A distinctive flavour for beers around the world

As owners of Ellerslie Hop Estate, the Crokes have been putting the flavour into beer for over 80 years. Managing Director Greg is the grandson of the founder and the son of the chairman – and they’re June’s featured family in the NAB Agribusiness calendar.

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As beer lovers know, it’s the hops that give beers their distinctive flavours. Each variety has a unique and complex mix of tastes and aromas which brewers select and blend to create a signature profile. In recent years, as beer drinkers have grown more sophisticated, more willing to try different brands and more likely to choose on the basis of flavour, competition in this area has become much more intense.

“All brewers need a point of differentiation,” says Greg Croke, Managing Director of Ellerslie Hop Estate, the largest Australian-owned independent hop company. “The major brands and the growing number of microbreweries are all looking for new blends and varieties. We work very closely with them to help them stand out from the competition.”

Developing new hop varieties is integral to the process and Greg oversees an extensive internal breeding program.

“We do all of our own research and tissue culture work then select the strains showing the characteristics we think a brewer will want,” he says. “It takes five years from conception to producing the yield we need for brewing trials and the million dollar question is always what will brewers be looking for in five years’ time?”

Their niche market for specialty varieties is continuing to grow.  “Over the past five years we have undergone an extensive program to increase our acreage under hop and expand our processing facility,” says Greg. “We’re now exporting to the UK, Asia, the Pacific Island sand the US, where we’re seeing a huge growth in microbreweries.”

Third generation

Ellerslie Hop Estate is June’s featured business in the NAB Agribusiness calendar. The group of companies was founded in 1932 by Greg’s grandfather, Thomas William Croke and Greg’s father, Desmond Charles, is the current chairman. “I talk to him every day and still seek his council and guidance,” says Greg.

Greg regards himself as the custodian of his grandfather’s legacy with a duty to focus on conservation and sustainability.

“We’ve spent a fair amount of energy and time on reducing our carbon footprint, putting organics back into the soil and reducing water consumption by installing automatic irrigation systems,” he says. “This also has the benefit of putting less stress on the plants so it has also improved our yield. We’ve doubled production end on end for the past four years.”

Greg would love to hand the company on to another generation of Crokes but this will never be an easy option. “If any of my children want to join the business they’ll have to follow the same path my father laid out for me,” he says. “He insisted that I work outside the industry for a while. When I did come back to the business I had that experience and maturity but I still started out at the bottom and worked my way up. He taught me that there are no short cuts to learning the ins and outs of this or any other business.”