With the sweet, floral aroma of fresh hops swirling around inside my Kombi and the fresh, crisp air of the Tasmanian countryside wafting through the window, you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. It was a beautiful day and I felt like I was in 7th heaven!
It was Hop Harvest time in Tasmania and I was right there in the thick of it. I was transporting hops from Bushy Park in the Derwent Valley up to the Boags Brewery in Launceston where they were keen on getting their hands on some fresh hops from the harvest down south.
HOPS – What are they?
- Hops are the cone-shaped flowers on the female Hop Bine (not ‘vine’..) – Humulus Lupulus.
- Hop Bines grow extremely fast – around 8 meters high in just a year! However they are cut down almost to ground level each harvest to begin their incredible growth again (the vast majority of which happens in just three months over summer)
- Hops are also used as a natural preservative in beer (and have been used so for hundreds of years)
- Hops are used as the herbs and spice in beer. They add a bittering element that evens out the sweetness of the malt but it definitely doesn’t stop there. Hops can produce a whole range of aromas and flavours in beer from passionfruit and mango to resin, pine, floral, earth, citrus, grass and anything in between.
Almost all of this is grown in 3 months!!
FLAVOURS OF HOPS
There are a huge range of hops grown around the world (and new species are being added to the list regularly) and each variety boasts its own unique flavours and aromas. Below is a graph from the HPA (Hop Products Australia) website that narrows down the flavour of their main hop varieties into 4 general areas – Fruit, Resin, Spice and Floral.
Just about all the flavor of the hop comes from the Lupulin Glands on the inside of the cone (see the yellow pollen-like glands in the picture below). The best way to get a good smell of a hop flower is to split it down the middle. If it splits easily, then the cone is ripe. You then take the two halves and rub them vigorously between your hands – your hands should get sticky from the resin of the hop cone. Then you cup your hands over your nose and take a big whiff!
Keen on growing your own hops??? See how here.
Derwent Valley – Hop Mecca
Located 55km north-west of Hobart, Derwent Valley is Australia’s Hop Mecca. Home to the huge Hop Farm ‘Bushy Park’, the biggest hop farm in the southern hemisphere, hops have been grown in this region for over 180 years and are an integral part of the local economy. Just about everyone I met here was involved in the hop industry in one way or another.
I had arrived in Derwent Valley just in time for their annual Hop Harvest which usually starts in early March and can take up to a month to complete.
In terms of the Hop Harvest being a tourist activity, you might be disappointed. There are no ‘harvest parties’, festivals or crazy old men running around dressed as giant hops. It really is just a working farm going at full pelt. But you are more than willing to take a drive through the region and to see Bushy Park bursting at the seams with fresh, aromatic hops is a sight to behold!
If you love hops, this is heaven. All you can see are hop bines and piles of hops, all you can smell is the fruity, floral aroma of hops and everyone seems to be in the highest of spirits. It is an exciting time to be in Derwent Valley.
The cutter and tractor plows through the lines of bines chopping the huge plants down from their trellises and piles them onto the back of a tractor.
The tractor takes the bines into a giant work-shed where the bines are hung up before being stripped.
The hop cones are separated from foliage.
The hops are dried on huge drying platforms.
Most of these hops are then dried, pelletised and then sold on to brewers around Australia and the world so that they can be used year round.
– around 60% of this years Hop crop will be sold on to overseas brewers!
Reasons Why I am an Idiot.
- Because I never launched my idea for an interactive photo-sharing app before instagram.
- Because I ate an entire hop flower.
I was told by the local farmer that each flower was the equivalent to the bittering in 100 stubbies of beer… but to me it tasted more like a thousand. Really, don’t try this at home. This is all I could taste until the following morning and it wasn’t pleasant.
Back in my Kombi, I was watching the lush hills and fertile valleys of Derwent Valley disappear in my rearview mirror and I could still taste the bitterness of the hop flower I ate the day before lingering in the back of my mouth.
I was on my way back up to Launceston to set up my mobile pop-up ‘Hop Shop’, but first I had to drop in to meet a bloke called Lee Christmas who was going to help me make some experimental Hop Sausages.
I was told I could lose a lot of friends by feeding them hops. One slip of the hand and a few extra pieces of hop in the mix could make a taste so bitter they might not taste anything else for a week. Good thing Lee was a tough looking dude covered in tattoos of pigs and knives and he looked like he would be up to the job, but after my initial conversation with him, it turned out he was nervous about our little experiment as well.
Lee Christmas (Sausage Man)
- Pork Mince (with some back fat): 1KG
- Salt: 1.5tsp
- Paprika (Smoked): 1tsp
- Parsley (dried): 1tsp
- Chili Flakes (dried): 1tsp
- Brown Sugar: 3tsp
- Sausage Skins
- Fresh Hops: 3x flowers (finely chopped)
To see how we made our Hop Sausages, click here.
Its hard to describe the taste of hops in food. I would say it is as an earthy, floral bitterness that gives food a real depth of flavour. But be warned… too much and you wont taste anything else for days!! I found this out the hard way..
My Hop Shop marked the end of my Tasmanian Hop experience and I was about to begin my long journey home. But not before a quick little weekend road trip down Tassie’s beautiful East coast. A beer at sunset overlooking the incredible Freycinet National park should be on everyone’s bucket list!