, within the selection process. Our understanding of our parental collection has allowed us to target more effectively varieties with horticultural parameters and diversity of flavour outcomes.


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