British Hop Development

The art of brewing beer has evolved significantly over the centuries, yet one element remains crucial to its essence: hops. These flowering plants, responsible for imparting bitterness, aroma, and flavor, have seen numerous innovations aimed at enhancing their qualities. One of the most influential programs in recent years is the hop development initiative spearheaded by Charles Faram. This UK-based company, with roots stretching back to 1865, has become a cornerstone in the hop supply chain, thanks to its forward-thinking breeding program. This blog explores how Charles Faram’s Hop Development Program is revolutionizing the brewing industry and how Mad Cat Brewery is following on their journey.

A Legacy of Excellence

Charles Faram's journey in the hop industry began in the 19th century, and over the years, the company has built a reputation for quality and innovation. Their deep understanding of hop cultivation and the brewing process has positioned them as leaders in the market. However, it is their commitment to hop breeding and development that truly sets them apart.

The Genesis of the Hop Development Program

The hop development program was born out of a desire to create unique, high-quality hops that cater to the evolving tastes of beer consumers and the diverse needs of brewers. Initiated in the early 2000s, the program focuses on breeding new hop varieties that offer distinct flavors, aromas, and improved agronomic traits such as disease resistance and yield.

The program leverages traditional breeding techniques alongside cutting-edge agricultural science. By selecting parent plants with desirable traits and cross-breeding them, Charles Faram aims to produce hops that meet specific criteria for brewing excellence.

Key Objectives and Goals

The primary objectives of the Hop Development Program are multifaceted:

  1. Flavor and Aroma Diversity: Developing hops with unique and varied flavor profiles to cater to the creative demands of craft brewers.
  2. Sustainability: Breeding hops that are more resistant to pests and diseases, reducing the need for chemical interventions and promoting sustainable farming practices.
  3. Yield Improvement: Enhancing the productivity of hop plants to ensure that farmers can achieve better yields, thereby supporting the economic viability of hop farming.
  4. Adaptability: Creating hop varieties that can thrive in different climates and soil conditions, ensuring a stable supply chain in the face of changing environmental conditions.
  5. Carbon Footprint: Brewers that buy hops that are grown in the UK have much lower carbon footprint. With the new flavours and aromas available, brewers no longer have to settle for sub-optimal hops whilst choosing a lower footprint.

Notable Achievements and Varieties

Charles Faram’s program has already yielded several notable hop varieties that have made significant impacts in the brewing world. Here are a few examples:

  • Jester®: Known for its distinctive aroma of tropical fruits and hints of grapefruit, Jester® has quickly become a favorite among craft brewers. Its robust flavor profile makes it suitable for a wide range of beer styles.
  • Olicana®: This variety is celebrated for its bold flavors of mango, grapefruit, and passionfruit. Olicana® provides brewers with an exciting alternative to traditional hop varieties, allowing for greater experimentation and innovation.
  • Godiva: Offering delicate flavors of white grape, gooseberry, and tangerine, Godiva is a versatile hop that adds a unique twist to lighter beer styles.
  • Harlequin: This hop is renowned for its complex blend of fruit flavors, including peach, pineapple, and passionfruit. Harlequin’s vibrant profile has made it a popular choice for brewers looking to create distinctive and refreshing beers.

The Breeding Process

The hop breeding process at Charles Faram is meticulous and requires several years to bring a new variety from concept to market. It starts with the selection of parent plants with desirable traits. These plants are cross-pollinated, and the resulting seedlings are evaluated over multiple growing seasons.

  1. Selection: Initial selections are based on the plants' agronomic performance, disease resistance, and preliminary aroma and flavor assessments.
  2. Trials: Selected seedlings undergo rigorous field trials to evaluate their performance in different environmental conditions. These trials help identify varieties that are robust and adaptable.
  3. Sensory Analysis: Hops that pass the agronomic tests are then subjected to sensory analysis. Brewers and sensory experts assess the hops for their aromatic and flavor qualities.
  4. Commercialization: Once a hop variety has been thoroughly tested and proven to meet the high standards set by Charles Faram, it is finally released to the market.

Collaboration with Brewers

A key component of Charles Faram’s success is its close collaboration with brewers. By engaging with the brewing community, the company ensures that the hop varieties they develop meet the real-world needs of those who use them. Feedback from brewers is integral to the breeding process, guiding the selection and refinement of hop characteristics.  Mad Cat Brewery has supported the commercialisation by buying the hops that have been developed.

Impact on the Brewing Industry

The impact of Charles Faram’s Hop Development Program on the brewing industry cannot be overstated. By providing brewers with a broader palette of hop flavors and aromas, the program has fueled innovation and creativity in beer production. Craft brewers, in particular, have benefited from the unique hop varieties, allowing them to differentiate their products in a competitive market.

Furthermore, the program’s emphasis on sustainability and adaptability addresses some of the key challenges facing the agricultural sector today. By developing hops that require fewer chemical inputs and can thrive in diverse conditions, Charles Faram is contributing to a more resilient and sustainable hop farming industry.

Future Prospects

Looking ahead, the future of Charles Faram’s Hop Development Program appears bright. With ongoing research and development, the company is poised to continue delivering innovative hop varieties that push the boundaries of what is possible in brewing. The commitment to sustainability and collaboration with brewers ensures that their work remains relevant and impactful.

Mad Cat Brewery - Setting Ourselves a Challenge

We were sick of hearing from our fellow drinkers that British hops are rubbish and can't compete with American hops for flavour and aroma. So we set out to prove them wrong, by setting ourselves a challenge to brew a cross between a New England IPA (NEIPA) and a West Coast IPA to fit the following characteristics;

  • Mild hoppy bitterness
  • Big fruity hoppy flavours and aromas
  • Clarity in the liquid, i.e. not hazy, but without use of expensive filtration that dulls flavour and aroma

The outcome of this challenge has led to the development of Kaleidoscope IPA - a Vibrant British Brew.  This beer is a symphonic fusion of tropical aromas and stone fruit flavours, showcasing 100% British malts and hops.  Still in development, this will be released by the end of June 2024.

In conclusion, Charles Faram’s Hop Development Program exemplifies the intersection of tradition and innovation in the hop industry. By honoring their heritage while embracing modern agricultural science, they are crafting the future of brewing, one hop at a time. Whether you are a brewer looking for the next great hop or a beer enthusiast eager to taste the latest creations, the contributions of Charles Faram are sure to enhance your experience.

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