First hop crop nearly ready

Seven years ago, Wanaka businessman James Hay was a backyard brewer working out of his garage at night and a building labourer by day.

Now, the b.effect founder has well and truly branched out, with a trial crop of locally grown hops nearly ready for its first harvest and brewing at the company’s big new Anderson Rd factory about April.

The hops were planted by Nelson grower Hop Revolutions about three years ago on a 1000sq m plot on the Ruddenklau family farm in the Maungawera Valley.

Hop Revolutions wanted to test the feasibility of producing hops in the South. Most of New Zealand’s hop farms in the Nelson area, where they do well in the sunny, temperate climate.

Jake Ruddenklau rang him one day and asked if he wanted the crop for beer.

He usually imports hops from overseas or buys them in from Nelson but because b.effect builder Jackson Campbell-King was particularly enthusiastic to try a locally grown product, he decided to give it a go.

"It is a small trial of about 300 plants, in six different varieties ... I suppose the thing about them is they are not going to be the same as the variety we buy out of Nelson because of the terroir. They are growing down here in our soil and will taste quite different," Mr Hay said.

b.effect founder James Hay (far right), of Wanaka, with brewer Ethan Bowmar (left), operations...
b.effect founder James Hay (far right), of Wanaka, with brewer Ethan Bowmar (left), operations manager Ollie Harcus and marketing and saleswoman Molly Hope with Blaze, are looking forward to the coming hops harvest. PHOTO: MARJORIE COOK

Mr Hay said he was excited about the impending harvest, had talked to winemakers about when it might come on and had received an indication it might be early.

"I think we will have a hop harvest party about the end of March. We will harvest by hand for two days at the weekend and then make beer on the Monday and Tuesday, to be ready three weeks later," he said.

Wanaka has five independent beer breweries and if all goes well with the trial harvest, Mr Hay is hoping to encourage Wanaka farmers to considering growing hops to supply independent breweries like his.

The Ruddenklaus and Hops Revolution had been very helpful with the trial and soil tests, he said.

"If we can get hops down here, that would help diversify the economy," he said.

But all he is worried about at the moment is finding 100 people to help with picking — no mean task in a region that is crying out for seasonal workers.

Mr Hay leads a small team of four brewery workers, and about 12 people work in the hospitality side of the business.

The most recent hire is brewer Ethan Bowmar, who joined the team from Dunedin this year after completing a chemistry degree at the University of Otago.

The factory and b.social bar and cafe was scheduled to open in Anderson Rd two days before Covid-19 lockdown in 2020.

It overcame the challenges and now brews more than 100 litres of beer, ginger beer and kombucha for supply across the South Island.

The company’s production of canned kombucha in September 2020 was a result of adapting to Covid challenges.

Initially, b.effect had not wanted to do canning but with pubs closed, buying a canning machine made sense and gave the company freedom to get it to market themselves, Mr Hay said.

The final part of the b.effect fit-out — an upstairs function room — was completed in September last year.

The new area is being used by staff now but would become available if more hospitality staff, especially chefs, could be found, Mr Hay said.

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