Learning to string a hop garden is pretty straight forward once you learn the basic pattern and if you can knit this could be an advantage. Our mystery stringer this year is Rosie.
It is unusual for us to have a lady hop stringer but not for any sexist reason. On farms traditionally the men went to work and the women had the main responsibility of looking after the children.Women could not put in a full day’s work but when they went banding this was perfectly suited for flexible working. It enabled them to be in the fields within school hours.
So on this farm the men who worked here full time did the hop stringing and the women did the banding, each playing their part for the benefit of the whole – old fashion team work.
Now things are different, times have dramatically altered and there are no longer several men permanently working on the farm. For seasonal hop work we have help from family and friends, some friends from far afield.This year Rosie asked to come hop stringing. At first you need to concentrate but the picture below shows how to hold the string and goad perfectly to achieve the right tension.
The main difference? There were none other that the men put half-hitches on the top hooks to help hold the tension and Rosie as she was learning to string a hop garden put in twizzles! Identical yes but twizzles are self explanatory and I think more picturesque.
The hop gardens may be strungfor this year but banding continues.Who knows, maybe we will see a man banding one year? This Pathe news clip shows the stringing and banding competitions that used to be run.
Colgate is a British heritage hop variety dating from 1805. It is one of the British heritage hop varieties I grow for home brewers but it also holds a special place in our hearts. In 1911 there were 4 pockets of Colgate grown by our family along with 11 pockets of Prolific. We know this because it was recorded in the oast house that year.
So this year, 108 years later, we have harvested a few for home brewers to try. Only 6 x 100gm packs but when the Website Shop reopens on Monday 14th October, they will be available to purchase. In the interest of fairness we have limited all heritage sales varieties to one packet per person. It would be fantastic to get feedback from anyone who brews with these British Heritage hop varieties, we’re on new ground and I cannot offer any advise at all.
Colgate hop variety has small cones which gradually become oval as they mature. They prefer heavy soil and are late ripening. We always understood them to be a small hop simply because it had been passed down by word of mouth within the family, but we did not know what they smelt like. It reputedly had a coarse aroma which is not what we thought but ideas on the ideal hop aroma have change significantly since George Clinch wrote his book ‘English Hops’ in 1919. Warm up the oils of the dried Colgate cones between your hands and the aroma of sweet stone fruits in a traditional orchard, including apricot is what first hits you. There is also a light floral scent in there with cloves, cinnamon and cedar. This cedar so gentle it is like detecting a distant cedar forest on a cool summer breeze. The lead aroma is definitely the stone fruits.
Sweet fruit is a surprisingly common aroma theme in several of these British heritage hop varieties. Malling Midseason from 1943 for instance is berries, not blackcurrants but the smell you get when warm ripe strawberries are at their summer best. A thank you to Kate Hyde for helping out with this sniff test for Malling Midseason, but as with all these aroma tests it is very individualand therefore I try to get the opinion of as many people as possible. With College Cluster dated 1943 everyone I asked at hop picking without exception said lemon or fresh lemon zest, with a bit more sniffing they said pine so I am happy to pass on that assessment. Malling Midseason was not picked this year, but if anyone using any of the other British heritage hop varieties has anything to offer that they can detect it would be really fascinating to hear your aroma assessments. This is an ongoing project.
These first impressions when they are sprung on people are really interesting when no-one has time to think. The consensus for White Grape was green herbs, lemons, green peppercorns and mild spice. Nonsuch from 1940 is another of our British heritage varieties. The aroma assessment for this came in with a citrus mix of lemon and orange zest, marmalade and herby sage. It made people think of mulled wine. John Ford from 1944 and here the general opinion was again sweet summer berries but with orange peel, mild spice aromas and grass.
We are really pleased to offer these British heritage hop varieties which are not commercially available and sincerely hope you enjoy brewing with them.
So to end, this Colgate has nothing whatsoever to do with toothpaste, that is Colegate! This British heritage hop was introduced by and named after Mr David Colgate of Chevening in Kent
Are hops good for you? Well it would appear to be the case in several ways, some quite obscure. Their preservative qualities in beer have long been known, as well as hops providing the flavour and bittering qualities in a brew.This bacteria inhibiting fact is well documented but did you know? I didn’t, that according to this websiteif you marinade a steak for a week in beer this will apparently limit most of the carcinogens produced when the meat is fried. That and possibly raising good cholesterol levels can only be seen by us beer lovers as forces for good health!Many other websites make interesting reading on the health benefits derived from the hops in our beer.
In short the more hops in the beer, the happier the beer and perhaps best of all seemingly healthier for us?!!
After last nights storm I remembered we had been reliably informed by an amateur scientist that hop gardens will act as a Faraday Cage in a storm.Are hops good for you? More than that, in a roundabout way a hop garden could allegedly save your life. We know never to stand under a tree in a thunder storm but if this science is correct, the safest place to be if
you are caught outside in a lightening storm would in a hop garden.The wirework above you attached to the ground by metal anchors should protect you from a lightning hit. One would still have had to be brave to try this out last night.
Another rather off beat aside about the usefulness of a hop garden was when a friend who is a radio ham once used our hop garden as a giant aerial and it worked!
A bonus by product of the storm is that the rain will contain nitrogen.Mild night temperatures and nitrogen enriched rain, a perfect combination to make the hops grow out.
Another way hops are good for you is how they have been used for centuries in hop pillows to induce sleep. Whether they relieve anxiety thereby making you drowsy or not I do not know. But I rather suspect that anyone working for the hop-picking will be physically tired therefore they will naturally sleep well anyway. If you do not help with the hop harvest then dried hops can be bought from my shop throughout the year if you wish to make a hop pillow.
Are hops good for you? Whatever is true, whether you drink them or sniff them I wish you effortless Sweet Dreams.
2019 hops for home brewing begin with stringing, getting it in place ready for them to climb up in April.Hop stringing is like the first page of a new notebook. Who knows what 2019 growing season will be like, all we know is it is ahead of us, it’s a clean sheet and as always it’s exciting.
First coir yarn is soaked, it stretches slightly when wet, imperceptible over a short length but over a long distance it is noticeable.By putting it on wet it tightens as it dries but prevents stretching in situ during rain.The weight of the hops as they mature and get heavy encourages this too.
Stringing is soothing to watch, there is a gentle rhythm to it. It’s a knack and like riding a bicycle once learnt you never forget how to do it. Up down, knit one purl one, always careful not to drop a stitch.
So preparations for growing 2019 hops for home brewing begin with stringing and just like each hop season before it, there is pleasure had working with the seasons. there are never two the same. This portfolio of photos was last month in mild weather, 2018 by contrast was cold. Next job banding-in.
Pilgrim hops, how they grow and their characteristics, was the beginning and it started off innocently enough. As a small craft hop grower I grow several British hop varieties, including several Heritage ones, which are hard to find elsewhere. Hands-on time spent in the hop gardens soon reveal the vagaries of each individual variety, especially easily are Pilgrim hops, how they grow and their characteristics. Each variety can have very distinct and separate qualities or as I visualise them, personalities. This was the inspiration for my ‘if hops were people’ series.
It started with Pilgrim hops, still one of my favourite varieties as they make me smile. Spend a couple of seasons in a hop garden working with these little ladies and you would understand exactly what I am talking about.Pilgrim hops, how they grow and their characteristics are quickly sussed.At twiddling time they produce slim dainty green bines which often climb the strings unaided if left to their own devises, the first teensy hint of their self-willed tendencies.The bines have a short twist which means they naturally stay on the strings unlike some other stiffer varieties, again this appearing to be disciplined is a perfect juxtaposition of their true characters. When you come to pick them at harvest time, they are definitely not fine and delicate, they are like wire netting, so much so when they go through a hop machine they have been known to literally stop it in its tracks.These seemingly fine bines are tough as old boots, which is why we always pull them back hard at training.If too many go up the strings on their accord, by harvest they are too thick and exhausting for everyone feeding them into the hop machine.
The hop cone at first also looks dainty with cute upturned tips like a miniature Chinese lantern, but beware, underneath this facade is hiding an uninhibited riotous and wayward character.
Deceptively pretty, but these are the wild girls and ladettes of the British hop family. Take a close look at the photo below again, can you see?naughty not nice! On a night out they begin by looking deceptively feminine, but a few quickly downed shots before moving on to some more serious drinking and they rapidly become over boisterous.They maybe fun, but things can rapidly get out of hand and they would frequently get themselves and anyone else with them into trouble.
In their favour, they look good as decorative bines as the hops cones crop along the length of the bines without excess leaves as they ripen to harvest. As a brewing hops Pilgrim are a dual purpose variety with pear, berries, grass and autumn fruit aromasmixed in with some spice and citrus notes. But if hops were people then you’d best beware of these wild undisciplined Pilgrim girls.
I will be continuing with more in this series during 2019.
Goldings hop variety for brewing dates back to the late 1700’s when Mr Golding found a hop he thought was something special. Today this variety is still one of the most famous and quintessential of English hops along with Fuggles.Goldings is not one single hop variety but rather a family of almost identical sisters from Kent, with a strong family resemblance. Mathon is the exception in that this Golding heralds from the Hereford/Worcester hop growing region.Each individually named Goldings hop variety for brewing generally got it’s name from the person who found it or the place where it was grown.
The Goldings family range across the harvest season, from early, mid to late season hops, this extension is very useful for the growers, but whether they are early or late, they all have one thing in common and that is their amazing aroma. It’s a distinct but very pleasant spicy bouquet underpinning the rest of the Golding aroma’s top notes, which will give smooth sweet honey, earthy, spicy flavours to a brew.Add in a little citrus with some floral notes, an occasional waft of lavender, to see why thissuperior hop variety is so delicious.In this articleon his blog Martyn Cornell gives a more in-depth article about them and lists some of his favourite beers usingGoldings hop variety for brewing.
East Kent Golding (EKG) is the most well known and sort after member of this Golding family.It stands slightly apart because it has also been granted a Protected Designation of Origin.The EKG is the only British hop variety to be granted this honour so far.They are the archetypical go to English hop, along with Fuggles and used world wide for late hopping as well as contributing a respectable bittering to the brew. However, EKG is a distinct variety and considered just a bit superior when grown and harvested within this compact designated area of East Kent. The soil type and climate there provide the ‘terroir’ to produce this world class hop. It is mainly used to brew Pale Ales, American Pale Ales, Porters, Barley wines and and as I understand it, they are used in many Belgium Beers as well.
Kentish Ale and Whitstable Oysters have also been granted this same Protected Designation of Origin, so Kent then is Oysters, Hops and Beer!Close enough to Charles Dicken’s quote – ‘Kent, sir—everybody knows Kent—apples, cherries, hops, and women’.
Continuing the ‘If hops were people’ series, then Goldings are the refined girls with naturally lovely characters. ‘Classy’ probably best describes them and nothing to do with being upper or lower class, they’ve just have charm!If they went to Finishing school then they excelled, they are socially confident.These are truly lovely girls are genuinely ‘nice’, so even if you tried, there is nothing to dislike. They are positively not sweet sycophants. Of course East Kent Golding is Queen Bee of the Goldings, her pedigree like other Goldings can be traced back to the late 1700’s to the Canterbury Whitebine but the Protected Designation of Origin has helped secure her status.
However, this Goldings charm belies a tougher inner core, that refined Goldings hoppy spice character gives us a clue to this inner no nonsense sparkle, after all they are Mother’s to some better known offspring.How many people have specifically brewed with Petham Goldings, but they will be sure to have heard of her infamous daughter Chinook.Other examples of this extraordinary family group, Canterbury Golding is mother to Northern Brewer, Bates Brewer to WGV, Bramling is the mother of Bramling Crossand Eastwell Golding is the Grandmother of Target.
Examples of these kind natural charmers, well Holly Willoughby certainly, Mel Giedroyc absolutely and Joanna Lumley pure EKG!
Drying hops is where a golden alchemy happens. To be completely accurate hops are preserved, they are not dried right out.The final moisture content atbetween 8-12% will dry each cone enough for it to store well, and not go mouldy.Drying takes time, it cannot be rushed, hops are not a fast food and the less heat used the better for the essential oils. The other factor is hops are sold by weight so if they are dried right out, which can happen, then a grower would be at a disadvantage, this is apart from the obvious storage needs of the hops.
But for me it’s this process from green hops to preserved hops, this magic of drying hops is where a golden alchemy happens, even their colour becomes more golden. The green hop aromas of the herbal based fresh scents change dramatically to the moresoporific complex aromas. Spicier, piney, citrussy, fruits and honey, depending on the variety but too many to list straight off.
Hops have been grown on the family farm since 1600’s.In all this time each hop dryer has passed on his craft to the next dryer in waiting.Each dryer would have undergone a long apprenticeship before naturally progressing to No 1.As the hop harvest only takes place once a year for a few weeks, unlike almost every other job, so the apprenticeship was normally combined with growing the crop throughout the year.This continuity has sadly changed today as most people come and go.
Nowadays moisture metres, and gauges are requisite for growers but nothing can replace living this hands on apprenticeship, learning directly from another experienced grower.It takes time for a person to instinctively see and understand the small tell tale signs on a kiln. Whether the hops need another 1/4 hour or the heat needs to be altered or when a certain kiln may blow a hole.Each kiln has it own peculiar anomalies, as does each hop variety.
So what looks like nothing much happening when a dryer puts his hand into the hops on the kiln nothing could be further from the truth.He will instinctively be reading the load, he will feel the bottom of the load, the top of the load and how many fat strigs are present, registering how pliable they are etc. There are many little signs he will automatically be assessing.
A whole year’s crop can be spoilt if the hops are not dried properly, the dryer’s job is critical to success.You can read more about hop drying here.
A huge big thank you to everyone who has bought hops this year. And to those who have taken the trouble to write saying what they plan to brew or have brewed, thank you, for me it is what makes growing hops truly worthwhile. It competes the circle.All those possible combinations from the hop garden to beer glass, ours is a truly amazing craft, whichever part we play in it.
The shop will be closed until 14th January. Like this winter hop garden we are enjoying some down time too. Wishing you a happy brewing and peaceful 2019
Stuck for beer lover’s gift ideas for Christmas.We have our second run of the British Hops tea towels which means we can pass on the lower price of £9 each or £24.00 for a pack of 3. If you want a little stocking filler for the beer lover or home brewer in your life, this could be ideal, just right to hang up in the brewing room, shed or polish your glasses. Wrap up that bottle of beer to make it an even more special gift. Sustainable wrapping paper, nothing to throw away! They are 100% cotton, printed and made in UK and even better a donation from each sale goes to British Hop Research.
100gm vac packed hops
British Hops Tea Towel
Other beer lover’s gift ideas for Christmas are our of course our home grown hops. Available direct from the farm, in 1Kg blocks, these vacuum packed blocks are ideal for the keen home-brewer or a brewing group who wish to share. So hurry if you want one of these, they offer great value and we only have few left.We also have a 500gm pack option available in a few varieties, if you have a favourite hop variety then these too offer better value. Then of course there are the 100gm vacuum packs perfect for popping in a freezer ready for 2019.
Remember this year our shop closes on 21st December for the Christmas break so if you are wanting to brew over the Christmas holiday then do please order in good time.
The Bushel of Hops shop is open with 2018 hops. First a really big thank you to everyone who has purchased hops; your custom is truly appreciated. Some varieties are selling out fast, so please be quick if there is one you particularly wish to brew with.
A brief follow up to my September post on the website. That was written right at end of picking, yields were generally lower than
average, which was expected but nevertheless disappointing. Yes it was a testing growing year, especially with very young plants in the ground and no irrigation, they did not thrive but did not die either. But the sunshine and dry weather seems to have put condition into the mature hops, which have been very sticky to package. As always the wonderful scents at packaging are a very pleasant perk of the job. As farmers we are philosophical about the weather, each year brings something different, it’s pointless stressing about something you can not do anything about.However, we are also pragmatic so have already take positive action towards next year’s crop.
It looks as if climate change is a reality, so in September, straight after hop picking we gave some well deserved TLC to the young hops by spreading well rotted manure on the two hop gardens with the young plants in.
I hesitate to call it even well rotted manure because it is so well rotted it is now a soil conditioner, no longer dung!It isalmost black, a crumbly dark Bournevilleplain chocolate brown, with an superabundance of worms and no dung smell whatsoever.This is for improving the soil by adding more humus, feeding the worms of course and as a mulch to help protect the roots as well as preserve the soil moisture content in any future prolonged dry spell. It is not for nutrients that may or may not be an unintended secondary benefit.For feeding the hops I will use a good quality fertiliser during the growing season as usual. which will be applied as normal next year.
When the rain came the hills shot lots of new very fine shoots with leaves, I am hoping these leaves gave just a little bit back to the plant and any worm action with the mulch helped the roots. With the young plants this year every little helps and even if it did not do much good, it made me feel better by doing something positive!I have yet to cut off the lower bines or ‘straps’ left after harvest. I looked this morning and the sap has now gone, so I will do that in the next fortnight, but again it felt kinder to leave them to sear right back before cutting them off.
So now the Bushel of Hops shop is open with 2018 hops. We have moved on positively planning for next year and already looking forward to spring and seeing new shoots appear.