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Hops are getting hip in South Africa

After 12 years of trials and research, our farmers in South Africa have developed a brand new variety of hop.

Small in size but big on flavour, hops are a critical ingredient in the beer-making process. For a crop that is predominantly grown in the northern hemisphere, it’s a challenge for South African farmers to produce the quantity and quality needed to support the country’s brewing industry.

Despite this, through the innovation and perseverance of our teams at SAB Hop Farms,
in collaboration with other private hop growers, remarkable results are being achieved.

South Africa’s hop farms are found in the Western Cape, a coastal region that supports the entire crop output of the country. At a latitude of 34°, it is far removed from the ideal growing conditions found between latitudes 40° and 45° where hops thrive in the cold winters and long summer days.

“The local hops industry produces around 830 tonnes a year – about 70% of our requirements,” says Laurie Conway, General Manager of SAB Hop Farms. “Given the climatic challenges, the teams working on the farms are doing remarkably well, producing on average 2,000 kilograms per hectare (kg/ha) against a global average of 2,200-2,400kg/ha.”


Laurie’s aim is for SAB Hop Farms to be Africa’s leading hops supplier and this ambition is bringing benefits to South Africa’s entire brewing industry.

After numerous trials and about 12 years of research, our teams have bred and developed a new hop variety known, for now, as J17.

Although there are no immediate plans to use it in our own beers, the hops have been released to a number of micro-brewers in South Africa and received positive feedback.

Although we’re the biggest player in South Africa’s beer market, we have about 160 small customers who buy hops from us. Our policy is to support the micro-brewers, because anything that’s good for beer in our country is good for us too.
Laurie Conway |General Manager of SAB Hop Farms

J17’s taste profile is a unique balance between a fruity taste and the traditional bitterness of lager. It joins six other South African hop varieties that have been developed in the country: Southern Brewer, Southern Star, Southern Promise, Southern Dawn, Southern Passion and Southern Aroma.

South Africa produces just 1% of the world’s hops. This is not enough to attract a great deal of international interest, but the location and the disease-free crops grown are helping to forge important ties beyond the country. 

Over the past decade a collaborative approach between our research team and international hopbreeders is beginning to bring benefits. 

For example, the SAB Hop Farms team can assist their northern hemisphere counterparts during their growing season – and vice-versa – thereby shortening the breeding process.

 “We’re also drawing on their hops gene pool, which is disease-resistant, and crossing these with our locally adapted breeding stock to produce more robust varieties,” says Laurie. 

"Despite the fact we are geographically isolated here, we’re extremely proud of our industry’s achievements and delighted these partnerships have been developed."

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