NZ Hops - green gold from the Southern Hemisphere

New Zealand hops are known as super punchy, due to their high alpha and oil contents, and are popular for their strong citrusy, floral notes and exotic tropical fruit flavours. Hops from New Zealand are coveted by breweries around the world and extremely popular with innovative craft brewers in the US and Europe.

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash
Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

Growing hops in New Zealand

While hops in the Northern Hemisphere are harvested around September, Southern Hemisphere hops are harvest around February/March. That’s why New Zealand hops are usually the first “new” hops of the annual hop harvest season.

New Zealand has produced hops for over 150 years. The centre of hop production is still based around the city of Nelson on New Zealand’s South Island. As early as 1842, just one year after Nelson was founded, farmers planted the first hops. By the 1850s, several hop gardens were established in and around the young city. As colonial history has it, the first English settlers brought their own hop varieties with them to New Zealand. It’s therefore no surprise that in the beginning farmers grew English varieties like Fuggles, Bumford / English Golding and Cluster hops, but immigrants from Germany added Hallertauer and Spalt hops to the fields. In the 20th Century, however, Kiwi hops have gone their own way and really made a mark on the hop market.

Starting in the 1980s, a big drive to breed and develop New Zealand hop varietals for export markets led to the release of NZ-typical high alpha varieties like Nelson Sauvin (with flavours similar to Sauvignon Blanc grapes), Motueka, Riwaka and Waimea. Hop plants were particularly able to thrive in New Zealand, not only because of the climate, but because the South Island was also free of typical hop diseases plaguing growers in Europe and the US, such as downy and powdery mildew. This led to less use of pesticides and other chemicals and increased yields.

In 2020, New Zealand record their biggest hop harvest to date: the growers produced 1,231,936 kg of hops (1231 metric tons). The 2020 IHGC summary report estimates New Zealand’s hop acreage at 743 ha.

The difference in climate and soil composition has turned some Old World hops that growers transplanted to New Zealand into hops with an aroma spectrum that has become noticeably different from their ancestors. For example, Cascade hops grown in New Zealand have become so different in taste and flavour composition that they can’t be considered the same varietal as their US cousins anymore. NZ Cascade have therefore been renamed Taiheke (meaning slope in Māori).

Hop varieties grown in New Zealand

Hop varieties originating from New Zealand