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Hops and apples now growing successfully in Canterbury

From The Press

Hops have traditionally been grown in the top of the south – but some forward-thinking farmers have discovered one of beer’s main ingredients can now be harvested in Canterbury too.
Former sheep and beef land on the banks of the Hurunui River near Cheviot, North Canterbury, is giving life to hops that are ending up in locally brewed craft beer.


Okuora Farms owners John and Maury Leyland Penno set out four years ago to use land outside Canterbury’s traditional dairy farming – and climate data gave them a lead, John said. Niwa suggested the climate in North Canterbury was very similar to that of Motueka in the 1970s, as climate change prompted warmer days, he said. “Essentially crops that could be grown in Motueka in the 1970s, there’s no reason why they can’t be grown in North Canterbury today.”

Starting out on 3 hectares, a hop garden was planted along with apples, pears and cherries. “Four years in now [and with another 4ha] we’re halfway through our fourth harvest of hops and the yield is as good, or better than, Nelson.” The fruit harvest had also been interesting, he said. This year the apples were large and showing good colour – “looking promising”. “That has really surprised everybody how well that’s gone.”

The couple came from stock farming, so to get a handle on the hop industry they became involved in a Nelson hop garden. “The growing community’s been extremely helpful in helping us get going.” And while it was creating a “healthy competition”, the focus was on “Canterbury hops for Canterbury brewers”, John said.

One of the brewers who has jumped on board is Cassels Brewing Co. Creating craft beer made from entirely Canterbury ingredients was a huge plus, Cassels executive brewer Simon Bretherton said. The four main ingredients in Cassels beer are water, malt, hops and yeast – all of which are now from Canterbury. “It’s quite unique,” Bretherton said.

Also unique is a wet hop brew, a beer made possible recently by the Okuora Farms and Cassels teams working together to get freshly picked hops in the fermentation vessels in just a few hours. The method of wet hop brewing was different from using the conventional kilned hops, he said, giving the finished product different character and flavours. “When it comes off the bine, we take them and don’t do anything to them other than putting them in the beer. It’s a very raw way of using hops.” The delicate hops decomposed very quickly, so the team had a small window to get them picked, transported and into the brewing process. “We used them in three hours of coming off the vines.” The quality of the hops seemed to be very good, but “the proof will be in the pudding” when the batch was completed in early April, Bretherton said.

Horticultural farming in Canterbury could be the way forward for stock farmers. Penno said there was “no question for those in the sheep and beef industry – there needs to be a change in land use because the returns from traditional farming are very poor”. “In the same way there’s been a massive swing to dairy in Canterbury, next thing is high value horticulture crops, because there’s a whole range of things that can be done. “It’s one of those things [that] someone’s got to jump in and try, then infrastructure gets built and before you know it, industries develop and that’s what we want to see happen.”

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