UK-based Hogs Back Brewery is predicting a healthy first harvest of its hop garden in September, with an expected crop of around 1,500 kilos – enough hops for 25 percent of the brewery’s beer output.
The 3.5-acre hop garden, which was planted last year adjacent to the brewery, is the largest brewery-owned hop garden in the UK. Hogs Back planted three hop varieties: Fuggles, used in its flagship TEA ale; Cascade, used in its fast-growing Hogstar English Lager; and Farnham White Bine. The latter variety, originally developed in the early 1700s just a mile and a half from the current brewery, made the Farnham area a center of the hop farming industry during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Hogs Back Brewery owner Rupert Thompson said, “We’re pleased with the way our first hop harvest is shaping up. We’re expecting to achieve an 80 percent yield this year, which is good for a first crop, largely because in their first year we left most of the hops on the bine rather than picking them. The result is stronger plants, and we’re hopeful the hops themselves will be of excellent quality despite the growing season being a bit drier than last year.
“Historically, some British brewers grew hops for their beers, but it was rare and highly dependent on the location and soil type,” he added. “Reviving this tradition not only provides a more environmental and local solution to a global shortage of aroma hops, but also it’s making us more knowledgeable brewers. Last year we learned, for example, that we get a more intense aroma from hops that are left on the bine until the leaves start to brown, which we wouldn’t know unless we were checking our hop plants regularly.
The brewery is sharing hop picking and drying facilities with Hampton Estates, its hop provider, based just a few miles from the brewery, which means the brewery ise more in control of exactly when hops are picked and dried.
“It is also going to allow us to do some interesting and novel experimentation in future years,” Thompson said. “The Farnham White Bine was grown in the area for around 200 years. Highly prized for its aromas, it was the precursor variety to the better-known Kent Goldings. It’s exciting to think that in a few weeks we’ll be harvesting the first Farnham White Bine hops in nearly a century and we’re looking forward to tasting the beers we brew with it.”
Hogs Back is taking a different approach than what many brewers are doing with imported hops, by drawing on Britain’s rich brewing heritage to create innovative styles such as its Hogstar English Lager and Montezuma’s Chocolate Lager, as well as continuing with its traditional ales such as TEA.
“We will be launching an exclusive Farnham White Bine beer with one of the leading pub companies in January, and we are testing various versions of ‘green hopping’ this autumn for our very local customers,” Thompson said.
The Hogs Back hop harvest is scheduled for the third week in September, weather permitting, and the brewery is inviting local residents to join in the picking, including members of the Tongham TEA Club loyalty club. A few of the older members remember hop picking in the area in their youth with their families, when local schools extended the summer holidays to allow the hop harvest to be completed.