NEW DAWN IN AOTEAROA
The Industrial Revolution was in full-swing when a wild and remote South Pacific gem, known by Maori as Aotearoa (Land of the Long White Cloud), enticed British and European settlers. It was the dawn of the 19th Century, and for these crofters, coopers, and even brewers, New Zealand offered fresh opportunity. Some of the more discerning - or perhaps luckiest – newcomers chose the temperate, sheltered coast of the Nelson Province, bringing their culture, their ‘can-do’ ways, and, of course, their hops.
NELSON, THE HOPS CENTRE
Southern English and German settlers who landed in Nelson soon realised their good fortune when transplanted hops flourished. A latitude-sensitive perennial, hops took to the region’s ideal sunshine-to-rain ratio with ease. In fact, hops acclimated so well here that sharp eyed travellers will recognise remnants of bygone settlers in roadside tangles of hop vines and cones, Murchison to Motueka.
With this early epiphany that hops really did love Nelson, the region naturally evolved into the hop-growing centre of New Zealand that it is today.
CHALLENGES BRING CHANGE
'Late Cluster' was a Californian hop variety introduced to New Zealand in the 1920s. Known affectionately as 'Cali', it proved heartier than its European and English cousins whilst giving greater yields. Unfortunately by the late 1940s, the variety had become so severely infected by the root-rotting disease Phytophthora that a hop research station was set up and funded by what was then known as the New Zealand Brewers Association, to breed new varieties resistant to the disease.
NEW VARIETIES, NEW ERA
Tapping into the old and noble hops of Europe, ‘Late Cluster’ was crossed with those resistant to Phytophthora, and by 1960 three new strains – ‘Smoothcone’, ‘First Choice’ and ‘Calicross’ – resulted.
However, 1960 also heralded demand from breweries worldwide for seedless hops given the burgeoning thirst for lager-type beers. While other hop-growing countries remedied the problem by purging male plants from hop gardens, New Zealand took a different tack, looking instead to the new light shed on polyploid plants – those with multi-chromosomes and thereby ‘sterile’ – for inspiration..
Seemingly extra-terrestrial in name, polyploids, including tretraploids and triploids, are simply multi-chromosomal plants which produce virtually sterile seedless fruit yet retain the elemental flavour and composition of the parent. This captured the attention of seasoned plant breeder, Dr. R.H.J. Roborgh, and he aimed to achieve the same with hops.
Taking up the reins of the New Zealand Hop Research Station in 1951, Roborgh guided a programme to grow seedless hop cones which retained aroma and alpha yield. The result was the world's first triploid hop plants, work unparalleled until the early 1980s when American and German scientists produced similar varieties in their own countries. Successful as those scientists were, their varieties lacked the essential oil profiles of their European parentage which, combined with high alpha acid, exemplified the new New Zealand hops.