'Bo Hop Selecta

As these words are typed, 33kg of wet hops are releasing their oily goodness into fermentation tanks in a warehouse in the Melbourne suburb of Heidelberg West. Given it's hop harvest season that might not seem too odd, even if 33kg in a 930 litre batch – on top of the hops already added in the earlier stages of the brew last week – is bordering on the ludicrous.

However, it's fair to say this beer is unique as it's the very first from Yellingbo Brewing Company. 

"What's so unique about a beer from a new brewing company considering they're launching pretty much every week these days?" you might ask.

Well, to give the company its full name, it's the Yellingbo Brewing Company & Hop Farm, founded by Brad and Gypsy Merritt, the couple behind the gem that is Oscar's Alehouse in Belgrave. Before they set about turning his home brews into commercial releases they planted a quarter acre of hops on their land to the east of the Dandenong Ranges. And it's from here that the hops – including one you'll probably never have sampled in a beer before – for their first two beers are sourced.

The first beer started taking shape at Kooinda in late February and is the aforementioned highly hopped harvest ale; the second – a rye ale – will be brewed at Mornington Peninsula Brewery.

"The hops have done much better than we expected," says Brad (pictured above left on brew day) of their first year crop. "Now we're looking forward to playing with it.

"We started preparations last March, just getting the soil ready and the poles in. We planted in August and started harvesting in late February."

The first varieties to be planted are a mix of local varieties and those native to Brad's birthplace, the USA: Cascade, Chinook, Victoria and Cluster. And when we say "Victoria" we mean "Victoria" and not the recent release from Hop Products Australia, Vic Secret.

"Victoria is a hop that never really got off the ground," says Brad. Instead, it made its way into home brewing circles and Brad decided to make it a feature of his farm. Indeed, it's going to be the key variety in his first release, making up most of the late wet hop addition, alongside some Cascade and Chinook. He says it comes from the same lineage as the all-conquering Galaxy and reckons it will lend the beer peach, cumquat and berry characters.

"I wanted to plant good aroma and flavour hops," he says. "Chinook has always been a favourite of mine, as has Cascade. When doing research I came across Victoria and it ticked all the boxes for me.

"It doesn't mean there hasn't been one, but I couldn't find any reference to a beer being made commercially with that hop."

The collaboration with Kooinda is a pale ale that will allow the hops to shine while the plan at Mornington is to create a hoppy rye ale featuring a "high percentage" of spicy rye malt as well as Brad and Gypsy's own hops again, this time dried in the room he built for that purpose on their land where sheep, horses, chickens and proteas also roam.

Brad and Gypsy's first year crop at Yellingbo.

He plans to dry his hops a few degrees cooler than the temperatures typically used by commercial hop growers, claiming the extra heat "burns off a lot of volatiles and aromas [and we're] trying to keep a lot of that."

The farm has been developed with "a lot of research online, posting in a lot of hop growing communities, asking a lot of questions" – yet another example of the way in which the internet has helped craft beer grow and also diversify.

As for the future, the intention is to continue gypsy brewing, buying in other hops when required, then looking to save up and build a brewery on their land.

"We'll see how [our hops] go this year; see if our product is worthy in the market," he says.

"Then we can expand. We have land ready."


Later this month, the first Yellingbo beer will be found at Kooinda's brewery bar, Oscar's Alehouse, Carwyn Cellars and Bad Shepherd. Follow Yellingbo Brewing Company & Hop Garden on Facebook here.

Brad and others have also launched a Facebook community for small Aussie hop growers. Contact him if you'd like to be part of it.

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