As we launch our first Sonoma brewed with our hand-selected hops, we thought it would be good to catch up with our Head Brewer, Matt and Head of Production, Harry, about their pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Hops...
Here's part one with Matt talking about his journey as a brewer and what it meant to be able to go to our first hop selection.
My brewing journey began home brewing in my cellar around 2010. I was magnetised towards the boldness of flavour and variety of craft beer whilst working in bars around Manchester. As craft beer exploded in the UK, my own curiosity about making beer took off and I began trying to replicate American & European beers at home.
My home-brew setup went from a simple plastic bucket to a 3-tier steel keg system with hopback, pumps, a heat exchanger, a cellar of 6 keg lines, and a cask line. At this point, I knew I had to do something about making the move out of the cellar and into the real world.
I started with Track in 2016 and it's been amazing to grow and learn alongside the brewery. Since then, we have continually increased production, produced hundreds of different beers across a variety of styles and started our own small barrel ageing programme. Most recently I was heavily involved in completing the process of designing and building the new space at Unit 18.
It was incredible to get the opportunity to realise the dream of going out to Yakima Valley last Autumn, taking in American West Coast culture, seeing the hop farms and processing facilities, and absorbing the energy of having the cream of the worlds brewing industry all in one spot, and finally selecting our own hops.
As an established brewery we are always looking for where our next improvements can come from and selecting your own raw ingredients has got to be up there with one of the biggest opportunities to get the beer tasting how we want it.
This year we selected our own lots of Citra and Mosaic hops, two varietals that form the backbone of many of our hoppy beers. By hand-selecting our hops we are given an opportunity to home in on what we see as exemplary examples of those hops and lock them in for the brewery for the rest of the year. Beforehand the hops we would receive could vary and change from month to month as we ordered them.
Hops are seasonal products and as with any seasonal crop their flavour profile, yield and impact all change from year to year, so it is hugely important to be in control of what ingredients we have to brew with.Throughout the selection process, we analyse the hops both from a scientific and sensory perspective, looking for negative flavours and aromas which might help us whittle down the options to a couple of lots. Most important for me was the sense of impact, the hops need to have something to say without any noise from intrusive.