Langara feral hops project hopes to level playing field for Canadian producers

For the first time the feral hops have been harvested and brewed

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By Samantha Holomay

In their quest to breathe new life into the local B.C. hops industry, Langara researchers are brewing new feral strains they hope will be a hit on the craft brewing scene.

Ji Yong Yang and Kelly Sveinson have worked on a ground-breaking project for five years. They first identified new species of feral hops in the wild, then grew them to establish their hardiness.

“The ones that we’re working on will perform the same function as other hops, but we’re trying to develop hops that are from B.C.,” said Sveinson.

Now, they are testing them for the first time to see whether they make good beer. If the beer is good, they hope to patent the hops and allow B.C. and Canadian farmers to grow them “to give them a competitive edge in this hop industry,” Yang said.

Hops are the key ingredient in brewing craft beer and significantly impact the beer’s flavour and profile.

The number of craft breweries in B.C. has almost quadrupled in the last decade, according to the BC Craft Brewers Guild.

The explosion in the number of craft breweries initially led to many new hop farms emerging.

However, because the Americans patented the most popular strains of hops, B.C. breweries turned to the U.S. to source their hops. As a result, many of the province’s farms were forced to shut down.

Ken Beattie, BC Craft Brewers Guild executive director, said producing beers with fresher ingredients is crucial to the success of the hop growing industry.

“People will wait with bated breath to get the latest fresh hop beer,” he said.

Since the craft brewery industry’s resurgence, the focus he says has been on brewing fresh local hops. He suggested that B.C.’s hop farming market needs to attract interest by promoting local products.

Josh Mayich owner and operator of Island Hop Company in P.E.I. invested in the Langara feral hops project as a commercial partner.

Island Hop Company is presently growing the same feral hops from the Langara project on their farm. Mayich said he is waiting to see how the varying weather climate affects the hops growth and flavour profile.

“In Canada right now, we don’t have a variety of our own that’s truly born and bred here. This will be a nice steppingstone to start getting it,” said Mayich.

Ken Malenstyn, the co-owner of Barnside Brewing Co., said that as they brew larger batches of the feral hops in the future then they will have good indications on how they perform.

“You’re tasting a local flavour that’s developed by mother nature, by terroir, by the soil, by the climate,” he said. “That’s something that you’re not getting when you’re all buying ingredients from the same distributor.”

As B.C.  approaches peak season for fresh hops, partners of the feral hop project, like Mayich, hope to keep the local beer conversation alive.

“It’s a cool thing that we’re trying to do here, and I hope it works out,” Mayich said.

VIDEO: Reporter Samantha Holomay sat down with Ji Yong Yang about the project.

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