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Hops: creating new traditions

Hop varieties not only differ in their taste profile but also in their environmental balance. Why have the particularly sustainable varieties been so badly received so far though?

Fresh hop on a bag

The whole world is talking about sustainability. An increasing number of people are not only talking about it, but also acting on it: partly out of lack of alternatives, because they simply can't get a disposable coffee cup anymore; partly out of wanting to save money, because they have to pay for their plastic bags in the supermarket and partly because consumer awareness has changed. Consumers are more conscious and they are attaching more importance to regional sourcing and environmentally friendly production methods. 

When it comes to hops, there are some varieties that perform much better on this last point, particularly those from the Hop Research Center in Hüll: e.g. ‘Mandarina Bavaria’, ‘Huell Melon’, ‘Hallertau Blanc’, ‘Callista’ and ‘Ariana’. They are much more resistant to diseases like powdery mildew and they require much less fertiliser. They are also more robust and can even endure long periods of heat and drought. “The new aroma hop varieties are able to cope with adverse weather conditions much better,” says Adi Schapfl, President of the German Hop Growers’ Association. 

Hops TreeHops tree

New varieties are more ecological in their cultivation

The established varieties, such as ‘Hallertauer Perle’ or ‘Hallertauer Tradition’, are quite different. Although these are established in the brewing industry, they do not have advantages when it comes to cultivation. They are prone to diseases and they also need a lot of water and fertiliser. So, to continue to reap rich harvests in the face of climate change, farmers should actually be growing more of the new aroma hops. But the opposite is the case: the areas under cultivation are reducing again. Why is this happening?

The demand simply isn’t there. Hop farmers, or rather the middlemen, are being left with stocks of aroma hops. Whereas they initially received about €7/kg for their hops, prices have fallen to only €4–5 in some cases. Are aroma hops with good ecological balance becoming junk goods? How can that be?


Tearing them out would be a disaster

One reason for this, as Adi Schapfl sees it, is traditional breweries wanting to retain their well-known, tried-and-tested recipes so that they don’t upset customers and possibly even lose sales themselves. Many automatically think that new aroma hops aren’t suitable for traditional styles such as Pils, Helles or Märzen-style lagers. After all, that’s how they were advertised, intensively, from the beginning. 

This makes it difficult for the hop growers to establish new contracts for these varieties, and the old ones expire in 2020. “It would be a catastrophe if the farmers were to tear the plants out again now. After all, they are only now beginning to deliver the full yield,” says Schapfl. But that is exactly what is happening already. 

Dried HopsDried hops

Aroma hops also lend themselves to traditional styles

To counteract this situation, the Society for Hop Research (GfH) has been experimenting and brewing traditional recipes using the new hop varieties. “It produces very good beers with the same characters, and sometimes even characters that have changed for the better,” says Adi Schapfl. 

Increasing the use of aroma hop varieties from Hüll in beer would help both the environment and hop growers. Breweries could make use of this in their marketing, advertising how the hops in their beers is particularly environmentally friendly. And those who don't want to replace all their hops could still replace at least 20% of the traditional hops with these new aroma hops.