Hop harvest is now winding down across the UK. Hops are only at their peak ripeness for about a week per variety – most farmers only have enough expensive harvesting machinery to just cover the acreage they grow – which means that harvest is an extremely busy time. There are still some growers picking their late higher alpha varieties and so the final numbers aren’t quite in.
However we do know that yields of the earliest varieties such as Fuggles and ‘Early-Choice’ Goldings (which is the most widely grown of the Goldings cultivars) are extremely poor – down 40-50% on 2o17 (an exceptionally strong year) and down maybe 30% on an ‘average’ harvest. Mid-season varieties (Challenger, main crop Goldings, Progress) have been less affected, and it is probable that the later varieties (Jester, Pilgrim, Target) will have recovered due to the much needed rain in late August.
Just as brewers enter into hop contracts with merchants, merchants have contracts with farmers. Typically a farmer will contract about 80% of what they expect to produce. This is so that they don’t ‘short’ the merchants in a bad year – the surplus is then sold on the ‘spot’ market after harvest. The problem in 2018 is that yields are so poor that farmers aren’t going to be able to deliver on all their contracts to merchants and this could mean that merchants can’t fulfil their contracts to brewers.
If your recipes use Fuggles and Goldings heavily, and especially if you have historically bought on the spot market, it would probably be worth checking that supply of what you want from harvest ’18 is assured. It might be necessary to use some hops from 2017 – a year in which yields were good – or even make varietal substitutions (Sovereign or Styrian Goldings for Fuggles, Progress for Goldings) in order to keep brewing.
The farm manager Henry and his team here at Brook House Farm have worked hard during the growing season. A combination of attention to detail and innovative growing techniques have meant that yields here were up on 2017. We have significant quantities of ’18 hops in excess of our merchant and brewer contracts. Quality seems good – the long hot summer has lead to some fine aromas coming from the hops which have been sampled so far. Spot 2018 Goldings, Fuggles and Challenger will be available in the next couple of weeks. Do get in touch with the team here if you would like some samples, or to visit the farm and make a selection. We are also offering contracts for premium english varieties from the ’18 crop forward.