As the sun sets at the end of another busy hop harvest in the small Victorian country town of Myrrhee, Greg Croke, the Managing Director of Ellerslie Australia, takes a few moments to think back on what has been a huge 12 months for Australia’s largest independently owned hop grower.
With an extensive investment having been made over the past few years that included a complete rebuild of the processing facility after an unfortunate fire, the opportunity has now come to fruition to expand the supply of his Australian grown hops to other parts of the ever-growing craft beer market throughout the world.
A fourth-generation company with a history dating back to the 1930s, the Croke family traditionally grew hop varieties with higher bitterness levels to meet the demand of large Australian breweries such as Coopers, CUB and Lion Nathan.
To this day, large portions of the property are dedicated to hop varieties like Pride of Ringwood, Super Pride and Australian Cluster.
“If you have ever had a mainstream beer from Australia, you have tasted hops grown on our farm. Those hops have helped shape the distinct characteristics of well-known Australian beers such as Coopers Pale, XXXX, Victoria Bitter and Fosters,” states Greg as he sips a Coopers Pale Ale.
Over the last decade Ellerslie has seen the beer market change. Craft brewers and their customers want different characteristics in their hops. The emergence of styles such as IPAs and New World Pale Ales have increased the demand for hop flavour and hop aroma.
So Ellerslie adapted its breeding programme to meet these needs. Melba was the first hop to come out which really captured brewers’ attention since it was released almost a decade ago. It is now widely used in many beer styles including Australian Pale Ales, XPAs, New World Lagers and some newer, hazy styles.
Since the launch of Melba, Ellerslie has also released the highly coveted variety Astra and currently has a couple of newer varieties in early stages of trials that Greg is extremely excited about.
“This is the exciting part, but also the stressful part,” he says. “Hops take years to develop from the initial breeding stage until they are available for commercial release. We need to take some calculated risks on varieties that are later in their development and have shown positive signs within our pilot brewery.”
Greg needs to plant reasonable acreage before the variety has completely passed evaluation so that when it does, he has mature plants ready to harvest. “If we don’t do this, it sets the process back by around 2 years. That’s how long it takes for new plants to mature,” he adds.
India is a logical market for the growth of Ellerslie’s Australian grown hops like Melba and Astra. They work perfectly in styles where some new world hop aroma is desired. They also work beautifully in more traditional styles like Wit Biers and Saisons.
“Our more traditional hop varieties, such as Pride of Ringwood, Super Pride and Cluster, will make German or English styles clean and crisp,” Greg says.
Walking around Ellerslie’s farm, you can’t help but notice the state-of-the-art facility that allows them to control every processing step, from picking and kilning, baling and pelletising, to the large cold store that ensures the hops stay as fresh as possible before they get into brewer’s hands.
Australia restricts the import of foreign plant material into the country so diseases that affect other hop growing regions around the world don’t affect native varieties. “We don’t need to spray for things such as downy mildew and powdery mildew. We simply don’t get it in Australia,” Greg informs us.
Greg is looking forward to his upcoming visit to Brews&Spirits Expo (Bengaluru, 6th & 7th July, 2022). He will be accompanied by his Sales Manager Rachelle Rochecouste, and Technical Brewer Glenn Harrison.
The timing has been perfect for Greg as the continued expansion of his farm has coincided with strong support from the Victoria government, which is helping facilitate trade between Victorian businesses and Indian customers.
“We have spoken to several brewers in India already. There is a clear synergy with them wanting fresh, clean hops and our company being able to supply it to them,” Greg smiles.
You can meet Greg, Rachelle and Glenn when they host a workshop at the upcoming Brews&Spirits Expo.