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African Queen Hops: The Secretive South African Variety

Updated: Mar 23, 2021

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History of African Queen Hops

AB InBev’s announcement that they would not be releasing any South African hop varieties to the craft brewers outside of SA, reportedly because of a bad harvest season caused by drought in the region, got me thinking about… what else? South African hops.

There was the expected outcry over this news, and though I can understand the frustration, especially coming on the tail of Wicked Weed’s purchase by Ab InBev, this article in All About Beer, written by Lucy Corne, at the very least, should broaden the perspective somewhat. Perhaps this move by AB InBev has put some light where it needed to be… on the fact that it sounds like South African craft brewers are not being allowed full and complete access to their countries harvest before it is given up to export.

African Queen is one of the newest and most exciting varieties to come out of South Africa’s breeding program. Unfortunately, it is also unlikely to be seen by either home or commercial craft brewers outside of South Africa at least for this year — possibly longer if the recent warmer, drier weather continues in the region.

This hop variety is also the culmination, thus far, of the only successful hop farming industry at low latitudes. Hops do best in environments between the 40° and 54°N parallel. The city of George in the Western Cape, where all South Africa’s hops are farmed, is well below this ideal band at 34°S. The area gets about 3 hours less sunlight than in the best hop growing regions, thus sodium lights are used for a portion of the growing season. There is also ongoing research to breed new uniquely African varieties that can do well under these natural growing conditions.

The breeding program that led to African Queen was started in 1998 by Gerrie Britz, a hop breeder for South African Breweries. Its pedigree is a mysterious mix of two experimental varieties, simply designated as 91J7/25 and 94US2/118.

Beverley-Anne Joseph started work at the SAB Rob Roy Research and Development Centre in 2006, and immediately started helping Britz with the breeding program. In 2010, she took over.

For the duration of the breeding and evaluation phase the hop was known simply by the designation J-17-63, or J-17. In 2014, the hop was finally unveiled to the market and was later named African Queen.

Because it is one of the newest hop varieties to be developed in South Africa there is little informa

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