New Zealand's Phenom Terroir

Lance and Laura's trip to New Zealand brought thiol inspiration full circle.

Lance, Laura, you got back from hop harvest in NZ not too long ago, where Omega Yeast was invited to speak to brewers about thiols at the Hāpi Symposium. How was it?


It was an incredible opportunity. 

New Zealand brewers and brewers who use New Zealand products are already tuned into thiols whether they know it or not. So, the same intense thiol profiles that our Thiolized yeast contribute are native to the terroir of the region. Being there gave us probably the best context you can imagine to talk about how some of these very New Zealand aromas can be brought out from non-New Zealand ingredients with Thiolized yeast. 

A lot of the brewers that were down there were there for hop selection and at the farms rubbing hops and smelling them. They were certainly getting a sense of what thiols were because of that.


It definitely felt very full-circle. 

One of the first things I did when I started at Omega four years ago was to put a priority on thiols. I had an impression of the thiol potential yeast were capable of from New Zealand’s sauvignon blanc wines, but I had a lot to learn about how to get it to happen in beer.

Now, after about three years of experimentation, we’ve come to understand thiols really well.

So, being at the symposium gave us a moment to look at how far we’ve come with it; but it was also the chance to connect more deeply to what the sensory and terroir of New Zealand truly is. 

It was an honor, and both validating and inspiring.

Terroir. I’ve heard it described as the complex conditions that contribute to something – tastes, flavors, and aromas – having a particular sense of place. And you said the terroir of New Zealand is dramatically about thiol character; it’s no wonder then that the New Zealand IPA gets its name from being chock full of New Zealand hops.


When it comes to hop-contributed flavor and aroma, hops obviously add other compounds like terpenes and esters (not just thiols alone), so there is a ton of complexity to the aroma of the New Zealand hop-laden beers we tried.

What was incredibly validating was that the thiol aromas that were there were certainly the same thiol-forward profiles as the those that come from our Thiolized yeast, with especially intense 3SH and 4MMP/4MSP aromas. 

We drank a lot of beers with Motueka and with Nelson Sauvin. The fact that many elements come through from the hop plant itself in the same or similar way as they do in Thiolized yeast confirmed for me that the pathways occurring in the plant are happening in yeast fermentations in a similar way. 

That was a big takeaway for me.

We do seem to produce hops with unique aromatic qualities in New Zealand that are quite different to hops growing around the world.

Jos Ruffell, Phantasm

What makes New Zealand terroir so intensely thiol forward?


New Zealand is at an ideal latitude for hop-growing, but additionally, the ozone layer is relatively thin just above it which makes a radical difference to intensity of UV exposure.


Yeah, that’s why Slip, slop, slap,’ is a saying they have, to encourage everyone to remember to be cautious. It’s short for slip on a shirt, slop on the sunscreen, and slap on a cap’ to protect from the sun. 

One of the ideas coming forward from wine research is that the science behind the biogenesis of making thiol precursor is in response to stress, and one of the stressors can be from UV. That may be, in part, why there is the accumulation of more precursor in these grapes and hops, and how they are then so much more expressive in thiols. 

UV light can be just as important as temperature for impact on flavor and other characteristics. Air quality and other environmental and atmospheric factors – whether natural or not – effect UV’s impact on hops and grapes in the form of ozone integrity, temperatures, or other climate factors from year to year. Those changes show up in agriculture and in the land.

In New Zealand, there’s a holistic commitment to the locale and the environment that plays an enormous role in terroir. They take care of their land, and they put a very high focus on the agricultural practices that they use. 

Like, a small thing, during our entire stay, there were no plastic forks. And they don’t serve anything out of disposable water bottles. Things like that, and others. 

The hotel we stayed at in Queenstown had a restaurant that had their own garden and sourced most of everything that they could locally. They had local fish on the menu. I mean, there are locavore trends in the States, but this wasn’t a trend. It is such an ingrained part of culture there. That was just really cool to see. 

As you go into Nelson, it’s landscaped. All of the farms have beautiful gardens. The hedge along the edge of the fields is maintained probably for shade, and protection from wind, but also the trellises and agricultural buildings, they’re trying to look beautiful. There’s a practical function to it, but it’s also just pride and caretaking.


New Zealand farmers also don’t have to really use pesticides and fungicides as much in that growing region because they’re not really at high risk for downy mildew and things like that. 

There are so many interesting things going on there, and it seems like there is an incentivized drive, even by their government, for innovation.

You said someone mentioned Flight of the Conchords as an example of how New Zealand hits above its weight in cultural influence and innovation. What are some of the undersung innovations you saw in terms of beer and brewing?


The Hāpi Symposium is an example, for sure.



As part of the events surrounding the symposium, we were invited to a hop farm called Freestyle, where they’d set up a very cool example of Motueka hops that were harvested in their early‑, mid‑, and late-picking window, just a couple of days apart. 

The sensory between them was exactly like it is described in research articles: the hops went from being citrusy, to citrusy-tropical, to a kind of sweaty tropical. It was really interesting and impressive to see the progression on the table in front of you like that; it showed a really high priority on attention to detail.


Freestyle also has a pelletizing plant installed on site so they can go directly from picking to kilning without bailing, and right into the pellet mill. 

That is pretty unique and it’s going to set them apart.

Like in the Pacific Northwest in the US, these farms will see people going back year after year because they trust the quality and consistency.


Other suppliers in New Zealand and Australia seem to have less transparency with their products in a way that doesn’t allow for lot selection. 

Galaxy is a great example of the negative effect that approach can have. Growers are in a co-op and all the various lots are sold by one central supplier. There is less accountability and less feedback going to farmers about which lots are hitting the true-to-type Galaxy aromas. That is at least partially responsible for Galaxy’s dip in popularity. 

But when you think about Freestyle’s attention to detail, and the way that other growers in the region are starting to push things, it’s really going to put an emphasis on the selection process and in turn hop aroma quality. Much like in the Pacific Northwest, these farms will make a name for themselves and see people going back year after year because they trust the quality and consistency.


A lot of the H​āpi’s Symposium’s mission is to help the world’s brewers become more familiar with what’s so special about New Zealand terroir. 

Because it’s so unique, people have heard of it but it still requires getting familiar with it to really create that willingness to bring these flavors in in a big way, like NZ brewers already do.


Yeah, these flavors are of and from there — the flavors are innately a part of food and culture and are readily accepted and celebrated, so these deliciously fruity IPAs, pilsners, etc, are nearly universally accepted by consumers. 

Another advantage to Thiolized yeast though, not to be too doom and gloom but in a long-term sense, is that it really can help to safeguard this terroir. I mean, it’s a sustainable way, when there are years when smoke taint takes over and you don’t have the same aromas from the hops that you’re used to having, and you need an alternative; or maybe there’s more severe climate change and swings in weather conditions that reduce yields, and brewers need something to replace what they’ve had before. I can see Thiolized yeast helping maintain consistency for brewers.

What trends did you see in NZ beer?


Beers from New Zealand are just different – like a US west coast beer and a New Zealand beer are totally different. Thiols are at the front, and a high impact aroma of a New Zealand hop, but they most often play more of a side-supporting role in a West Coast IPA.

Overall ABVs were a lot lower in New Zealand. People seem to like beers between 4% to 6.5%. More frequently IPAs were targeting 6% and 6.5%. That was interesting. There weren’t beers that were 8.5%, 9%, 10%. And the lagers that people drank were very hoppy. The kind of pilsners that we were trying were hopped with New Zealand varieties so the intense notes of thiols were very apparent.

There’s still a lot of interest in co-fermentation and mixed fermentation in New Zealand, I think because of the parallel connection with wine. And also they really like to highlight their native and local ingredients. Even down to highlighting native and local microflora by using some of those yeasts if they can. They really support their native agricultural systems; they have a tie to the local even in using native microbes.

Non-alcoholic beer was big, too, at least at Garage Project, who had a massively popular brand. They had an NA beer called Tiny. It was really good – targeting like a pale ale and IPA. They called it an XPA. A hoppy NA beer like that would be pretty trendy here; it was definitely trendy there.

Was there anything else about New Zealand that really struck a chord?


I think it was just the natural beauty of the country. I was actually talking to a farmer from the south of New Zealand about that a little. In response he said that we’ve got all these things in the US, too, it’s just that they’re more spread out. 

They’ve got it in a much more compressed area – the landmass is roughly the size of Colorado. And by virtue of being kind of a long, narrow country, you’ve got a lot of different climates.

We were at an Airbnb out in the country, and the skies were something I’ve never in my life seen before. The Milky Way was visible across the whole sky. I mean – the entire sky. I’ve never seen anything like it.

IMG 4831

The Milky Way


Our first inspiration was having some of these wines and experiencing some of the thiol character of NZ terroir, and then building these Thiolized yeast. But now that we’ve had this trip to New Zealand, I think another takeaway is lifestyle choice and thinking about how to be more sustainable and also really valuing the kind of alien landscapes that we have here in the US that we fell in love with when we were there.

Talking to a farmer from the south of New Zealand, he said that we’ve got all these things in the US, too, it’s just that they’re more spread out.

It ties into that idea of profound pride and attention to detail, innovation, and kind of like effort to make something truly fine. There are some really wonderful experiences we can have in the States that would give me a similar feeling to that trip to NZ. 

I think as people, we are always kind of excited by and interested in things that we may not have access to every day, and, you know, New Zealand is something that most people would love to visit and experience. 

I think in a sense that Thiolized yeast bring that experience back to the US, too.

Airbnb Nelson Lance NZ

Sunset at a remote stay in Nelson

IMG 4904

All photos courtesy of Lance and Laura.

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