2018 Hop crop update. The hops did not like the extreme hot weather and dry conditions this year, nothing more to be said.
The old rhyme – ’till St James’ day be done and gone, there may be hops there may be none’
has well and truly been proved correct this year. The long awaited rain finally arrived days after St James’ day and the hop crop is well down this year. There is another old saying, here in Sussex anyway, ‘You can see them but they’re not there’! It may seem like silly Sussex logic, but again it has been proven true this year.
Same amount of work, the same growing costs and identical harvest costs but generally 25-35% down on normal expected yields. Probably this will be the story of the year for all UK growers. We have drawn a line under this year and now we move forward. Goodbye to Hop harvest 2018!
So home brewers, more than ever, get your orders in early for any special hop varieties you want this year. Our shop will be open mid-October when I have completed the packaging into 100gm vacuum bags.
On a more upbeat note we have some exciting news to share later in the week!
Our Hop Grower’s Alphabet is over on Instagram. You might like to see it, if so click on the floating bottle top on this page it will take you directly there. Alternately you can Google @abushelofhops on Instagram. The relevant posts started on 19th May and went through to 22nd June. Below is the list of what was included in our Hop Growers A-Z. It was certainly a fun thing to do and hopefully you will enjoy reading through it.
A is for Aerial and Alpha Acid.
B is for bushel baskets, bines, besoms and beer.
C is for cowl, crow’s nest and cooling floor
D is for dawn, drawing, Dr Peter Darby and Drying the hops naturally. Bit of a mixed bag!
E is EKG. East Kent Goldings are one of Britain’s most well known hop varieties and also Enhancing Habitats.
F is for Fuggles, fabric, fresh and fragrance.
G is for grower, gardens and goad used for stringing.
H is for Hops, Handwork and Home brewing.
J is for January and jam
K is for kerb and knapweed.
L is for Lifter Cloths.
M is for male hop , microbreweries, micro pubs, malt and misty hop picking mornings.
N is for November, needle and niche.
I is for Inspiration, Instagram and Iron.
P is for pockets, poles, press and pokes.
Q is for quilt.
R is for return customers, roundel and Rotobank.
S is today’s alphabet letter, so many it’s hard to choose. Scuppett, stencils and swap. The others? a sett, shoots, stringing, strap, screw-pegs, and stilts.
T for today’s alphabet is for twiddling stick, trailer, and also twiddling, training and tying. T is for hop Toile fabric which featrues a hop twiddler in action.
U is for unseeded, underground and unicorn. V is for Varieties, Verandah and Vermin.
W is for Wim-Wom, Wellies and Wilderness.
X is for ‘X marks the spot’
Y is for Yellow Rattle, Yards and Yeast
Z the last letter of my hop grower’s alphabet and until the night before last had me flummoxed! Z is for Zenith, Zymotic and the onomatopoeia for sleep 💤
Cowls on oast houses are a significant part of the building. They are there for a purpose, and on any working oast house they are not there simply to look good as the finishing touch to the roundel. They serve a practical purpose, much more than just the cherry on the cake. Below are Sussex Cowls.
Oast houses, like giant chimneys, are built for draughts and cowls on oast houses are a significant part of the building to assist with these draughts. The slightest breeze will catch the arm of the cowl, turning it around until it’s back is set against the wind, which in turn creates a slight vacuum. This vacuum helps draw the air up from inside the kiln, up through the bed of hops and in turn through the entire building. The amount of draught can be regulated by opening and closing different doors, it is discharged via the cowl outside of the building. If hops are being dried this air takes the reek, or moisture, out with it. For airflow to pass through a bed of hops a kiln floor is slatted, making a working oast house is full of shadows. Below is a Hereford Cowl and right an inset kiln with a sussex cowl.
This natural air flow has another advantage by keeping the downstairs of an oast house cool. Small windows limit most of the natural lighting coming in, leaving this cool, twilight area of the lower chamber perfect for storage. The two floors of a traditional oast house are used for different purposes, whilst downstairs is for storing pockets, upstairs is used for cooling the dried hops straight from the kiln. Up here the atmosphere is a little warmer, gentler and softer. Once cooled slightly, the hops are pressed into pockets which drop down from the press hole onto the lower ground level for marking, weighing and recording before being stood upright for storage. From here they will eventually be loaded to leave the farm. Growers send their crop off to a hop factor, merchant or sometimes direct to a brewery.
Cowls on oast houses naturally need occasional maintenance. General building upkeep of an oast house is done by the individual hop grower but any work on a traditional cowl is a job requiring a specialist firm. Dude and Arnette are well known for their cowl building skills, whether it is building new ones or repairing old ones. Often a cowl will need to be removed to have this work done.
One of my favourite oast houses is the one at Great Dixter, a beautiful building with its 3 inset kilns
However, times have certainly changed for the majority of these most iconic of farm buildings. When they are converted the cowls are only for decoration, draughts definitely aren’t needed then!
Cowls on oast houses vary in design too. Like local dialects each hop county has it’s own variation of the cowl. There are different styles for Kent, Sussex, Norfolk, Hereford and Worcester. Occasionally exactly as in real life, you will find the odd maverick, a one off true only to itself!
Normally if there are two cowls they will face the same way, as they turn with the prevailing wind. Occasionally cowls will face each other which is known as ‘bulling’. Country lore says that this foretells a change in the weather.
An oast house is a quirky building. Their unique image is used by many landscape painters and advertising agents, the iconic white cowls instantly recognisable, quintessentially representing hop growing and certainly oast houses seem to be the image preferred to symbolise Kent.
Oast houses appear to play hide and seek, they coyly peek out from behind hills, their cowls periscope up through wooded vistas. They always seem to remain half hidden, they are never brash buildings. In reality traditional oast houses used for drying hops are almost extinct, working examples are an endangered species. As farmers went out of hop production most of these idiosyncratic buildings have been converted into residential houses or offices, so they are preserved which is better than falling into decay. It is also understandable for a another very practical reason, they are only used at harvest for a few short weeks each year and the rest of the time they cannot be used for longterm storage or for other farm enterprises easily.Completely clear, clean space is instantly required at harvest.
For most hop growers, modern buildings have replaced these traditional oast houses and more often than not the picking and drying is all done on the same concrete floor.Nowadays air can be forced and pushed by mechanical means.The end result is the same, it is undeniably efficient, but these modern buildings are not alive to the elements in the same way.
Below hops being unloaded from a kiln onto the cooling floor in an oast’s dim interior.However, when used as originally intended they come into their own, proving that a traditional oast house is a quirky building but it makes a fascinating workplace as well. I have never worked in either a windmill or watermill, but along with oasts all three harness a natural element, so there is of course an inherent day to day change as wind or water ebbs and flows. Oasts are built for air flow, they breath, and as such they are different to any other farm building. How many other buildings are built to produce as many possible ways to produce a draught? Once converted these draughts are naturally stopped and an oast looses something vital. Kiln floors are slatted so all these shadows are lost too.
Air flow is essential for drying hops but warmth is also needed, the buildings architecture is designed to be basically a giant chimney. It is the airflow to warmth ratio that determines the depth and amount of hops that can be dried at any one time. By opening doors or windows and adjusting slides on the kiln itself these drafts are adjusted and manipulated. Heat is kept to a minimum to preserve the natural oils in the hop cones. Hops are dried down to a moisture content of between 10% – 12% which is necessary to remove enough moisture to prevent them going fusty when stored. Over years floorboards become caked with pollen in front of a hop press.
The hop dryer is master in the oast house at harvest time and the art of a good hop dryer is to preserve the hops by retainingas much moisture as possible. Hops are sold by weight so growers want to keep as much as moisture in as possible but also dry enough to preserve the crop.Therefore on the kiln the aim is to preserve any load of hops, it is not to be dried right out or the hops would weigh almost nothing. A good hop dryer has to earn his key position over a long period and prove himself.He has to understand the foibles of this and how his own oast house is a quirky building even warranting a stained glass window.
We are delighted to announce the winner of our Spring Hop Draw is Sean B. Congratulations Sean and you will be receiving an email shortly. We had 32 entries, thank you so much to everyone who took the time to enter.
Meanwhile the bank holiday weather has been amazing, perfect for enjoying a cold beer and still time to enjoy the bluebells.
Right now it’s twiddling time for British hop growers and many hands make light work.This is always true of any seasonal work in a hop garden, butespecially when training hops the first time around.
It can be quite daunting to sit in the middle of a hop garden on your own surrounded by a sea of plants, all needing to be ‘firsted’ immediately.There is an optimum time to twiddle the hops and if the weather warms with perfect damp conditions they can quickly get out of hand, quite literally. This week some of the varieties have been at that perfect stage.Like Goldilocks’s porridge they were not too short and not too long but just right.
A twiddler’s eye view of a hop before and after twiddling. Depending on the variety we put up between 4 – 8 bines. The variety shown is Admiral, a high alpha hop with a clean marmalade aroma.
Once the correct number of bines have been put up the strings, excess bines are pulled out and left beside the hop hill.We try to pull the whole bine off at ground level, I find two hands at the base of the shoot works best.If the shoots are only broken off, then the piece left will send out fresh shoots from each leaf axil, making even more work next time around at seconding.
Very little equipment is needed, this week just hats, gloves and stools. Sunny, warm days spent outdoors with blue skies and good company, twiddling time is a pleasure.
Below is an area of hops all firsted, you can see the little piles of unwanted shoots left beside the hop hills.
Enter A Bushel of Hops Spring draw and win a pack of hops. As thoughts turn to Spring, it’s perfect time to brew that beer to enjoy drinking later this summer and the draw is free to enter.
We also wanted to celebrate that Hops have been selected by the International Herb Association as their specially chosen herb for 2018.
Whatever your taste, maybe a sharp hoppy pale ale style, a barley wine or a complex sour, we are offering 1 x100gm pack of our UK Chinook hops for this prize. Chinook give a pronounced citrus, pine, grapefruit and light floral flavours to the beer. And there’s more…….there will be an additional bonus prize offered to the winner!
For this Spring competition to win our 100gm pack of UK Chinook hops, there is no obligation to buy anything. Just answer the following question correctly to have your name go forward into the draw, which will be drawn on Sunday 7th May.
NB This competition is open UK residents only
Name the other American hop variety we growing here at A Bushel of Hops – Fill in the Form Below & Submit – Good Luck!
100g of Chinook Hops – A Bushel of Hops Free Spring Draw Prize
Some new hop fabric bags have been on my ‘to do’ list for a while now. When the snowy weather arrived at the very end of February, I speedily earmarked this period for some sewing time. Perfect. Guilt free sewing with no niggling thoughts of ‘I really should be doing ………..’ This is one of winter’s pleasures.
With outdoor chores speedily completed, it was straight back indoors. Warm and snug, a cup of tea to hand, time to get down to some serious stitching. I wanted to use some of the Bushel of Hops fabric stash to make some new shopping bags.
I have made straight oblong totes before which are fine, but the plastic bags, which supermarkets used to give away free, always seemed to hold a lot more in comparison to these totes. Reasoning that the supermarkets probably put a lot of thought into the size and basic design of their plastic bags, I thought I would base my new fabric shopping carriers on these now redundant plastic ones.
Side gussets give them extra capacity and as a hop grower, they definitely need to be strong enough to carry a few beer bottles! I lined one of the hop fabric bags, this seemed a good idea to try out, especially as I put in a small pocket to hold a phone or purse, but other than that a lining is not essential. It is very easy to vary the design with different fabrics according to how much of each you have, it is very relaxed. A patchwork of bits would work just as well but then I would recommend stitching in a lining just to be sure it up to the task. Whatever design they fold up neatly in your handbag.
The rest of the bags were not lined but I did do French seams. Mainly to give the seams a neat finish but for practical reasons too. French seams are not difficult to sew, they make the seams stronger and also prevent them from fraying when the bags are washed. Mine seem to get grubby quite quickly but that could be because I now leave them in the back of the car!
With the hop fabric bags ready to go, time to get stitching a few more things on my sewing ‘to do’ list and start another quilt before Spring sunshine stops play. The swallows will shortly be arriving and we have a new fabric to celebrate their return.
Hop stringing has begun in the hop gardens which means the start of a new beer year for hop growers. The season starts with hop stringing and ends at hop picking when the crop is safely gathered and dried.
The hops in this area are mainly strung using ‘Umbrella Work’ but other growers will use ‘Worcester Work’. Which method is used
is determined by tradition and how the hop gardens were originally planted. For Umbrella Work each hop plant is 6’6” apart in the row, with each row also spaced the same 6’ 6” apart. Oddly that’s 2 metres but the 6’6” measurements were used long before England even thought about going metric. With Worcester work the hops hills are at 3’ spacing and this hop stringing method does not need banding in.
Because coir stretches slightly when damp, the balls of string are soaked overnight before being used. If the coir string was put on dry it would stretch when it rained, especially as the bines become heavier as they mature. That is just a practical point. Equipment required is minimal – a long bamboo cane called a goad (stringing monkey to some) and a bag to hold a ball of string with a wide strap to go over one shoulder. The strap can be padded across the shoulder for comfort. These bags are generally made using a hessian sack adapted accordingly as to what each stringer finds most comfortable. The string is tensioned as the string runs through the hands so gloves are also required.
Each stringer has a ‘cant’ or section to string. It is normally the men that have traditionally done this job. The stringer will first walk over the hops hills in his cant (or allocated area) first, pulling up any screw pegs which are bent over and replacing any that are missing. Once all the screw pegs are checked he is ready to start.
The string is threaded through the end of the goad and a simple loop tied in the end of the string to attach onto on the first hook on the wire work.
String is tied off at the end of each cant before the next area is started.
If a ball of string runs out the end is simply tied onto the start of the new ball and stringing continues as normal.
We have had some beautiful warm sunny days recently I wonder if this old folk lore will prove to be true?
“When the cat in February lies in the Sun,
She will again creep behind the stove in March.”
And the winner is Simon H. Congratulations Simon. You will receive a confirmation email shortly, then your pack of Old English Blend will be winging its way to your brew-pot.
We had 51 entries in all, with 38 having both answers correct – Mathon, introduced in 1729. A massive thank you to everyone who entered this time. For those of you who’d like another chance to win some hops we will have another draw coming up shortly.