HPA recognise the important role that hop selections play in the beer industry. We understand flavour profile can differ from season-to-season and lot-by-lot. For this reason, brewers who visit US hop farms are often invited to select the specific bale lots they want to purchase and ultimately use in the brewery. Their decision to offer selections is largely driven by variable quality outcomes due to a large number of independent growers who are spread across diverse geography all contributing to the yield of a single hop variety. You can view a video of sensory experts conducting our crop 2021 US hop selections below as well as listen to our Head of Sales & Marketing Owen Johnston share his thoughts on this topic with Matt Kirkegaard from Brews News here, or you can just keep reading.
You know how some people say making beer is easy because there are only four key ingredients? Well we all know there are a number of things a brewer can do differently to optimise the process specific to their brewery setup, and create a different outcome to their fellow brewers. Growing hops is no different. There are a number of things a grower can do differently to optimise the process specific to their farm. This can lead to significant variability in quality outcomes because of differences in fundamental decisions around fertiliser and irrigation practices, as well as secondary matters such as winter ground cover cropping, weed control, soil compaction, terrain and terroir.
As Oceania’s regional representative of the global BarthHaas group, we are responsible for establishing effective procurement procedures and coordinating a supply chain that will deliver international hops with consistent quality outcomes for our brewing customers. Our role within the global network, the close relationships we hold, and the combined purchasing strength of our contracted brewing customers afford us priority at the international selection tables. This ensures we are presented with quality hops to select from that are supported by significant quantities. To further optimise the outcomes of this process we encourage our brewing customers to regularly communicate which variables they value most and what analytical ranges they want to see in the end product. This is particularly important, since the hops presented at selections are just a small portion of the total crop. Joining us at the international selections tables is an opportunity we offer some of our brewing customers each year to better understand the process, have input into the selected batches and know who else had input into the selected batches, while still being able to hold us accountable for the quality of the end product.
Our involvement in international hop selections may seem contradictory to our decision not to offer Aussie hop selections. On the contrary, we are in a unique situation compared to the international growing regions that are experiencing increasing diversity. HPA are a relatively small, independent, vertically integrated business that has sole custody of our proprietary hops across all stages of the hop production process, from cultivation and growing all the way through to packaging and sales. They are cultivated specifically for our Australian growing regions that produce just 1% of hops around the world. Our farming practices are governed by a no-nonsense quality management system that adheres to the internationally recognised ISO 9001 and HACCP certifications, which ensures best practice and procedural uniformity across both growing regions. The timing of our post-harvest production process also has a particularly significant impact on quality outcomes. Fortunately, our business model and substantial infrastructure capabilities currently allow us to ensure the entire crop is packaged within eight weeks of finishing harvest.
An intimate understanding of our proprietary hops and an exceptional level of quality control over the hops from bine to brewery is our most important point of difference compared to other businesses in growing regions that choose to offer selections. This doesn’t mean we don’t experience some variability in quality outcomes, but we can minimise these variabilities by being in full control of the whole crop from the very beginning to the very end. As a result, instead of offering selections we have made it our mission to deliver the highest possible quality outcomes with the lowest possible flavour variability through blending. This means we distribute equitable hops to all of our brewing customers. Some might consider this approach egalitarian, but it’s our objective to manage our proprietary hops in a way that will deliver the best long-term outcomes and allow brewers to trust their performance in beer.
We undertand our approach to selections does not embrace the nuances of a given hop variety’s flavour profile, which can really excite some brewers. But we also know the majority of our brewing customers would admit they are under a lot of commercial pressure to make consistent beer. No matter how much we might want to celebrate choice and diversity in beer, there is a consumer confidence piece we need to consider. When a beer drinker falls in love with one of our brewing customers beers, whether it be on tap at the pub down the road or off the shelf from their local bottle shop, it’s important that beer tastes the same next time they drink it. This consistency encourages a level of brand loyalty that forms the foundation for future growth. We see it as our role to help our brewing customers achieve future growth by presenting consistent, high quality hops and giving them one less production challenge to face.
All current and potential brewing customers are encouraged to visit our farms during harvest so they can meet our team, better understand our production process, observe our commitment to consistent flavour profiles through quality management, and come to appreciate the connection between brewers and hop growers who really are mutually dependent on one another.