The was a recent Facebook post I saw, where someone was looking at buying hop varieties grown in China. As someone brewing in China, I thought I’d reach out to assist.
I know some Chinese hop growers. Plus, have used some Chinese hops, myself. So, was able to connect the person enquiring, with my local hop contacts. Allowing them to discuss purchasing hops directly from China.
It got me thinking, if one person in Europe, was interested in Chinese hops. Then why not write an article about them. As surely other people, would be interested too.
There’s not much information on Chinese hops out there. Even though, China is one of the top five hop producers, by weight in the world.
This make sense, because by volume, China is the biggest beer producing country. Brewing 341,110,000 hectoliters of beer annually, according to The Brewers Journal.
Please note: I’m marking this PDF as a live document. It’s been hard to put this information together. I hope to receive more material about some of the hops featured here, over the coming days. Plus, I plan to keep researching for more data online. However, I wanted to share what I have for now.
Hop Growing Regions in China
China has two main hop growing regions. These regions are in the northwest/northcentral part of China. They are Gansu province and Xinjiang Autonomous Region.
Both these Chinese hop growing regions, fall in between the northern and southern 35th and 55th parallels. Where most of the World’s hop production takes place.
Hop cultivation started in China in 1921 with a German hop variety called Hadora. Hop growing in China really took off in the years between 1981 and 1990. When there was a big jump in vines planted and tonnage harvested.
Let’s start by taking a closer look at the two main hop growing regions in China.
Gansu Province and Hops
This province is in the northwest/northcentral part of China. It’s actually bordered by Inner Mongolia as well as Mongolia to the north.
Historically the province was a vital strategic pivot, linking the center of the country to the large territories to the extreme west.
The narrow corridor of Gansu has served for many centuries as a corridor between the upper Hang Ge (Yellow River) area and Chinese Turkistan.
Additionally, the main hop growing area in Gansu itself, is within Jiuquan district. Situated at 98°E, and 39°N in Gansu Province. It’s the most northern district in the right-hand side picture above.
The area borders Qinhai Province to the south and Xinjiang Autonomous Region on the west. Jinquan covers an area of 192,000 Square kilometers and makes up 42% of the total area of Gansu.
The district is rich with natural resources, particularly in land, water and heat resources. As it gets on average 3,400-hours of sunshine per annum. Jinquan climate and natural resources make it ideal for hop growing.
Xinjiang Autonomous Region and Hops
There are several regions in Xinjiang where hops are grown, and they are all slightly differ in climate:
This area has what is called a continental moderate temperature climate; its features are dry, with little rainfall, but with long hours of sunshine.
Located in the south ranges of Tianshan Mountain as well as north of Tarim desert. It borders Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the northwest.
The region is a typical continental temperate climate zone and considered quite dry. It has long hours of sunshine for Chinese weather, with 2,750 to 3,029 hours annually.
Furthermore, there’s a large temperature difference between night and day, with average temperature range of 9.9 to 11.5 °C and annual rainfall of 42.4 to 94.4 mm.
Located north of Tianshan Mountain with Mongolia to its northeast. It’s a diverse state climatically.
Annual sunshine hours are 2,700-hours per year. With average January temperatures of -15.6 °C.
Furthermore, July’s average temperature is 24.5°C. Changji State has annual precipitation of 190 millimeters per annum, with 160-190 non- frost days.
Located on the slopes of the Yili River valley, to the north side of the Tainshan Mountain range. It’s one of the smaller regions in Xinjiang, with a mild and humid climate.
Chinese Hop Growing Regions Conclusions
Hops need specific climatic and soil requirements to produce an abundant harvest. They require a minimum of 120 frost free days to be able to flower.
Best condition calls for direct sunlight, with plenty of sunshine. Ideally getting 15-hours or more of sun per day. Still in UK hop growing regions, hops might get 8-hours of sunshine per day, for comparison.
These conditions are seen in latitudes of 35 and 55 degrees. Hence why Gansu and Xinjiang are ideal hop growing regions.
Furthermore, hop plants require sufficient moisture in the spring, followed by warm summer weather. In dry climates like the Arksu region, hops produce greater harvests when supplemental irrigation is provided. The main hop variety produced in China is Qingdao Flower. So, it makes sense, to start with this hop.
Buying Hop Varieties Grown in China – Qingdao Flower
Qingdao Flower is the most widely used hop in the Chinese brewing industry. At one point being 90% of all hops grown in China. It has its fans for sure.
It’s grown in both Gansu Province and Xinjiang. It’s bred from a Chinese version of Cluster and is a dual-purpose hop, meaning it can be used as a both bittering and aroma hop.
Sensory for Qingdao Flower
A recent study by Enda Winters, showed Qingdao Flower* had a high geraniol and geraniol ester content so, promising for aroma potential.
Meaning with the right techniques and dry-hop timings, according to Enda, this hop has the ability to be transformed into the aroma compound citronellol.
The study also suggested using Qingdao Flower in conjunction with Simcoe and Citra, could help boost overall aroma sensory profile in the final beer.
As the compound citronellol suggests, brewers say there’s a bright and crisp lemon peel quality to the bitterness. I’ve heard this from a few brewers, here in China.
*Please note: The link to article above is behind a subscription service on the MBAA.
When I have brewed with Qingdao flower, I’ve gotten herbal, woody notes with hints of citrus.
I used it, as a single hop through a boil for an Amber ale, using Lutra Kveik yeast. See the table below, for the hop additions I made. I did a heavy whirlpool (WP) hop load.
The beer was well-received, and people enjoyed the sensory profile, with many commenting on the herbal/citrus notes, from the beer too.
As I say, this is the most popular and most widely grown hop in China. Furthermore, Qingdao Flower is probably the first hop to trial, if wanting to experiment with Chinese hops.
Note About the Other Chinese Hops
Now when it comes to the rest of the hops I’ll list here and describe, there’s not much known about them. I did scour the internet for more information and did find one interesting report here. Which led to this table:
It’s not easy to find accurate statistics of hop production volumes in China. These are based on best estimates by Bath Hass.
It clearly states though, Qingdao (can also be spelt Tsingtao) Flower is the main hop variety grown in China. The number two grown hop in China is Marco Polo, which we’ll look at next.
Buying Hop Varieties Grown in China – Marco Polo
This hop has been around from a number of years. I remember using it in a few brews, when I first came to China in 2010.
This hop was very much a bittering hop, according to the supplier when I used it back in 2010. Alpha acid content comes in at around 14 – 16% alpha acid. This hop seems to be used almost exclusively in Chinese domestic brewing.
With Marco Polo hops grown in the Gansu region during the last harvest, selling out. Still, when I spoke with my supplier, they’ve still some stock, which can be sold overseas.
There is some content online, stating Marco Polo is a “dual purpose hop”. However, I never heard of anyone using it as an aroma hop.
Sensory Analysis – Marco Polo Chinese Hops
Please note, the numbers were supplied from one of my Chinese hop suppliers. This analysis above hasn’t been verified by a third-party lab.
As I say, when I’ve brewed with them a long time ago. They were purely used for bittering. It seems Marco Polo comes from Columbus hop and is likened to a CTZ hop.
Columbus can actually be a good dry hop in my opinion. I’ve used it as a dry hop in the past, it has citrus notes. Plus is a cheap hop to buy, compared to many other aroma hops.
However, Marco Polo seems to have more herbal/fruity notes, rather than be citrus. I’ve not heard of it being used an aroma hop in Chinese craft brewing before.
However, it might be worth doing small-scale trials, to see if could be used as an aroma hop. Still, from the table above, it might give a lot of woody notes. Which may not be suitable.
When looking at some of the western information for this hop online, they seem to suggest Marco Polo, when used for aroma gives lemon, gooseberry, oregano and elder flower notes.
Buying Hop Varieties Grown in China – SA-1
SA-1 hop variety it seems is derived from Female Saaz and Male Tettang. It’s been grown in China for a number of years, and is used much like Czech Saaz in Chinese brewing.
One of the most well-known breweries in China is Tsingtao, which was originally called the Anglo-German Brewing Company, when it was formed in 1903.
There’s still is German influence on the beer market here. With many craft breweries in China having Hefeweizen, as their best-selling beer.
In many breweries hefeweizen can account for over 50% of total beer sales. Saaz is used in lagers, pilsners and wheat styles.
It’s the same for SA-1, which is mostly used to make lagers as well as wheat beers in the Chinese brewing industry.
Furthermore, it’s believed to be the highest grade of Aroma hop cultivated in China, with the patent for the hop owned by XSAST (Xinjiang Sapporo Agricultural Science & Technology Development Company).
SA-1 buds to blade number is three, XSAST have high hopes for this hop in years to come, as an alternative to Saaz.
Sensory Analysis – SA-1 Chinese Hops
Like Saaz, SA-1 has a high level of farnesene, which allows for a warm herbal character from this hop.
It also has woody notes too, which makes ideal for lagers and some wheat styles. It’s hard to find too much more about SA-1, as any studies done on this hop are in paid publications, like this one.
Buying Hop Varieties Grown in China – SAST-1 Chinese Hop
This is one of a trilogy of hops from XSAST, created with the help of Japanese collaboration to produce three new aroma hops. This was the first one to be cultivated from the program.
This is an aroma hop, which I can find very little about. It’s derived from Saaz hops too. However, it has a higher alpha acid content, than Saaz usually has.
This hop is the product of a collaboration between the XSAST and The Japan Sapporo Hokkaido Hop Breeding program. It took 10-years of trials and cultivation until this hop was ready for commercial sale.
Sensory of SAST-1
Well with the lower farnesene content the woody oak ending, makes sense. Potentially some herbal notes from the myrcene content too.
Furthermore, there are other potential compounds in this hop which haven’t been studied. Which may account for the apparent “fruity notes”, as suggested by the hop producer.
I can only speculate SAST have decent geraniol content, which would account for fruitiness. However further study by a 3rd party lab would be needed, to confirm this.
As I say, I really can’t find much information on many of these hops. Even when speaking with the hop growers/suppliers myself.
Buying Hop Varieties Grown in China – SAST-2 Chinese Hop
For an aroma hop, this variety has a high alpha acid content. The alpha acid content is typically between 7.5 and 8.5%.
This hop was cultivated from the aroma hop “Beikei 0’ as the parent plant. In addition, Beikei hops appear to be a few varieties (Beikei 0 and Beikei 2) which are parents to other hops, like Sorachi Ace for example.
For Sorachi Ace it’s a progeny of Saaz and Brewer’s Gold crossed with Beikei No. 2 male. SAST-2 was part of the same breeding program as SAST-1, done in collaboration with Sapporo’s Hokkaido’s hop breeding program.
Sensory of SAST-2
Again, not too much is known about this hop either from a sensory perspective. It’s claimed to be “fruity” too.
We do have more descriptors from XSAST on this one. With them claiming notes of lemon pear and pineapple for SAST-2.
However, without more study, we can’t really learn too much from this hop, just makes some guesses from the data above. Hopefully, at some point I can try these hops myself.
Buying Hop Varieties Grown in China – SAST-3 Chinese Hop
The last of the trilogy of hops cultivated in collaboration with the Sapporo Hokkaido breeding program which took place in Xinjiang.
This hop was cultivated from Czech Saaz as well, with an alpha acid content ranging between 7.5 and 8.5%.
Sensory of SAST-3
As with the other XSAST hops, I’m only going on the sensory from hop growers. Although, one of my Chinese hop suppliers told me it’s like a “Chinese version of Sladek”.
Sladek is a Czech hop, with definite tropical notes on the aroma. Sladek is a hybrid variety of Saaz, like SAST-3 too.
I feel like this hop should be used in conjunction with others, much like Sladek. In this case maybe SA-1 and/or SAST-1. I’ve not used SAST-3 myself as of yet. This is what my gut is telling me.
Looking at Some Native Hops Grown in Gansu – Buying Hop Varieties Grown in China
I’ve even less information on hops grown in Gansu. Even compared to the hops from XSAST.
There’s literally no amount of Googling, brought up an extra information about these two hops. Additionally, I’m pretty much going off the information given by the hop suppliers.
I hope to get more information in the future. I’m waiting one supplier to hopefully share some additional information on these hops TM-A and TM-S.
Here’s what I have anyway…
Buying Hop Varieties Grown in China – TM-A Chinese Hop
TM-A is from a hop supplier called Gansu Tianma Hops Company. They have two varieties they’ve cultivated, with other being TM-S.
It’s apparently a bittering hop from a European hop variety cultivated in combination with local climate, soil conditions and wild hop varieties of Gansu.
I presume it was bred with local wild hop varieties to make it hardier, as well as more resistant for local Xinjiang growing conditions. Actually, I was unable to determine which European hop was used to cultivate TM-A, even after asking the hop growers. This hop was first seen grown for commercial use in 2012.
Tianma claim this hop is the only rare high alpha hop in China. Although, it must be noted Nugget and Marco Polo are also grown in China too. Which are both high alpha bittering hops.
Buying Hop Varieties Grown in China – TM-S Chinese Hop
The last hop we’re going to look at is TM-S. This hop is also grown in Gansu by Tianma Hops Company. This is their local “aroma” hop; as a compliment to TM-A for bitterness.
Like the aroma hops by XSAST, this hop has a high alpha acid (10.6%) content for an aroma hop. It has notable levels of myrcene, which indicates it could have some green herbaceous, piney as well as hoppy notes.
Tianma, themselves say the hop has red berry, tangerine, vegetal and grassy notes. This hop is also derived from a “European hop”. However, I’ve been given no indication from which hop it has been cultivated from.
Buying Hop Varieties Grown in China – Conclusions
This article has been a challenging one to put together. There really isn’t much information about these hops online.
I spoke to people at XSAST and at Gansu Tianma, asking for more information. It might take some time working with them, before I can learn more about these hops.
I do hope to work with these hops in the future, when I have access to a pilot system. As I’d love to trial them, and share my findings with you all.
Which Hops to Experiment With?
All the hops listed are at least 10 years old. With some like Marco Polo being even older. Overall, Qingdao Flower seems like the logical first hop to try, if wanting to experiment with Chinese hops.
It’s a well-established hop, with a long history and been used by Chinese breweries for some time. If I was looking to trial a Chinese hopped IPA, then using Marco Polo for bittering, seems like the safe choice.
Followed by using SA-1 paired with SAST-1 and/or SAST-3 could be interesting. Still, any experiment would need to be small-scale, as the results would be hard to predict.
If you’ve ever used Chinese hops in brewing, I’d love to hear from you. As I feel any feedback, I can get could be useful to building on this article.
I’m passionate about the Chinese craft brewing industry having first brewed in The Middle Kingdom back in 2010. Being able to promote Chinese beer as well as its ingredients is something I’d like to do more of in the future.
Thanks for Reading
Thanks for taking the time to read about Chinese hops. This subject has been getting a lot of interest, since I posted my intention to write this article.
If you’d like to discuss Chinese hops further, give feedback or talk about brewing in general, then feel free to get in touch.
My email address is:
Furthermore, you can also contact me directly on your preferred network. Simply scan the relevant QR code, add me and message me directly. For now, have a great day.
Incredible article, thank you for all the hard work and research! I am so curious about these varieties and would love to get my hands on some for homebrewing small batches in the US someday…did you ever find distributor for any of them? Would be willing to pay to have a small amount sent to the US
I can totally see a rather large craft beer boom happening in China with indigenous varieties at the center, and with changing climates and China’s ecological efforts making harvests more favorable by comparison to the more negligent areas of the world.
Thanks for your comment, and also contacting me via email. As I say hop producers usually only export in volume. I will reach out to my contacts and see if anything can be done. The hop acreage is increasing year-on-year, here in China.
With more hops being exported overseas. Which helps as the domestic market has slowed due to Covid restrictions. I’m also interested to see how hop growing in China develops.