Beer lovers might know Victoria’s High Country for its hops but the region was once at the centre of Australia’s tobacco industry too. It’s fitting, then, that Hop Product Australia’s (HPA) impressive new pellet plant is located in the former home of the Tobacco Cooperative of Victoria in Myrtleford.
The $20 million project will effectively double their current processing capacity and, alongside pelleting equipment, includes a new packaging line and cold storage facility.
Owen Johnston, who heads up sales and marketing for HPA and is better known in the industry as OJ, says they’ve long known their current pellet plants, located in Tasmania and Victoria, would need to be upgraded following significant investment in other elements of their farms. Since 2014, this has included new farm infrastructure, tens of millions spent on acreage expansion, and the opening of a new processing plant at the hop grower's Buffalo River Valley farm.
“With the increased output in the farms, we needed to increase the throughput through the pelleting plant,” OJ told The Crafty Pint.
“What we hadn’t yet addressed was the 1960s pellet plants in both Bushy Pak and Rostrevor.”
The new site is set to be operational in time for the 2024 harvest, which takes place in early autumn, and won’t just produce pellets for Rostrevor Hop Gardens and Buffalo River Valley, but will handle hops grown in the Derwent Valley too: following picking and processing into hop bales in Tasmania, they will be sent to Myrtleford to be blended with hops of the same variety grown in Victoria.
OJ says by centralising their pellet processing the resulting hop products will have less variability.
“We always want to present, as much as possible," he says, "a uniform product to the market; we want the highest possible quality and the lowest possible spread of analytical data.
“So we won’t have Galaxy from two different sites; we’ll put them together and it will be a really tight spread of analytical values.”
The new plant provides a variety of other opportunities for HPA, including new lab facilities, cold storage and the ability to invest further in sustainability, which is a major focus for the business that released their inaugural sustainability report last year.
Myrtleford will also serve as HPA’s administrative headquarters for Victoria, although their head office will remain in Hobart.
“It’s going to be transformative to our Victorian operations,” OJ says. “We’ll have really high-quality training facilities, can centralise our administration and it’ll reduce our carbon footprint, reduce truck movement, reduce the external storage we have to use, and we can really own our own destiny.’”
The announcement comes just shy of two years after they launched Eclipse, the hop variety that had previously been known by the experimental name HPA-016. And, according to OJ, it's been their most successful new product launch to date.
“Brewery acceptance has been really strong,” he says. "We picked this variety because we thought it had high appeal; it's citrus fruit forward, that we know is a really acceptable flavour space to play in, and it has that really clear headline attribute in what we named mandarin, which brewer feedback has really agreed with.”
Already, they’ve grown from an initial crop of around 20 tonnes in 2020 to a forecast of around 150 in the next harvest. Eclipse's launch also heralded a new, more consumer-focused direction for the supplier: in conjunction with Beer Cartel, they sold mixed packs featuring beers from a dozen breweries showcasing Eclipse in different ways. Since then, HPA has given the entire range, which also includes Vic Secret, Topaz, Ella and Enigma, a brand refresh and personalities of their own.
“We've been seeking to lift the recognition and the attachment for beer drinkers who are interested in the impact of our hops," OJ says. "So we wanted to bring more of a focus onto the hops themselves.
"I think it's fun and I think it's really cool to see some colour and movement in hops. Normally, there's a lot of green."