Hops breeder defeats the odds to kick start her career

24 Apr 14

Beverley-Anne Joseph,  a hops breeder for SAB in George

Beverley-Anne Joseph, a hops breeder for SAB in George, took an unconventionally proactive approach to kick starting her career.

Since her early years as a schoolgirl at Grabouw High, Beverley-Anne Joseph had to defeat the odds.  One of seven children, her determination drove her to seek financial for a university education by unconventional means.

She approached local farmers in the small Western Cape farming community to raise the much-needed funds. Neurosurgeon and farmer Dr Paul Cluver recognised Joseph’s potential and awarded her a bursary to study viticulture and oenology at Stellenbosch University.

Joseph said she instinctively realised that this gesture from the businessman would become the catalyst to her journey to success. “My parents had always advised me to study and prepare myself, as hard work will pay off in the end, ” she said.

After completing her honours degree and working in the wine industry, Joseph was offered an opportunity to work for South African Breweries’ hop breeding programme in George. “At the time I didn’t even know what a hop plant looked like. After late nights of research I felt more ready for the interview than I’ve ever been for anything in my life and knew it was what I wanted to do.”

Entering the world of hops Research and Development

Based at the SAB Rob Roy Research and Development Centre since 2006, Joseph, 29, is responsible for managing the plant breeding programme aimed at producing new hop varieties.  In short, she is a crucial link in the SAB production chain which ends with a refreshingly cold beer – and beer would not be beer without the hops adding their distinctive aroma and bitterness.

Life on the hop farms

A new mom since baby Mika’s arrival in December last year, Joseph’s day starts early and before the mist clears she can be found at the foot of the Outeniqua mountains, anticipating the progress of her experimental trials.

“After reviewing targets and settings daily goals with my team during morning meetings, I engage with farmers and discuss their crop during harvest.  I love the work as it is varied - other things I’m involved with include plant nutrition, soil composition, farming good practices, cross pollination, plant assessments and quality of the product.  It’s a challenging but fulfilling work environment. ”

Hops were traditionally only grown in the Northern Hemisphere, which has long summer days and icy cold winters. The South African climate poses challenges to hop growing and George was chosen as the location which is most suited for production. This led to the development of a breeding program which has successfully introduced six commercial varieties.

Developing innovations

Joseph and her team recently completed work on a new hop variety, J17, which has been in development by SAB for 12 years.  It is a flavour hop with a good balance between aroma and bitterness. Within the next two years she hopes to bring out a new high alpha (bittering), high yielding hop, which will “help SAB become more competitive as a business”.

The biggest misconception about being a hop breeder is that she only works during harvest season, which is during February and March. “In fact the hard work goes into ensuring the highest possible quality and yields by thorough preparation throughout the year”.

Not content with her honours degree, Joseph is currently enrolled at the University of Stellenbosch studying towards a Masters in Agriculture, and at Harvard Business School, completing a course in business management and leadership.

“My husband Felix, whom I met at Stellenbosch University, inspires me to be better. He pushes me to my limits and always wants the best for me. But there are no shortcuts to hard work, my advice is to do what you love and love what you do. My motto in life is to work hard as this will differentiate me from others.”

In her free time Joseph enjoys taking advantage of outdoor life in the Southern Cape by mountain biking or taking her dogs for a beach walk. All washed down with a cold Castle Lite – “my favourite brand not only because it is made with George hops, but it’s full flavoured, smooth and refreshing”.