A spontaneous sex change has caused eyebrows to be raised at the Hogs Back Brewery located in South England’s Surrey. The culprit is a Farnham White Bine hop plant which has switched from female to male.
The Gender Swap Hop was discovered by hop garden manager Matthew King during one of his regular checks on the health of the previously all-female hop plants in the Hogs Back Hop Garden, adjacent to the brewery in Tongham, near Farnham.
Hogs Back Brewery Managing Director Rupert Thompson said: “We’re keeping a close watch on the hops as we prepare for the harvest in September. There is only one male hop plant to every 1000 females and, as brewers we only cultivate the females, since they bear the hop flowers we use to brew our beers.”
In September 2015 Hogs Back Brewery harvested the first hops from its own hop garden on a 3.5 acre plot adjacent to the brewery, bringing the traditional but near-extinct Farnham White Bine hop variety back to its Surrey home. Once fully mature, the hop garden will provide 25 percent of the brewery’s hop requirements.
Hop experts have confirmed that the spontaneous sex change is not unheard of, but is unusual. Thompson added, “The sex change probably happened over a month or so, and may have been caused by the very hot weather earlier in the summer.
“We’ve been told that once one female plant changes sex, it becomes more likely that others in the garden will do the same. We fully respect the rights of our hop plants to make their own lifestyle choices, but we’re hoping that not too many follow the lead of our Gender Swap Hop this close to the harvest.
“In the meantime, we think Matthew is quite pleased to have a bit of male company in the normally all-female environment of the hop garden.
“He’s also found a wild male hop that has seeded itself between two of our female plants and is now entwining his tendrils around both of them. We’re still trying to establish what variety it is, but for now we can only hope that his intentions are honourable.”
Hogs Back Brewery grows four varieties of hop in the 3.5-acre garden. These are the traditional Farnham White Bine variety, which the brewery has bought back from the edge of extinction, along with English Cascade, Fuggles and a newer hop, Pioneer.