Hop Into The Future – With Sam Goodenough from Asahi UK

My First Year At Asahi - Sam Goodenough - Sustainability Manager - Asahi Uk Ltd

It’s happened in a blink but it’s now been a whole year since I started at Asahi, and what a year it’s been. But if I had to pick out one area that has brought me the most joy it has been getting to learn all about hop farming. A crop grown almost entirely for making delicious beer, that is a precious part of British heritage.

Did you know that size of a hop genome is about 2.5Gb, much closer to the size of a human (3.5Gb) and five times more complex than grapes (500Mb) used to make that primitive stuff they call wine. But this magnificent complex and delectable British crop is under incredible pressure and hop gardens in the UK are disappearing at an alarming rate, how can we save this flavour hero?

Over the past few months I have had the pleasure of spending time in Hereford with our friends at Charles Faram getting learn all about hop farming from the basics, hops grow on bines not vines, to the latest innovative new ways they are creating new varieties and I have only just started to scratch the surface.

British hop farms are under pressure for two main directions:

  • Climate change has led to more and more unpredictable weather leaving farmers to struggle with droughts, heavy rainfall and every combination of the two. This can have a big impact on crop quality and yields.
  • Despite the beer market in the UK growing the demand for “tropical” craft beers has meant the brewers have turned to hops imported from North America, Europe, and Australasia. With many classic British flavours becoming less fashionable.

But every challenge presents opportunities and our hop farmers are fighting on multiple fronts to ensure this part of our heritage doesn’t just survive but thrives. The UK is one of the most sustainable places in the world to grow hops with no irrigation required compared to most other countries and farmers taking naturally to regenerative practices such as cover cropping, mixed grazing and wildflower planting all helping to make the crops more resilient and environmentally friendly.

I was also blown away by the level of innovation going on to breed new varieties of hops in the UK. Not just to make them more resilient to climate impacts but to bring exciting new flavours to equal the North American competition. Using cutting edge practices like genetics for selecting traits and AI to identify promising new breeds early on to streamline their development and get them to brewers.

Our brand Meantime has set the long-term ambition of being the 100% British modern craft brewery. We are at the start of this journey and we have a long way to go but we already taken some great steps: all of our barley is now British and one out of three of our core portfolio uses 100% British ingredients. To raise awareness of the challenges facing farmers we launched The Time Is Now series with the Craft Beer Channel last year, with the campaign picking up the Stakeholder Engagement Award at the Footprint Drink Sustainability Awards. We have now just launched this years film all about hop farming. If you fancy learning a bit more about my new favourite flora check out the video below.

A lot more to learn and even more work to be done but we are off and I’m relishing the journey ahead.