The number of independently-owned craft breweries located in Gippsland has expanded into double figures in only a handful of years. Despite this growth, many people are still unaware that Gippsland has a long history of cultivating one of the crucial ingredients in beer – hops.
Hops growing in Gippsland can be traced as far back as the 1860s with the first hops kiln in the Bairnsdale district built in 1872. An Australian Town and Country Journal article from the 11th of October 1884, reports on the hop-growing industry on the banks of the Mitchell River as starting, “some 15 years ago”.
There are currently hops farms located in Gippsland, but they’re not yet at the same scale seen in the King Valley, Victoria, or Tasmania. Given the rapidly growing craft beer industry in Australia and more recently, Gippsland, we could see a significant resurgence in hops farming in our own backyard to keep up with consumer demand of quality beer and local produce.
A bit about hops.
Humulus lupulus is a perennial rhizome; meaning, it lays dormant in winter before sprouting in late spring, and flowers for an annual harvest in late summer to early autumn. When dormant in winter, the hops rhizome can be dug up and divided for sale or further cultivation.
What is used in beer are the hops flowers or cones which, due to being a cousin of cannabis, look a little similar to marijuana buds. The optimum climate for the main commercial hop species, Humulus lupulus, is roughly between the latitudes 35° to 55° north or south. This makes Gippsland an ideal location for growing hops, as it provides the necessary characteristics of healthy soil, water availability, cold winters and long daylight hours in summer.
Brewers use lupulin inside the hops, which is essentially the sticky golden powder in the cone that kind of looks like pollen. If you plan on brewing with fresh hops, don’t use a hops strainer that is too fine or it will retain the lupulin and you will lose out on the fantastic flavour!
The aromas, origins and characteristics of hops are so diverse that entire books are dedicated to this fascinating plant. If you want to learn more about the characteristics of different varieties start by looking at www.hopslist.com/hops. This comprehensive list is arranged into three categories: Bittering, Aroma and Dual-use Hops.
How they grow.
Water, well-drained soil and sunlight are really all that is needed for healthy hops. They are very tough and can easily become weeds. Years ago, after throwing an unwanted rhizome onto the compost heap, I discovered almost two months later that it had continued to grow and sprout healthy bines (the hops vine) all over the compost heap. This was despite the rhizome having no soil and being exposed to direct sunlight.
Before moving into commercial brewing, we grew hops at our farm in Warragul South for homebrewing. Due to the ideal climate, this quickly became more than a small row of plants and after two seasons, it looked like an untamed wall of green during harvest time. If all goes to plan, then for this hops season at Bandolier Brewing, we will be handpicking hops to use in a batch of IPA (Indian Pale Ale) on the same day.
Tips for homebrewers.
Firstly, remember that if you grow your own, or have access to fresh hops, they are around 80% water. This means that if you should use roughly five to six times the quantity of fresh hops as you would use with bought hops, which are dehydrated and then compacted into pellets for packaging.
Once picked, it is best to use as much of your hops as you can within 48 hours. Trust me - do not freeze fresh hops! If you want to store them long-term, then eight hours in a food dehydrator at 40°C will remove almost all of the moisture so that they can be stored in a sealed container or Cryovac bag.
Different brewers use hops at different stages of the process. If you have limited amounts of fresh hops available, try using pellets for the bittering and save your fresh hops for towards the end of the boil for aromatics. As an example, if you would usually add 30g of Cascade hops at the end of the boil in a pale ale or IPA, try using 150 to 180g of fresh Cascade hops.
When it comes to transferring your precious wort (the sticky liquid that yeast magically turns into beer) to your fermenter: be warned that fresh hops will absorb a lot of liquid. If possible, keep your hops in a muslin cloth or some sort of course strainer that can be squeezed like a tea bag to increase your yield.
Finally, if you plan on throwing fresh hops directly into the fermenter, keep an eye out for dirt or insects that may contaminate your brew!
Farming in Gippsland.
Hops is a fascinating, resilient plant and with increasing demand, we may very likely see a 21st-century resurgence in hops farming in Gippsland. It’s an opportunity too tasty to pass up. Take pride in not just where your beer comes from, but where the key ingredients to your favourite local drop are sourced.
Zander Thompson is a co-founder and the head brewer of Bandolier Brewing in Warragul. They’re Gippsland’s newest brewery and Baw Baw Shire’s first-ever brewery. Visit their taproom from Thursday to Sunday at 132 North Road, Warragul. For more information, visit facebook.com/bandolierbrewing
For more information on hops, see Hops: A Guide to New Growers by the NSW Department of Primary Industries.