Humans of Craft Beer

Emily Powell-Tuck: The Hop Merchant

We love great human beings and we love great beer. In this series we track down the unsung humans of craft beer and get an insight into their world. Next time you enjoy a beer take a moment to consider the people behind the journey from grain to glass.

Emily Powell-Tuck : The Hop Merchant

Tell us about yourself Emily?

My name is Emily Powell-Tuck and I am a Sales Advisor for Charles Faram & Co Ltd, based in the beautiful Worcestershire countryside — a stone’s throw from the Malvern Hills and the many hop yards across Herefordshire and Worcestershire. We are primarily Hop Merchants but also supply malt, yeast and other brewing products to the industry.

My parents are hop growers and farm around 60 acres of British hops in the idyllic Herefordshire countryside. Ten different varieties of hops are grown on the farm and these include traditional varieties such as Goldings and Fuggles as well as some more recent additions such as UK Chinook, Jester and Ernest.

Who’s buying all the hops? Who are your customers?

We export hops to around 50 different countries worldwide and have a strong customer base in the UK and across Europe; catering for everyone from home brewers, home brew suppliers, microbreweries and brewpubs to some of the larger national and regional breweries. To keep up with worldwide demand, in 2013 we opened our US office in Portland, Oregon and in 2015 opened an office in Toronto, Canada.

How many varieties of hops are there and how many do you deal in?

Worldwide, there are around 250 different hop varieties, with the largest volumes being grown in the USA and Germany. At Charles Faram we supply somewhere in the region of 140 different varieties; the bulk of which come from the UK, USA, Germany, New Zealand and Slovenia, though we do also source from Czech Republic, Poland, France, Argentina and Belgium.

What are the most popular hops right now?

Undeniably, the most sought after hops of the moment are the big, punchy US varieties with the likes of Amarillo, Citra and Cascade which impart citrus fruit aromas — a familiar characteristic in many of today’s beers. Another would be Nelson Sauvin from New Zealand; a variety craved by many for its gooseberry and grapefruit aroma.

There is however a growing desire to use British varieties and momentum is building for some of the more powerful aroma varieties, both new and old. Bramling Cross and Admiral are making a comeback and there is a great deal of interest in newer varieties such as Jester, Minstrel and Olicana from the Charles Faram breeding program.

We heard there was a hops shortage. How does this affect your work?

With an ever-increasing number of breweries looking to produce punchy, tropical beer flavours, there are a handful of varieties that are on the top of the list for many customers. Unfortunately growers are not currently able to produce enough of these varieties to keep up with the growing demand from consumers.

While we experience these issues with supply and demand, a large part of my role as Sales Advisor is to look at possible replacements and to come up with new combinations to suit a particular beer style or to produce a specific character that the customer may want to achieve. Some of the best-selling and award-winning beers have been created by accidental recipes when the customer has not been able to get hold of a specific variety. We always advise customers to keep an open mind!

What is the most rewarding part of the job?

We have our own hop breeding program at Charles Faram. It is incredibly exciting and rewarding to be part of the process that selects the new, bold aromas that the industry is calling for. It is especially rewarding to see such strong characteristics coming through in varieties that have been grown here in the UK, where historically we have only been able to offer more traditional, noble aromas.

I feel incredibly proud to say that a number of fantastic beers have been produced using hops that we at Charles Faram have brought to life.

What change would you like to see? What would make things better?

More people drinking craft beer! Looking at sales of lager and mass-produced beer plotted on a graph against that of craft beer over the past ten years, you will see a definite increase in craft beer sales, while the opposite falls.

There is no doubt that more and more people are drinking craft beer, but, when presented with an array of different beers in a bar or pub, it can be daunting and confusing for those that are not familiar with different beer styles to choose one that is right for them. With better promotion of different beer styles and more education on what makes a particular style of beer, I believe that it is possible for more consumers to find a beer to suit their tastes.

We hear you also judge for beer awards. That’s very cool. How do decide on what makes a beer great?

Judging beer is a fun perk of being a hop merchant! Everybody has a preference for particular beer styles but it is important to be as impartial as possible when judging those that you wouldn’t necessarily try otherwise. Instead of judging the beer against personal preferences, each sample should be judged according to the characteristics that you would expect to find in that particular style of beer. Clarity, aroma, mouthfeel, flavour, aftertaste and saleability are all factors that are taken in to consideration.

How do you see the future for craft beer?

The craft beer movement does not appear to be slowing down and we are opening new accounts almost every day, with many now starting up across Europe — particularly in France and Spain. I think that momentum will only grow and that we will begin to see craft beer spread to more and more countries across the globe (indeed we seem to be getting more enquires from India recently).

We will also begin to see trends for new styles of beer. There are so many citrus IPA’s out there (many of them delicious!) and the move towards a more varied choice can only be a good thing! Certainly we are already seeing a number of brewers trying their hand at sour beers. Love them or hate them, it shows a change in direction that can only keep the industry fresh and exciting.

What’s your favourite beer?

For me, it really depends on my mood. I suppose that I am biased, but one of my favourite beers has to be ‘Empire Strikes Back’ from Moor Beer Company. It is a brilliant showcase of what British hops are able to produce and uses arguably the most popular variety to come out of the Charles Faram breeding programme — Jester.

Thanks Emily for sharing these insights into the economics of hip hops. We loved Empire Strikes Back and featured the follow up Return of the Empire from Moor Beer Company in our January 2017 list and it went down a storm with the customers who subscribe to our crate. Keep up the good work.

About Crafted

We talk to experts and study emerging trends, styles, brewers and beers looking for passion, innovation and perfection. We produce a list of 12 beers every month which we believe represent the coal face of UK craft brewing. You can subscribe to receive the list here