News / Economy

New ‘Wonder’ Variety Has South Africa Breweries Hopping

Hops are sorted at South African Breweries where a new experimental variety has been introduced for local craft brewers. (Courtesy South African Breweries)
Hops are sorted at South African Breweries where a new experimental variety has been introduced for local craft brewers. (Courtesy South African Breweries)
Darren Taylor
There’s increasing excitement in South Africa’s burgeoning craft beer sector about a new hop developed over the past 15 years by South African Breweries [SAB] on its farms in the Southern Cape region, and recently released to a select few microbrewers around the country.
 
“Because of this hop we’re able to make truly South African, full-flavored ale and can rightfully claim to have created a new style of beer. We can call it South African Ale. It’s going to happen soon. If I don’t do it someone else will,” said Moritz Kallmeyer, owner of Drayman’s Brewery in Pretoria and one of the country’s leading microbrewers.
 
Hops are the conical shaped female flowers of the humulus lupulus plant and grow on vines. They give beer its bitterness and flavor. Most of the world’s popular cultivars, such as the Saaz and the Cascade, are grown in Europe and the Yakima Valley in Washington state in the United States.
 
  • Dirk van Tonder of South Africa admires a freshly poured ‘African pale ale’ that he brewed using a hop so new it is only known as the J-17-63 hop. (VOA/Darren Taylor)
  • The small conical-shaped flower of the humulus lupulus plant is the hops that gives beer its bitterness and flavor (photo courtesy South African Breweries)
  • Moritz Kallmeyer (left) likes the balanced fruity flavor of beers brewed with South Africa's new J-17-63 hops that were available at a craft beer festival (photo courtesy Drayman’s Brewery)
  • A South African Brewery employee sorts mounds of hops in preparation for brewing some of the nation's popular standard labels. (photo courtesy South African Breweries)
  • South African brewer Dirk van Tonder tests South Africa’s newest hop with two of his signature beers, a German-style weiss, left, and a pale ale in the foreground (VOA/Darren Taylor).
  • South African Breweries generally uses less flavorful hops to make beers such as the popular Castle Lager (photo courtesy South African Breweries)
  • At South African Breweries facility in Alrode near Johannesburg, a packer prepares stacks of bags of hops for shipping. (VOA/Darren Taylor)
“This hop, because of its versatility, could be one of the best things ever to hit beer production in this country,” said Dirk van Tonder, owner of the Irish Ale House in Broederstroom in South Africa’s Northwest province. “SAB has come up with this aromatic hop and I’d say it’s almost as good as what we can get from the United States.”
 
He recently brewed what he calls an African Pale Ale [APA] using the SAB hop, as have other microbrewers in South Africa.
 
“Usually we have to use imported hops to make big bodied beers like pale ales. But with just this single hop it’s possible to make a wide variety of beers, depending on what the brewer wants to achieve,” said van Tonder. “With this hop, along with local barley, we’re able to produce a 100 percent African craft beer. The implications of this are enormous – not only for South Africa.”
 
Near-mythical, no-name hop
 
SAB’s chief brewer, Martin Brooks, based at the company’s Alrode brewery on the East Rand near Johannesburg, said: “This hop is so experimental that it doesn’t have a name yet. It’s in its infancy. We’ve only produced eight 25-kilo boxes so far. It isn’t even available to me and our New Product Development team.”
 
Listen to craft brewers on new South African hops
Listen to craft brewers on new South African hopsi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

The hop is presently known only by its serial number, J-17-63, but already has near-mythical status in South Africa’s tight-knit craft brewing circle. Word about it has also spread around the world, and Brooks said SAB is receiving requests for it – and two other hops SAB has named Southern Passion and Southern Aroma – from the United States.
 
“We do have a captive overseas market and South African hops are starting to gain favor. It’s an acknowledgement of work that’s been done over the past 20, 30 years on our hop farms,” said Brooks. “I do get a sense right now that South Africa, and the world, [are] ready for hops like the J-17-63. If one looks at the beer industry around the world right now, and not just the craft sector, many new mainstream beers tend to be differentiated more by specific hops.”
 
"Phenomenal"
 
SAB hop breeder Gerrie Britz began working on the J-17-63 in 1998. His colleague, Beverley-Anne Joseph, joined him in 2006 and took control of the project in 2010, when Britz retired.
 
“We recently started sending this hop to some microbrewers to see if they like it because it’s not what we normally grow and it’s certainly not what we usually use to brew with,” said Joseph. “The feedback that we’re getting back from them is just so phenomenal.”
 
She called the J-17-63 a “beautiful” hop.
 
“If you walk through the fields where we’re growing it you just smell passion fruit – actually a variety of fruit flavors, like gooseberry and blackcurrant aromas. If we kiln it we get that same aroma. It’s very different.”
 
According to Brooks, the hop contains an unusually high level of alpha acids – the principle components that make beer bitter.
 
“Typically a hop’s level of alpha [acid] will be around 10 to 11 percent. This J-17-63 is running at 14 percent, unusual for such an aromatic hop. That means it lends itself to high bitterness beers, like India Pale Ales. By comparison the Saaz hop used in the brewing of Hansa Pilsner [one of SAB’s top-selling beers] would be classed as an aromatic hop with three to four percent alpha bittering.”
 
The high bittering aspect, he said, supported by “very specific, distinct” aromatic properties make the J-17-63 hop “very special.”
 
Versatility
 
“Because it offers such high bitterness, but then also fruitiness and even a hint of chili, it means brewers are able to use it to make very different styles of beers, depending on how much of this hop they add, and when they add it to the mix, and so on. By toning down the hop inputs, you can also make a traditional lager with this hop,” Brooks said.
 
That’s exactly what Kallmeyer has done. “This hop is fantastic,” he said enthusiastically. “There’s never been anything like it in South Africa.”
 
He said the fruity aromas of the J-17-63 are “all nicely balanced,” unlike previous hops he’d received from SAB. “They leaned too strongly to litchi or to mango or to grapefruit, very single, dimensionally. This new hop covers a wide spectrum of fruit flavors. That makes it more suitable to brew a lager, because you don’t want a lager to have a massive flavor profile. The hop must be there, but it must do its job quietly.”
 
But as a further indication of the hop’s versatility, said Kallmeyer, he’s also using the J-17-63 to make English-style bitter ale, and he’s certain it could be used to make stout.
 
Van Tonder agreed that the new hop’s strength is its “extreme versatility.”
 
“Because it has such huge aromatic and bittering qualities, we can make single hop beers without having to use different hops for aroma, and different hops to make beers bitter. It also means we can use less imported hops. This is all much more cost effective.”
 
He added: “The new SAB hop does have quite a sharp aftertaste in comparison to the American hops. But I think this should be maintained because that’s what makes it unique and it could stamp a signature on South African beer.”
 
‘Flourishing’ market
 
Joseph and Brooks said giving experimental hops to craft brewers to test is part of SAB’s commitment to assist independent brewers in South Africa.
 
“The microbrewers offer us a perfect platform. They can make small batches of beer very fast and give us quick feedback. That enables me to see if a hop, such as the J-17-63, has long-term potential or not. From what we’re hearing, it has immense potential,” said Joseph.
 
“Having a flourishing craft beer market is obviously good for the microbrewers but it also benefits SAB because it creates excitement in the beer category and ultimately means more South Africans drinking beer,” Brooks said.
 
Van Tonder added: “The hops that SAB grow are basically for use in their commercial, easy-drinking beers. They are standard hops, not big on taste and aroma. That’s why they’ve so far never branched out into producing a specialist, craft-type beer. I believe this new hop could change this situation.”
 
Brooks did not rule out an entrance by SAB into South Africa’s craft beer sector but said “at this stage it isn’t in our short-term plans.”
 
According to SAB research, sales of craft beer are currently less than one percent of the country’s total annual beer output. But a thirst for the artisanal products is growing, especially among more affluent consumers.
 
“We’re watching this situation. We’d be stupid not to,” said Brooks.
 
Hop skeptic
 
Pioneer craft beer brewer Steve Gilroy, owner of the Gilroy Brewery in Muldersdrift, near Johannesburg, called for “healthy skepticism” when considering the attributes of the J-17-63.
 
“This hop is, through word of mouth, developing legendary characteristics that in reality will never, ever come to fruition,” Gilroy maintained. “I don’t believe there’s a miracle hop. I don’t believe there ever will be. Is there such a thing as a truly versatile hop? I’d say no. I don’t believe you can make so many diverse beers of magnificently different flavors using one hop. It’s not possible .… There’s no such thing as an apple-banana-orange flavored hop; it doesn’t exist.”
 
Then Gilroy smiled and said: “Look, I’m a Luddite. I stick with what I know makes good beer. And if I want to make English ale, I use English barley and grain and Kentish hops. If I want to make German lager, I use German hops.”
 
If brewers are making a wide range of beer styles using the J-17-63, said Gilroy, it isn’t because the hop is “incredibly versatile” but because the brewers are skillful.
 
“This hop, no matter how wondrous it is, can’t make beer. Brewers make beer. So even if this new hop is as good as people say it is - if the brewer using it isn’t skilled he or she is still going to make bad beer.”
 
Kallmeyer, though, is adamant: “I believe this hop will make a name for us in the world; it’ll give a signature to South African craft beer that sets it apart from the rest of the world.”
 
Andre de Beer, of the Cockpit Brewery in Cullinan, in Gauteng province, is also a fervent fan of the new hop, saying that in the hands of a skilled brewer, it’s a “potent tool.”
 
“The challenge is going to be keeping it alive,” he said. “The craft beer industry in South Africa is very small and if SAB decides not to make beer with this hop then I doubt whether SAB is going to continue growing it. I’m concerned because this hop offers intense flavor, and SAB doesn’t use such flavorful hops in its beers.”
 
Brooks responded, “As long as there’s a demand from the local microbrewers we will keep our experimental cultivars going from year to year. Based on the demand we will look at increasing production to meet that demand going forward. Nothing would give us greater pride than for the South African craft beer industry to be based on locally developed, well-differentiated hops.”

You May Like

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Roeks from: Maanhaarrand
November 21, 2013 2:38 AM
Used the hop, perhaps different not phenomenal.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7492
JPY
USD
102.27
GBP
USD
0.5960
CAD
USD
1.0950
INR
USD
61.300

Rates may not be current.