[avatar user=”Vera Alves” size=”thumbnail” link=”file”]By Vera Alves[/avatar]

Otago is known for its sprawling vineyards and big stonefruit orchards but if James Hay has anything to do with it, it’ll soon be known for growing great New Zealand hops too.

A team of about 30 volunteers spent a day harvesting the first hop trial in Maungawera Valley, in Wānaka. The hops went straight into the kettle the following day for b.effect’s first fresh hop beers made with locally grown hops.

Brewery founder James Hay says he never thought about the idea of having locally grown hops until his phone rang one day. On the other side, Jake Ruddenklau told him about a hop trial that Hop Revolution had planted on a 1000sqm plot on his family farm in the Maungawera Valley.

The hops had been planted three years’ earlier to check how feasible it’d be to grow hops in the South, away from the Nelson sunshine. Ruddenklau asked Hay if he wanted to use the crop for beer.

The trial plot includes about 300 plants of six hop varieties: Riwaka, Motueka, Nelson Sauvin, Kohatu, Wai-iti and Waimea. For proprietary reasons, b.effect could only use the first three.

In the end, the brewery’s first annual Hoppin’ Harvest yielded about 120kg of fresh hops. About half of those were Motueka, while Riwaka was the smallest yield of the three. The 120kg, harvested by hand, were used in b.effect’s fresh hop beers, the first to be made with fresh hops grown in Wānaka: Hoppin’ Harvest, a 6.2% IPA, and Living Off the Land, a 5.4% Pale Ale.

Hay says the Ruddenklaus and Hops Revolution had helped throughout the process, with information and soil tests. Still, the first harvest has shown him that there are a lot of things that can be done differently next time.

There are too many external variables to be able to draw out many conclusions from just this one harvest, but Hay says the result was promising, especially considering the soil was quite nutrient deficient. There were also a few challenges that came from… well, never having done anything remotely close to this before. “We were a bit late on the fertiliser, for example. We fixed up the water system a bit, but we are going to redo it this year based on what we learnt. We don’t have any of the infrastructure, so we just put scaffolding on a trailer and towed that through the paddock.

“It’s just working out systems and refining our technique, which was basically non-existent,” Hay says.

“We have to keep in mind we harvested it all in one day, which is not the way to do it, so maybe the crop wasn’t at its optimum yield.”

The trial was enough to get Hay thinking about next season, and beyond.

“The main variable to get under control is the wind — a consistent nor’wester that strips out the oils. But they control it for cherries so I’m not too stressed about that factor,” Hay says, adding that hops grow just fine in Garston so there’s no reason they can’t grow in Wānaka too.

The two fresh hop beers made with Wānaka-grown hops are now available in 440ml cans wherever you get your b.effect beers.

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