“We got very badly flooded here, at our site we got quite badly smashed.”
Thankfully, he says, the damage was mainly to infrastructure. “The hops themselves were a little damaged with wind and rain but there has been very little plant damage.”
Beatson is the science group leader for premium crops at Plant & Food’s Nelson Research Centre and really is a true legend of the hop, having spent over 30 years developing specialty varietals.
Many of the cultivars now dubbed the rock stars, Riwaka, Motueka and Nelson Sauvin, earned their celebrity status under his careful development.
“The rock stars now were crossed in the 1980s and they were released 1990’s and early 2000’s, you don’t become a rock star over-night.”
Which brings me back to the cyclone, was a legend in the making potentially wiped out by Gita?
Unlikely he says.
“We have got a lot of stages through the process of developing and harvesting. If you can visualise a pipeline: you have crosses at one end being created, then seedlings raised and collected, and at the other end of the pipeline what trickles out is the odd cultivar.
“Basically you have a cast of thousands at the early part of the programme. It's every now and again one pops out that the brewers and the growers like.”
From identifying something special, to brewing trials, getting a sufficient supply for brewers to brew up and identify as a hop with potential, which can then be pushed out to growers, who in turn supply enough to create quality beer with a certain ‘hoppy’ quality beer drinkers take a shine to – turning it into a rock star – can take anywhere between 10 and 15 years.
A lot of Beatson’s work at present is looking at how they close that gap and speed up the process.
“We’ve got one selection in particular the brewers are keen on at the moment. It has a lot of big note fruity flavour, sub-tropical, quite citrusy, stone fruity with a hint of mango - that one is close to a decision from industry.”
While just a code at the moment, he assures me, it could be close to take off.
This is good news for the New Zealand hop industry which exports more than 90% of its hops, generating around $17 million a year.
There is a global demand for new beers with novel flavours, and international craft brewers are focussed on identifying new varieties of hops that can deliver the flavour and aroma consumers want.
The global beer market is worth US$500 billion a year, and around 5% is captured by the fast-growing craft and specialty brewing sector.
The New Zealand industry is working hard to meet that, aiming to double its global contribution by 2025, largely through the introduction of hops with new flavours that demand a premium on the global market.