Marc Meltonville

Heritage Hop Variety Chosen to Recreate 16th Century Tudor Beer

Dr Susan Flavin’s studies in Experimental Archeology led her to this research of 16th Century beer.   The FoodCult Project  began when she was researching the 16th Century diet in Ireland pre the introduction of potatoes.  You can listen to a Podcast by Associate Prof in History Dr Susan Flavin about her unique take on studying history by exploring what we ate and drank during the 16th century.  The Podcast is easy to listen to and their diet in 16th Century included a lot of beer!

Tudor home brewWe know that historically beer has always been closely linked with the ordinary working person’s diet.  For generations brewing was mainly done in the home, it was a basic skill any housewife worth her salt required. On larger estates it is quite likely that brewing was done by specially appointed farm hands. Research into beers and ales in past centuries shows that beer was often drunk in copious quantities, allegedly a manual worker could be given up to 14 pints per day!  Beer continued to be drunk by farm workers in the first half of 1900’s on this Sussex farm. Joe Eyres, the hop drier and cowman,  told me that they drank beer daily; tea was a luxury reserved for Sundays.

16th century brewing

The aim of this project was to recreate a 16th century Tudor beer. What better way than by using , techniques and recipes found on historic records and various old household accounts.  And where better for this to take place than at the Wealden and Downland Museum,  one of my all time favourite places to visit.   

The Foodcult project has been a major collaboration of many people, from historians to archaeologists, all experts in their own individual and diverse fields.  Artisan brewing equipment  was made to replicate what the Tudors would have used

The food historian Marc Meltonville had the crucial role as brewer.

Marc Meltonville

Dr Peter DarbySelecting the right ingredients was essential. Tolhurst hop variety was chosen as closest to the original Flemish Red Bine. This Red Bine is believed to have been brought to England from Flanders at the end of 15th Century.  The Heritage Tolhurst hop variety was chosen by Dr Peter Darby for this experiment, as the best hop to replicate what was available for 16th century brewing.  Except for the National Collection, A Bushel of Hops is the only grower currently offering this Heritage Hop variety to home brewers.  There should be some available next season for anyone who wishes to brew their very own ancient beer.

The other vital ingredient was malt and here the ancient Bere barley was singled out. Bere Barley has been grown in Orkney for over 1000 years, it was probably introduced by the Vikings.  

The three magic ingredients, water, barley and hops.  Bere barely for the malt, Tolhurst hop variety was chosen, water and this historical brew was ready to go, finally after almost 3 years of droughts and a global pandemic which had all conspired to delay original plans! The brewing took place at   Tindalls Cottage  and like any good reenactment Tudor costumes and accurately crafted brewing equipments were used.  

On 15th September 2021 everything was in place.  A trial run to test equipment had been made in 2020 but in September 2021 it was the real deal. Film crew stationed then it was all systems go – brewing and filming were finally underway.

Wealden and Downland filming

To have been a tiny part of a tiny cog in this very special historical brewing adventure has been a privilege.  At present the resultant beer   is undergoing analysis and Isotope testing.  Meanwhile along with everyone else involved, I am eagerly awaiting the final results, just for now many questions still remain unanswered. So after Tolhurst hop variety was chosen, was this 16th Century beer a flop or was it fit for a Tudor king?


For further reading – Martyn Cornell of the Historic Brewery Society has written this excellent article.  Apparently Shakespeare who was born in 16th Century ‘was a fan of ale, but didn’t much like beer.’


Homebrewers Help Preserve Heritage Hops

Homebrewers help preserve Heritage Hops and it’s all down to the old adage of either ‘use it or loose it’.  Any rare breeds are best preserved by actually using them, to have no practical use puts them in danger of petering out until finally becoming defunct; likewise with Heritage Hops. I wanted to grow British Heritage Hop varieties but the reality is that homebrewers help preserve heritage hops and they are doing this simply by using these hops. It’s respect for the little brewers.

Home brewing has sometimes suffered a bad reputation, I certainly remember some pretty grim results made during our teenage experiments.  However today there is a large community of very serious home brewers who are brewing some seriously good beers. It’s worth remembering that many of our top national brewers started out home brewing.

A Bushel of Hops launched in 2015 specifically to grow hops for home brewers; in reality the seed for this idea had lain dormant for many many years.  But as I wanted to grow limited amounts of several different hop varieties, in particular the older British heritage ones, small brewers were natural partners for this venture.  I was reliably informed that being such a small grower I would be able to do things that larger growers could not and wouldn’t want to do.  There is a lot more fiddling around at harvest with small amounts and that is very time consuming.  Also labelling takes on a whole new priority, labels are the only thing that make me obsessively neurotic!

hand picking hopsI don’t want to brew but I love to grow hops, my the main objective is to keep these varieties available for today’s brewers to try, our relationship is symbiotic. My other objective was to supply fresh hops from a current season only and by supplying direct from hop garden to brewer the provenance is guaranteed.  I know each hop variety and exactly where they are grown.  Each year some varieties do well, for no particular reason they will shine above a variety growing right next to them!  Not unlike different fruit trees which crop variably over different years within a mixed orchard.  I try to involve home brewers in this side of growing hops so they know which varieties have done better and look good or which have faired not quite so well and why.  It could perhaps be wind damage which has become more common in recent years, I feel it is part of the provenance and their participation when they purchase hops.  

A Bushel of Hops evolved, there was never a set business plan so along the way so I have been on a journey too.  One of the greatest pleasures each year is receiving feedback,  beers that have been outstanding and some styles that have not worked out as well with a particular.  I think this information sharing is important as some these hop varieties have not been brewed for many decades and as these heritage varieties are discussed in brewing clubs, on Forums they become better known. Nonsuch is a good example, this has had several very positive comments and one from far afield, on Jim’s Forum. This is precisely how homebrewers help preserve heritage hops.

If your partner is a brewer and brewing is not your thing, you may fancy swimming in beer at the 700 year old Starkenberger Brewery in Austria once Covid restrictions are relaxed!  Cleopatra bathed in sour milk, some folk had even more bizarre habits! if you choose a warm beer tub, probably best not to drive afterwards!

learning to string a hop garden

Learning to String a Hop Garden

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. learning to string a hop garden

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 strung  for 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.

After all it’s where beer begins!


Colgate British heritage hop varieties

Colgate and other British Heritage Hop Varieties

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.  
Colgate hop
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 British heritage hop varieties
British heritage hop varietiesColgate 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

Are Hops Good For You ?

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 website  if 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.

hop garden as a faraday cage


hop garden as a faraday cageIn 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.

hop garden as a faraday cage

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.

are hops good for youAnother 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.

What Do Hops Smell Like

What Do Hops Smell Like ?

What Do Hops Smell Like

“ What do hops smell like ?” A tricky question indeed, but I’ll try. It’s easiest to say what they’re not and they are definitely not your normal Cottage garden floral. We need to get that out of the way before we start. They are not a pretty scent, although many have said they would like to bottle it!

People are mostly either black or white about the smell, they either hate it or love it, rarely is anyone grey about it. Generally people visiting in hop picking involuntarily exclaim “Hops, how lovely. I remember……” or “Oh I love that smell”. For me like others the smell evokes a million memories, one sniff and that instant recall switch is flicked on, memories flash into your being. Love it or loathe it, it has the ‘Wow’ factor!

Fresh hops and dried hops are different. This is only my opinion of course and you may very well disagree.

Fresh hops are a curious blend of spicy herbal, intense resinous green, which whiffs of the unorthodox. I smell it at the back of the throat too, somewhere you would normally expect to taste. Analeptic even, if I was not still involved with hops it would be unbearably painful to visit a hop farm and not be a part of it. That special ‘Bisto Kid’ moment just before hop picking when they are ripe and you first smell them on a fast evaporating early morning mist. Their aroma snakes tantalisingly through these late summer mists, better known as ‘hop picking mornings’.

Fresh hop aroma is intense at harvest when you are right amongst them.

smell of hops
smell hops
hops drying in the oast

Once dried the hop aroma changes dramatically. It’s now the oils contained within each hop cone reveal their true complexity. Warm these oils between your hands, then sniff slowly and inhale deeply – it’s a heady experience, a multitude of different aromas reveal themselves. Spices, mint, soft grass, pine, floral, woody, fruity, late summer berries, resin is still there and a range of citrus fruits to name just some. But the overall effect is exotic. This heady soporific mixture is experienced, an olfactory encounter like walking through a middle eastern souk. The woozy aroma whispers softly confirming that hops and cannabis are cousins. You begin to identify which hops what you can smell and taste in a beer.

Our British maritime climate and soils provide the unique ‘terroir’ for our British hops. It helps give them their complex flavours, which range from delicate through to intense new world types.
These British hop aromas are like keys of a musical instrument or as Dr Peter Darby described British hop aromas

‘English flavour is like a chamber orchestra, the hops giving simultaneously the high notes and the bass notes. In comparison, a Czech beer is more like a full orchestra with much more breadth to the sound, and an American hop gives more of a dance band with more emphasis on volume and brass. The recent New Zealand hops (e.g. Nelson Sauvin) are like adding a voice to the instrumental music’.

british hops

2019 Hops for Home Brewing

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.

2019 hops for home brewing


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.

2019 hops for home brewing

2019 hops for home brew begin

pilgrim hops how they grow and their characteristics

Pilgrim Hops, How They Grow and Their Characteristics

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.

pilgrim hops how they grow and their characteristics

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 aromas  mixed 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

Goldings Hop Variety for Brewing

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 this superior hop variety is so delicious.  In this article on his blog Martyn Cornell gives a more in-depth article about them and lists some of his favourite beers using Goldings 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’.

Goldings hop variety for brewing

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 Cross and 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

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 at between 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 moreDrying Hops is Where a Golden Alchemy Happenssoporific 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.