“Everyone was involved right through harvest; my grandad got stuck in as well helping load the machines with hop bines,” Ealam says. “So that was pretty cool.”
Over 20 days they harvested 17 tonnes of hops off 14.5 hectares and are now focussed on developing another 20 hectares for the 2019 season.
“Once we get the stage-two development completed we will focus on doing a good job of growing a good crop,” he says. “Once we’ve got a few years under our belt we’ll reassess and look at whether to grow.”
While Cam Ealam is sticking with established hop cultivars at this stage he and other growers keenly follow developments over at Plant & Food Research where Dr Beatson and his team continue their work developing the next rock star hop.
“As a plant breeder you want to see your plant cultivars grown as widely as you can,” Dr Beatson says.
While he’s confident the new cultivar showing promise will come through, there’s a sense his time developing rock stars might be almost up. So after decades of work, what keeps him awake at night?
“The fact that I am not young anymore so I can see that my role as the Principal Scientist in hops is coming to an end,” Dr Beatson says. “I’m fortunate that I’ve got an excellent lieutenant in fellow hop scientist, Kerry Templeton, who has been appointed to our program in the past year. Kerry has excellent knowledge of brewing science, which is now considered an important part of our selection program.
“He’s been trained in the molecular DNA side of things so we’ll be implementing some of those techniques into our breeding programme as time goes on.”
And as for Ealam – is there any chance of him heading back to dairy farming?
“No, not heading back to milking cows,” he laughs. “This has its different challenges and there were a lot of learnings but on the whole it’s much more enjoyable than milking cows.”
ANZ will release an update into the craft beer market later in August. Banker and keen craft beer enthusiast Sam Bree says to expect talk of growth.
“We’re very interested to see how the craft beer market is moving and growing,” he says. “We expect to see a market that is continuing to grow from a volume perspective. Revenues will grow as a result but competitive pressures are squeezing margins making for a mixed bag for brewers.”
ANZ research over the past few years has shown growth for the majority is tough in a market where competition continues to flood in. Those with robust, well capitalised business structures and a clear strategy will succeed, Bree says.
“This year we expect to see a small number of craft breweries are leading the way and the rest are trying really hard to make it feasible,” he says. “The hardest part for this industry is finding the right mix of mad scientist and astute business person.”
As for the harvest and the extreme weather events?
“Anecdotally, we’ve heard the hop volumes might be down this year but the quality of hops is right up there,” he says.
International craft beer drinkers can relax knowing the only sour note will be intentional.
Briar McCormack is bluenotes NZ editor