Bramling cross hop variety

Bramling Cross Hop Variety

Bramling Cross Hop variety was bred by Professor Ernest Salmon at Wye college then released in 1951 after trials. It’s mother was a Bramling Golding and the father a wild Canadian Manitoban hop seedling. Demure fresh-faced Kent maiden meets wild Davy Crocket look alike! The outcome of this liaison, the Bramling Cross hop variety takes after both parents, this makes for an interesting combination. The aroma is said to be American, whilst it’s neat growth takes after it’s Kentish mother by producing ladylike columns of very pretty hops. In full hop this is a beautiful plant as well as being an easy well-mannered hop variety to pick.

Bramling Cross hop variety

It is one of the best bines to hang up for decoration.

bramling cross hop bines for decoration

The Bramling Cross hop is well thought of with mainstream Brewers being used for both late and dry hopping and known for its good bittering flavours. Brooklyn Brewery and Harvey’s Brewery have both used this variety. Another testament to its brewing prowess is Brew Dog naming it as one of their favourite hops.

That being said it doesn’t seem generally popular with home-brewers. For home-brewers it appears to be very much a ‘love it or loathe it’ variety, and mostly ‘loathe it’, a real marmite hop! I even read one forum comment about it smelling of old trainers. I do not know why people think it would have a bad pong, whilst someone may not like the smell of hops, the actual hops themselves should never smell bad. The only conclusion we can draw is that that particular sample must have been old or had been poorly stored. Once the oils within a hop cone turn rancid, this will make any variety smell ‘cheesy’, indeed any oily food would taste unpleasant if this happened.

bramling cross hop pickingHowever, the fresh aroma of the Bramling Cross hop could not be more strikingly different, it is a spicy dark berry delight. The bouquet is predominantly blackcurrants with added citrussy lemon notes plus a hint of vanilla for good measure. Any whiff of cheesy feet means the hops have gone ‘off’. I do not sell hops from a previous season and can only recommend that they are purchased as soon after harvest as possible. ‘Fresh is Best‘, hence I made a commitment to home-brewers that I will only ever sell hops from the current season. Any left over stock at end of each August is destroyed. However, whichever the side of the ‘marmite’ fence you are on, for Bramling Cross devotees use them while you can, there is every possibility they may not be around commercially in the future.

For growers, the Bramling Cross hop variety is certainly giving us cause for concern. It has thrown up a double conundrum. The theory is that Bramling Cross is particularly sensitive to global warming, it truly does appear to be affected by climate change, and as such it could be a climate indicator plant. Although an old variety the mild, often wet winters we have been experiencing of recent years just do not suit them. Current thinking is warmer winter temperatures mean that the plants do not go into dormancy properly and then simple refuse to grow in the spring. It is a scary phenomena to witness, you cannot force them to grow, therefore growers are basically helpless bystanders, there is nothing whatsoever you can do about it. Some years it has been mid-June when we have trained them for the first time and even then the growth can be very uneven, this alone is never a good sign. It also makes their management more tricky. Other varieties are heading skywards over the top wires, whilst the Bramling Cross hop variety stubbornly refuses to budge. Some growers have grubbed hop gardens as this variety becomes more and more uneconomical to grow.

This past winter 2016/17 we have had periods of frosty weather in the SE, it remains to be seen if this is enough and whether they grow away any better this Spring.

However late Bramling Cross start into growth, being an early variety, ironically they are always the first hop variety to be picked, certainly in this area and therein lies their second weakness. This is the double whammy, it means their growing season is shortened. It is entirely feasible that if this continues year after year, then the accumulative effect will mean that plants cannot replenish their own strength within this pared back growing season. There could come a time as they become weaker and weaker that they will naturally die out. Last year I noticed their bines were much finer than ever before.

Bramling Cross hop being loaded for picking

On that gloomy note and still on the subject of blackcurrants, I had heard that blackcurrant leaves make an excellent tea. Last summer I tried it – a handful of fresh young leaves into boiling water. I don’t much like fruit or herbal teas, preferring good old fashioned builders tea, however, this time the advise given was quite correct. The leaves alone smell inviting, Blackcurrant leaf tea does make for an excellent cuppa and apparently very good for you too! I’ll end with the counsel given by the Abbé P. Bailly de Montaran in 1712, “There is nobody who, having a garden, shouldn’t plant a great number of black currant bushes for the needs of their family,” Hear hear to that you can use the leaves and berries.

This Year’s Hop Setts Have Arrived

This year’s hop setts have arrived just in time to coincide with the arrival of storm Doris tomorrow!  That will probably delay planting for 24 hours, but we planted several out today and the rest are now safely bedded-in until Doris passes.  I love baby hops and as always these setts from Stephen Wright are superbly grown.

We have the more popular varieties already growing which we wanted to bulk up, but also 3 ‘brand new to us’ varieties for the home brewer to try. Hopefully these new additions to our range for 2017 harvest will whet a few appetites; well certainly enough to give them a try in a brew.

There should also be 2 Heritage varieties on offer this year. But I will wait until closer to harvest to select which two will be listed.

This year’s 3 new additions to our range are Willamette, Ernest and Perle. Ernest and Perle sound like perfect partners, an old couple from the East End who always came down for the hand picking! However nothing could be further from the truth as Ernest is a very new ‘old ‘ hop.  Dr Peter Darby revisited varieties in the national collection which had been rejected many years ago and made this fresh selection in keeping with the flavours preferred today. This one had been bred by Professor Ernest Salmon and up until that point known only as OZ97a. It has been named to honour Professor Ernest Salmon and his wonderful work.  He bred many of our well known hop varieties among them wilt resistant varieties.

I did have sniff at some dried Ernest at Christmas and they had a wonderful rounded aroma with a good waft of pineapple.  I am now really looking forward to seeing how they grow  this season. Perle and Willamette I have never smelt, so it is all very exciting.

Snow drops are out, a few early daffodils along sunny banks and the hellebores are as stunning as ever. This year’s hop setts have arrived, hurray Spring is not far off.

snowdrops

 

A New Hop Growing Season Begins

A new hop growing season begins. In this area hop stringing has just started. I love this fresh ‘new-page-in-a-note-book’ feeling, with the accompanying expectation that as a new hop growing season begins, this is it, this year there’ll be a perfect hop crop! Of course we know reality will not be like that! Each season always turns out to be very different to the last one and just when you think you have things sorted, along comes a completely different set of problems to keep everyone on their toes. But just for now we can dream a little, it will all be perfect!

Hop string soaking before being put on wet. If it was put on dry it would stretch when it rained.

hop string soaking

Bines have been cut off and burnt up, winter wire working is complete, allowing this tentative beginning to hop stringing. This job is weather dependent therefore can continue in fits and starts over the next 3 months. Banding follows on as soon as each garden is strung. Below the first strings silhouetted against a wintry sky.

A new hop growing season begins

Stringing at A Bushel of Hops will not get underway until after this year’s new varieties have been planted. The screw pegs will go in as each hop sett is planted, each screw peg is needed to be in place before any string can be put onto that garden.

screw pegs
What makes this crop so exciting is within 6 months these plants will emerge from the bare soil, they will grow to 16 foot and be harvested. Zero to hero!

Fresh pea shoots are a tasty salad addition

Fresh Pea Shoots Are A Tasty Salad Addition

Fresh pea shoots are a tasty salad addition at any time of year but especially during chilly grey winter months when fresh salad greens are at their scarcest. These crisp shoots with their fresh pea flavour instantly transport you to summer days with memories of picking peas and eating them straight out of the pod.

dried peasHaving seen them available on supermarket shelves I found it was super easy to grow them at home and have them ready to cut as required. Simply buy a pack of any dried marrow fat peas normally used for making soup*, I soak a good handful for about 5 hours, then sow them thickly onto fresh compost in any handy sized flower pot. They want to be just below the top of the pot and by having the seeds touching each this seems best for a good density of shoots. But really adjust to suit your own preferences. Cover with a thin layer of compost and tap the pot on the table to settle the contents and that’s it.

Water the pot, then stand indoors on a window ledge, it does not matter if it is north facing and gets no sun at all. Unlike planting seeds which are to be grown on in the garden, you actually want these shoots to draw up to be tall and leggy.

pea shoots are a tasty addition

Keep an eye on the pot so as not to let the soil dry out, I leave it close to my washing up area so it is easy to see, then once the shoots are growing turn the pot regularly. That way the shoots will grow straighter and not make a horizontal dash for the window pane! I like to leave them until they get their first curly tendrils, there’s no difference to the flavour but they look pretty. That is all there is to it, green fingers definitely not essential!

Next bit is the best bit and even easier, just cut as required, a quick rinse and that’s it, a little bit of summer on your plate. Let them grow back a second time after their first hair cut. They are not as tall or perfect this second time around but that is fine, they still have that wonderful fresh pea flavour and crunch. Delicious!

*Caution – use only peas sold for cooking, DO NOT use peas that are sold for sowing in the garden, these may have protective chemical dressings on the seed.

fresh pea shoots are a tasty salad addition

 

 

A special beer tasting continued our festive magic

A Special Beer Tasting Continued our Festive Magic

A special beer tasting continued our festive magic,  I had received 4 unique gifts in the true spirit of Christmas as they could not have been bought. For us at A Bushel of Hops it was the perfect start to 2017.

After hop-picking in September the Old English Blend of hops sold out quickly to members of a private home-brew forum. At the time I had no idea that each of the members involved agreed to use these hops to brew a beer of their own chosen recipe. That done they surprised me, they very kindly sent me 4 bottles, each one from a different brewer. I was really touched by their very kind and thoughtful gesture. The downside was they asked if I would judge them! – eek.

The 4 bottles had arrived labelled A – D only, they took pride of place at the top of the table.

A special beer tasting continued our festive magic

To suitably honour their beer, the tasting had to be a special occasion. I made a batch of pickled vegetables, which may sound odd but they’re a perfect accompaniment for a beer tasting, along with a few other nibbly treats.  Glasses were also marked A – D, a set for each of our tasting paddles.

A special beer tasting continued our festive magic

Beer is best when shared and with the added dimension of wanting our judging decisions to be made fairly,

beer tasting concentrationreinforcements were called for, after all taste is subjective and we all have own favourite styles. January 5th was designated as ‘B’ day for Richard, Danny and Doy to come along after work, not that they needed any encouragement! Appropriately they arrived straight from the hop gardens after a day of winter wire working. It was already dark when they arrived bringing with them a waft of that lovely ‘cold outdoor’ smell as they entered the warm kitchen. No cups of tea were on offer that evening, the beer was at the right temperature, and we were eager to start.

The fact that the combination of 3 simple ingredients, water, malt and hops brewed together can make an endless variety of flavours and aromas I always think is awesome, and these 4 beers were no different. They may have used the same blend of hop varieties, but each brew was individual and each had its own particular notable quality. On top of that, drinking something made with hops you have grown, is always a thrill. The seriously business of making tasting notes certainly concentrates the mind but we all thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.

beer tasting notes, A special beer tasting continued our festive magic

The brewers concerned have been updated, but this is a private forum therefore the actual tasting remains between the eight of us. Going by this evening all I will say is that these 4 gents definitely know how to brew an excellent beer.  Thank you gentlemen brewers for that honour and giving us such a great fun way to start 2017.

2016 was a momentous year but it culminated with a little serendipity from nature. This beautiful fairytale perfect white rainbow was spotted in Scotland at the end Nov and on 28th December an upside-down rainbow manifested itself right here. A topsy turvy end to a topsy turvy year?!

Slightly belatedly I would like to wish all our customers and home brewers a very Happy New Year

upside down rainbow

homebrew Hop aroma pack

Homebrew Hop Aroma Pack Winner

‘The Homebrew Hop Aroma Pack ‘ draw is now closed. We are delighted to announce the winner has been randomly selected and is ………………..James D.

Congratulations James.   You will be getting an email shortly.

We had 42 entries in all, thank you so much to everyone who entered.

tightening hop wires

Winter Hop Gardens And It’s Wire Working Time

Winter hop gardens and it’s wire working time once again.  This mean any of the following, from replacing hop poles winter hop gardensthat were broken during hop picking, to checking all running wires, bearing wires, curbs and anchors. Sections of wire that have become slack from the weight of the crop can be tightened and individual broken wires replaced. Whilst Painting the Forth Bridge may now be complete for the next 25 years, in the hop gardens wire working maintenance is still a continually ongoing enterprise. Generally a small area of top wire is selected annually to be replaced, eventually needing to be redone once you have got to the end!

It is good to get as many of these jobs done as possible before the ground becomes too wet or the real chill of mid-winter sets in. Like most outdoor work it is simply easier to move without needing to wear lots of layers to keep warm.  However, tightening the wires means it is difficult to wear gloves while doing this and chilly hands can be an occupational hazard.  The obvious difference in the wires before and after tensioning is shown below.

winter hop gardens

Still the old poles but freshly tightened running wires neatly wound off.

hop wire work

While the ground was still dry a small area of poles were augured in place ready for the top wires and anchors to be attached later. This garden will be ready for setts to be planted out later this winter.hop poles, new hop garden A few winters ago while moving a pile of wood, underneath I found this perfectly preserved skeleton, by it’s size I presumed it was a grass snake. Although I am not keen on snakes, as this one couldn’t move it was fascinating to examine closely. It was flawless and I am pleased to say it eventually found a good home in a nature cabinet.

snake skeleton

Still on snakes I was given an unusual curio by an Australian friend, I cannot really call it a gift,  of a bone with individual vertebra from a snake glued around it. Once painted they look like little people singing from very large song books. I came across it the other day and could not believe I still had it!
snakes vertebrae However, the bare-bones I most enjoy are our trees in winter when leaves have fallen and they can reveal their basic structure. Silhouetted against a wintery sky and surrounded by plants laced with hoar frost, I love a proper winter.

 

autumn in the hop gardens bine cutting is underway

Autumn in the Hop Gardens Bine Cutting is Underway

bine cutting Autumn in the hop gardens, bine cutting is underway and we are almost at the end of another hop growing year. With shorter days, the urgency of  harvest and corn sowing is over, life now shifts to a slower pace on the land. For the hop farm, bine cutting started at the end October after we had our first frost.  At hop picking the top part of each hop bine is cut off to be taken to the picking machine, this leaves the lower metre still attached to the hill. This bottom length of each bine is now cut off and burnt.

autumn in the hop garden, bine cutting is underway by burning bines

Because of the wire work structure needed, hops grow in the same ground year after year, they cannot be rotated annually like other crops. Burning this excess plant material is therefore the best way to ensure that any possible plant disease present does not overwinter to infect new shoots in spring. Like most hop work it’s not difficult but it is time consuming and hands on. Each bine is cut off close to the ground with a swap, they are placed in small piles which are later collected up and burnt, leaving the gardens neat and tidy for next year.

autumn in the hop garden, bine cutting is underwayWinter wire working repairs have already started but that is for the next post.

homebrew Hop aroma pack

Homebrew Hop Aroma Packs

We are proud to introduce our new HomeBrew Hop Aroma Packs, or to be more specific our HomeBrew Leaf Hop Aroma Sniffer Packs. A bit of a mouthful certainly but exactly as stated on the label.  This introductory pack contains 25gm each of 8 hop varieties – Admiral, Bramling Cross, Cascade, Goldings, Pilgrim, Phoenix, Progress and Target.  It comes with instructions how to ‘rub up’ your hops to get the best aroma from these samples and the aromas normally given for each variety.  The packs could be used for different purposes.

With Christmas just around the corner, if you are at a loss what to buy the Home Brewer in your life,  this could be just the gift you are looking for?

Or stuck in a brewing rut, is your home brewing too safe, always using the same malt and hop variety?  If you fancy the chance to savour different varieties you may be pleasantly surprised or you may decide that your favourite hops are still your favourites!

If you are planning a beer tasting get tougher with friends and want something different to make the party more interesting and push the boundaries a little, well look no further….    For your beer tasting get together these could be put into bowls for a blind aroma test, write down the aromas you can each detect then compare your results with the accepted norm for that variety.  Any left over hops can of course be used to late hop your next brew or even used to make a hop pillow!

At a Bushel of Hops we love the opportunity to smell different hops and invite you to share in this pleasure. So if you would like to join us for a snifter, we are offering one pack as the prize in a raffle to be drawn on the midwinter solstice, 21st December*. To enter scroll down and answer this simple question – ‘Name 2 other hop varieties offered in our shop that are not in the Aroma Sniffer pack‘?

We also have Homebrew Hop Aroma Packs available to buy in our shop if you just can’t wait for the draw. They are £18.00 each inclusive of 20% VAT.

 

 

*1 winner will be drawn at random from all the correct entries received before the draw  at 9am on the 21st December. The winner will be notified by email and the prize will be posted asap, however, this will not arrive in time for Christmas. All draw entries will be added to our special offers and newsletter list which we send out from time to time. You can unsubscribe from this list at any time by clicking the link in the email.

Fabulous Autumn Weather

I hope others are also finding time to enjoy this fabulous autumn weather, lots of sunshine this year with only the merest hint of chill in the air so far, it is wonderful. Here in the South East it is still remarkably dry underfoot which is perfect for walking, for the moment at least our Wealden Clay remains tamed. Leaves are rapidly changing colour and being so dry, they rattle down through the branches as they fall. Autumn sown corn has germinated with the young shoots giving bare fields a fresh green colour wash.

smoke-in-woodIt is perfect weather to be outdoors. Last weekend we made time to brew up a cup tea over a fire. Even a simple toasted sandwich tastes so much better outside. Watching the blue wood smoke wafting up through the autumn tree  canopy while waiting for the kettle to boil, I could understand a little the significance of Japanese tea ceremonies. The only trouble was the watched kettle boiled too quickly!

Surprisingly two fallow deer wandered up wind towards the fire to graze under a couple of large oak trees about 30 yards away. There was no undergrowth so they must have been picking up the acorns. In the neighbouring gyhll a rutting stag could be heard. The two does were completely unmoved by his persistent grunting calls; these two ladies definitely preferred to lunch!

fairy rings

Another pleasure of autumn is mushroom picking, I love the magic of mushrooms, you can never be sure when or indeed if they will appear. The only place of finding them with any teensy bit of certainty is around the fairy rings in the fields. I know there are solid scientific reasons why fairy rings grow as thy do, but I prefer to believe in magic. After all, fabulous Autumn weather like is truly delightful.

close-up-of-mushroom