cascade hops for hop infused whisky

Hop Infused Whisky

I have found a new use for hops, hop infused whisky, a whole new world! While mooching on the computer, surfing the net with an early morning cup of tea I stumbled upon Regula Ysewijn’s food blog Miss Food wise. A stunningly visual blog, I was admiring her wonderful photography and enticing recipes, well I was smitten to be honest, as I am always a sucker for a good recipe book. Then I saw her blog post about making a hop brandy and knew I would have to give it a go.

With hop picking imminent the timing could not have been more perfect.  At our local stores Famous Grouse whisky was on Special Offer so I bought this instead of brandy which Regula had used. It made sense for this first trial run. the only decision now was which of the Bushel of Hop’s hop varieties would I use for this first attempt.

Having successfully made Bill’s Hop Soda using Cascade hops, I decided to use this variety again, I like their citrus floral aroma and thought this could add something to the whisky cocktail. I knew the hops would add bitterness, but as I could not take it away I was cautious with the time I left the hops infusing. Better safe than sorry first time round as I did not want it so powerfully hopped and bitter that it would end up tasting like some horribly medicinal drink. This first try erred on the side of caution as follows-

Hop Infused Whisky      
Ingredients-
1 bottle of whisky
2oz Demerara sugar
2oz fresh Cascade hops
Method-
Put all ingredients into a Kilner jar and stir gentle twice a day. I left it for only 2 days before straining the hops off. I did not squeeze the hops but left them to drain off completely overnight in a covered vessel. I was intending to add the hops back again should the flavour be too weak, but it was fine.

The taste…mmmm…..well it is more the timing of the tastes. Definitely whisky, the whisky is first with the sweetness like a hot toddy, it takes the heat out of the whisky but you also know something is different. It is then that the hoppy flavour comes through. It is a pleasant hint of bitterness, rather like a good cheese straw with that pinch of cayenne – good but it leaves you feeling you would like to have another just to make sure it really was that good!

Overall it was a teensy bit too sweet for my taste, but that is just a personal thing, it really is quite acceptable. However next time I will be bolder and try this whisky infusion with 1 oz sugar, I could always add it later if necessary. However I am delighted with this first attempt. Whilst I rather liked the fresh hops, I think I will be tempted to try it with dried hops this winter just to see the difference.

Over this winter I can try the hop infused whisky in different ways. A whisky sour, or mixed with a dry ginger ale. Easiest of all a Hop Scotch, simple, with the sugar already in the infusion, no honey needed just add water! I found the ‘Hop Scotch’ from Chilled Magazine.

Encouraged by this whisky success there was 1/4 bottle gin in the cupboard much too tempting to be left here just begging to be used. I popped this iam jar with 2 teaspoons white sugar and eyed up an an equivalent amount of fresh Cascade hops as I used for the whisky. This time I left it for only 1 day then strained the gin off the hops. The resulting gin is now a beautiful pale Chartreus green. So again I need to try it out in different ways although this time there is not so much gin to play with. Perhaps add some citrus as recommended by Beercade’s “Hop Gun,” from Chicago.

 

Whisky traditionally makes a perfect digestif. Oh dear these ‘hoppy’ cocktails are a whole new world! Talking of meal endings if you’re a traditional British pudding addict, Regula has just bought out a book called Pride and Pudding. As winter bites at least we have the excuse that a pudding will help keep out the cold!!

 

 

 

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September's here, it's time to celebrate hops

September’s Here, It’s Time To Celebrate Hops

September’s here, it’s time to celebrate hops. If you are hop-picking, then getting the harvest safely gathered is the priority with little time for play. Hoppyitus  abounds!  If you’re not hop-picking and live in South East, you can join in some hop fun by popping along to one of the various Festivals happening in Kent and Sussex throughout this month.

Last weekend was the lively Faversham Hop Festival with something for everyone. If you missed it then pencil 1st/2nd September 2018 in your diary to be sure you visit next year. Or get involved by joining their Festival Fund Raising event in next March.

In Canterbury tomorrow 11am at the Cathedral, the Second Saturday in September is the rather eccentric British Hop Hoodening procession. The Hop Queen in her hop-bower is accompanied by Hooden horses and dancing Morris Men to Canterbury Cathedral. The snapping horses are left outside while the Hop Queen and Morris Men are taken into the Cathedral for a service to bless the hops. After the service the dancing procession continues around town.

It’s going to be a busy weekend with another two events on offer. The Hops and Harvest Boutique Festival on 9th & 10th September 2017, but you will need to purchase a ticket for this event.

Kent & East Sussex Railway’s Hop Festival Weekend is held at Bodiam Station also this coming weekend. There is a reconstructed Hopper’s hut as well as a small hop garden. You can catch a return steam train to Tenterden, then round off the trip by incorporating a visit to the Tenterden Museum’s hop exhibits; the museum is only a short stroll from the station. Or try an Old Dairy beer, the brewery is based right next to the Tenterden station.

If nothing so far has hit the spot, then how about visiting the Canterbury Green Hop Beer Fortnight as a grand finale? This starts Friday 22nd September. Try a drop of green hop beer from one of the many breweries which will be at this Event.

From Hop Hoodening to sampling Green Hop Beer;  September’s here, it’s time to celebrate hops.

All systems go inside an oast house, no time for play.

September's here, it's time to celebrate hops

Please note A Bushel of Hops shop is closed until further notice.   We will open again at beginning of October after 2017 hop harvest is completed.  Watch this space for news of the reopening date and varieties available.

 

shop is closed

2017 Hop Harvest

The Bushel of Hop shop is now closed.  The 2017 hop harvest is ripening quickly and imminently ready to pick.

As we only offer the current seasons hops to the home brewer,  2016 hops are no longer available, therefore the shop is now closed until further notice.    We will open again at beginning of October after 2017 hop harvest is completed.  Watch this space for news of the reopening date and varieties available.

 

 

tasting beers guided by a beer sommelier

Tasting Beer guided by a Beer Sommelier

Tasting beer guided by a Beer Sommelier, Sophie Atherton, what better way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Sophie was the first woman Beer Sommelier. Today there are not only more women beer sommeliers, but women brewers and of course pub land-ladies, this increase of women in the industry seems entirely appropriate, after all hops are female too!

Earlier this year I had been genuinely surprised by the differences between 4 beers, each brewed using an identical Old English Hop Blend. It really highlighted my lack of ability to describe exactly what it was I liked about each brew or at other times the specific character I particularly like about any of my favourite beers. To be set on the right track I decided an official beer tasting would be the order of the day. I have always known exactly whether I love or dislike any beer, but from now on after tasting beer guided by a beer sommelier, I intend to practise putting into words accurately what those qualities are.

Our original small group was joined by a few extra friends and family for this beer tasting, all of whom are connected with hop growing. The oast house was made ready. A working oast was the perfect choice of venue, floorboards and walls percolate a background hop aroma. A rustic atmosphere, like patina on old furniture this effect takes years of drying and packaging hops to achieve.

Sophie Atherton selected a range of interesting beers to lead us firmly but gently out of our usual ‘beer’ comfort zones. Her careful choices showcased different brewing styles, with each beer a good example of its own style. Each beer style has it own characteristics, comparing them is rather like judging a Norfolk terrier against an Afghan Hound. Whilst both are dogs, they are very different in build and type from each other and each has it’s breed standard ideal. It is no different with beers, each particular style had its own specific characters which she explained as we went along.

We were spoilt, our masterclass of tasting beer guided by a Beer Sommelier for this session, were –

Redchurch dry hopped Sour beer,
Brewdog’s Dead Pony Club, session pale ale,
Pig and Porter’s Red Spider Ale,
Gadd’s No 3 English Pale Ale,
Saltaire’s Kala Black IPA,
Boutillier’s Rauchbier and
Harviestoun’s Ola Dubh 12 Porter

harvestouns ola dubh

These represented some of the excellent wide range of beers styles available today. This was a wonderfully diverse mix, I could happily wax lyrical about any of these beers. Palettes were cleansed with crackers and water between each beer, whilst blindfold smelling and tasting worked to focus our attention and heighten our sensory awareness.

The Sour was the first beer style we tasted, it certainly woke us up if some people’s startled reactions were anything to go by! However, after the second sip, this initial zesty shock subsided so it’s qualities could be fully appreciated. Interestingly, in general those who normally liked wine, also favoured this sharp, fresh tasting beer which would happily accompany a white fish supper. Food and beer tasting is of course a whole different ball game, but it was interesting to listen to Sophie just briefly touch on the subject in passing.

tasting beers guided by a beer sommelier

My lasting impression is that between sniffs and the first sip, it’s the second mouthful that imparts the most honest mouthful of flavour in any particular beer. That’s when I best discovered the hidden complexities in any beer. We rounded off the official tasting off with the Harvestoiuns Ola Dubh 12 year reserve Porter. This to me was a beer to savour, to be lingered over with someone you love. Perhaps best shared whilst watching the sun set or on a cold winter’s night by an open log fire, with only an oil lamp burning.

Cheers Sophie, thank you for a wonderful afternoon. Good beer, good company and good food, simple pleasures are indeed the best.

A special thank you to the suppliers who were without exception all very helpful. These beers were purchased from Eebria, Ales by Mail, The Beer Boutique TW, whilst Boutilliers and Harvestoun’s Breweries very generously sent us samples.

hop burr is rapidly coming out

This Year’s Hop burr Is Rapidly Coming Out

This year’s hop burr is rapidly coming out in the hop gardens. Of the main varieties grown here, the Northern Brewer variety is the boldest of these, hence the burr was also the first to appear a couple of weeks ago. With arable fields, the crops are constantly rotated but with hops it is different. They grow in the same ground for decades, a single hop variety can grow for 25 years without needing to be replaced. You get to know their foibles and as this year’s hop burr is rapidly coming out, it is like greeting old friends. I love the anticipation at this time of year,  they are exciting times for any grower.

hop burr is rapidly coming out

hop burr is rapidly coming out

In the hop gardens there are a few odd varieties that I can pick small quantities to ring the changes, for home brewers to try if they wish. The very first of the early hop varieties out in hop is the aptly named July hop. This will probably be followed by Early Bird. I have heard tell of a hop grower called Mr. Lovett who always wore a rather large flamboyant buttonhole of Early Bird hops variety for the Kent Show. The Show was 7th-9th July this year so I do not think there would have been any Early Bird hops ready this year.  Perhaps he grew one under glass as a contingency plan!  Below is the July Hop photographed yesterday –

July Hop Variety

In the grass fields the lesser knapweed is flourishing, a valuable nectar source for insects including bees, butterflies and lacewings. Goldfinch numbers have increased greatly in later years, they also feed on the seedbeds of this knapweed.

The combines are ready with a tentative start to harvest being made in this area, just a little nibble here and there, testing the moisture content of the ripe grain. Sunshine and warmth are needed, as soon as the sun comes out it will be full steam ahead. I can hardly believe it is harvest time already this year seems to have flown by.

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first year hop platens

Young Hop Plants June Update

This year’s young hop plants are looking good. With the seedlings, I have two different crosses from which just 5 of one and 6 of the other were selected. I only plant a few seeds each year, it would be so easy to be over enthusiastic and plant too many, then be overrun.

Last year, the previous carefully nurtured selections, turned out to be all males. Disappointing, but at least they have not been wasted, they have all been put to good use as seeders in the gardens. Hop growing is a long term process even when buying in the setts, but I am still hoping that this year’s babies won’t be all males again.

Interestingly one of this year’s chosen varieties is from seeds all taken from a single wild female cone, yet half of them have lighter more golden leaves, while the other half are straightforward green.

hop plants coloured leaves

young hop plantsAs any gardener understands, the potential possibilities in all seeds is fascinating. I love the anticipation, nurturing them, their fine cotton thread shoots, wondering whether just maybe ……. this time could one of these young hop plants produce that extra special hop with a unique aroma, that little extra pizzazz ….… mmm we’ll have to wait and see.

It was a huge relief to finally get a good soaking rain. After all as country lore says – ‘A rain in June, puts all things in tune’. The warm weather following these rains has been just what these first year hop plants needed.  They have definitely all perked up, what the difference a month makes.

first year hop platens

Last but certainly not least, today is British National Beer Day

Non-alcoholic Drinks

When you want a choice of non-alcoholic drinks it can be hard to find something that tastes like a treat whilst not being too sweet. A long time ago I tried two alcohol free beers, they were both horrible, hence I’ve never been tempted to try any since. That is until last month when I picked up a bottle of Brewdog ‘Nanny State’ beer to read the label, I assumed it was another in the Brewdog range of craft beers. It was only then that I realised it was alcohol free. Well the name should have been a clue! Certainly an inspired name choice which made me smile as soon as I realised my mistake.

Still not convinced that it could be worth buying, I had skirted around it on the beer aisles for a few weeks, but then determined to be openminded decided to try one. Well it proved to be third time lucky. I was peasantry surprised, the smell was invitingly of ‘proper beer‘ and the taste was certainly craft beery. A nice hoppy bitterness, with none of the yukky flat after-taste I remember.  Since trying Brewdog’s Nanny State I was told about this excellent website – and yes of course Nanny State is on their non-alcoholic drinks list. Such a good idea, The people at Dry Drinker do all the hard work of sourcing for you and only sell what they have actually tried.

There is definitely a need for some more sophisticated non-alcoholic drinks. I was heartened last summer to read an article by Victoria Moore about a new family of non alcoholic drinks, which sound very grown up. More along the lines of non-alcoholic G & T’s, they sound tempting. At the moment finding them seems to be the hardest part, hence so far no luck. Before buying a bottle it would be nice to try a glass to see if we really like it or perhaps which one we would prefer. They don’t seem to be on offer in pubs. but I will keep looking out for them.

Meanwhile this month the hops also had their thirst quenched! Finally it rained, at last they had the good soaking they badly needed, it was getting pretty dire especially for the young ones.  The combination of the dry soil and cold night temperatures including a frost in April had put the brake on their normal rapid Spring growth. However, now that’s all changed, the hops will soon be rapidly climbing the strings.

first year hops

Growing Hops at Home

Growing hops at home is not much different to growing hops commercially on a larger scale, but at home it is just much easier to pamper a single plant.

Here we have had no rain. Nil, zilch, nada, nothing,  nothing at all, not even to lay the dust let alone enough to soak the ground.

growing hops at home

cascade first year hops

The ground is seriously dry.  Our clay loam soil is now badly cracked and unkind for any spring grown crop. The soil was wonderfully friable for planting hops setts this February with one well timed wet day shortly after planting to settle them in nicely. But, since then no follow-up rains have materialised. We have watched the skies hopefully on days when shower clouds gathered, but each time we have had to watch as every shower circled right around us. Hop growing can be a frustrating business.

Usually, with us anyway, first year hops are not watered. Originally it may well have been partly due to logistics of large scale irrigation but mainly because the theory is that their roots will go down deeper after the moisture if they are not watered.

I try to follow that reasoning as much as possible however, this year I had some smaller pot-grown hop setts as well as the usual Grade 1 setts suppled by Stephen Wright. The root systems of these pot-grown plants were naturally not as robust as the hunky soil grown setts.

So yesterday I gave in and watered some of this year’s babies. They were not stressed but I didn’t want to risk leaving them any longer. Watering is one example when growing hops at home is much much easier!

Each plant was given a long slow watering of a gallon each, allowing it to soak in well.  I had mixed in a little propriety general liquid fertiliser to help give them a gentle nudge, then back-filled the cracks with John Innes No3. I feel this helps stop any evaporation post their watering, which makes me feel better if nothing else. A good soaking is the important thing, rather than just damping the surface, giving a little water would do more harm than good by encouraging the roots to stay on the surface.  Hopefully we will soon have a good rain soon to even up soil’s moisture content.

growing hops at home

nurturing young hops

The other larger Grade 1 setts I have left for a while longer, they are growing well and will not be picked this year anyway. Rather than cut 1st year hops for picking in September, by to allowing them to die back naturally, they can continue growing over a longer time span during October. This helps establish their root systems for next season. Maybe this and old wives tale but it feels right.

If you are a home brewer and always fancied making a green hopped beer, it is certainly worth considering growing hops at home.  If short of space perhaps you could squeeze in just a single plant of your favourite variety.   You could then have the pleasure of picking your very own hops with no worries about drying them.

growing hops at home

 

crab apple blossom

Bramling Cross Hops in April

April is a fabulous month but this year it has surpassed itself. I can understand the homesick yearning described by Robert Browning when he wrote his famous lines –

“Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there”,

This year the wildflowers and blossom trees have been and continue to be exceptional. Each successive show of blossom seemingly trying to outdo the former. Mother Nature has certainly pulled out all her ‘floral’ stops with the sheer quantity and quality of blossom. No wind or rain means individual flowers have remained perfect.

The Cuckoo arrived spot on cue during the 2nd week of April and my first sighting of swallows swooping and diving was on Easter Day. Each bird heralding the end of winter.

Bluebells are carpeting woodland floors with that unique dark blue wash, blue mixed with just a pinch of purple. The only shadow here is of Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides Hispanica) creeping ever closer and threatening our native bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta). I cannot deny the Spanish bluebell is an attractive easy garden plant to grow and was recommended as such a few years ago. Garden grandees like Christopher Lloyd  in his book The Well-tempered Garden
recommended them. They last well in a vase. However, this bluebell has not stayed within garden boundaries. It is a strong grower and cross pollinates with our native blue bells producing hybrids which in turn threaten to invade our woodlands, by elbowing out the native bluebells.

bluebell woods

These stronger growing hybrids are relatively easy to spot, their leaves are a tad broader and their actual bells are paler, broader and shorter. They grow more upright and to me they can resemble weedy hyacinths. Therefore if I see a bluebell close to our woodland, the simple guideline I use is, if it gives any inkling of a weedy hydrangea then I destroy it. ‘If in doubt then dig it out.’  Below our native Bluebells – Hyacinthoides non-scripta

Hyacinthoides non-scripta

The Spanish Bluebell – Hyacinthoides Hispanica

spanish bluebells

Hop twiddling started on 6th April, a week earlier than we have ever known. By comparison hop twiddling started in this area on 20th April last year. The dry mild weather this month has made for an easy first round of training. After my last post the short cold spells this winter have not so far had the effect we hoped for on the Bramling Cross. Whilst the other varieties have been up and away, disappointingly as I write the Bramling Cross remain stubbornly inactive.  Their leaves retain the peculiar heliotrope purple colour,and until they turn a ‘proper’ green they will not start to grow away. Last winter sadly did not have the ‘get up and go’ effect on the Bramling Cross hops we had hoped for.

Bramling Cross hop leaves
This month I had a treat too. It was a day I had been really looking forward to and as a bonus it started with a train journey. More about that will be revealed later this year.

The only downside to this April is lack of rain, the ground is very very dry, this year’s baby hops could really do with some gentle warm spring rain. In the South East we had a dry winter anyway and now this month only one third of expected normal rainfall. ‘March winds and April showers bring forth sweet May flowers’ – well not this year, not one April shower and we definitely need rain for all spring sown crops in general.

According to folk lore this dry spell will continue, the rooks are nesting high in the trees, apparently a sure sign of a warm, dry summer to come. Another old folk lore concerning rooks is if they line up on a fence it is a sign that it will rain. Whatever the truth of that, we will keep an eye open for any rooks lined up on any fence! But for now we are just wishing hard for some last minute April showers, that truly would be the cherry on the cake to make this month just perfect.

Rookery

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