The British hop harvest is dramatic, noisy, frenetic and does not last very long. In just a few weeks British hop farms will have completed the harvest of one of its oldest, most romantic, most fabulously aromatic British crops. British hops are grown in Herefordshire and Worcestershire and in Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire.
During harvest the whole hop bines are taken out of the hop yards to a “picking” machine which strips the hop bine, separates the hop from the leaf and conveys the hops into the kilns where they are dried before being conditioned and baled. September is the month when the hop growing year culminates: from stringing the hop yard in March, training the hop plant in April, through the summer months of pest and disease protection, to ensuring that the hops are ready to harvest in September.
It’s an old process: British hops have been grown by farmers for over 500 years and were harvested by hand until the 1960s. Since then the process has been mechanized. It’s a romantic process full of wonderful hop aromas: orange, lemon, spice, mint, grass, molasses, blackcurrant, tangerine, summer fruits, pear, summer flowers, apricot and black pepper. It’s noisy, dramatic and unforgettable.
What’s so special about British Hops? It’s all about our unique terroir and low myrcene: Craft brewers often rave about new world American and New Zealand hops, but American and New Zealand craft brewers are starting to rave about British hops. These overseas brewers are now seeking delicate, complex hop aromas to create drinkable session beers. And it is the unique terroir of British hops with lower levels of myrcene that makes British hops the perfect hop to brew a drinkable session beer.
All British hops share the same “terroir”* — great soils and a unique mild maritime climate with even rainfall throughout the year. British hops use the natural resources available, which means that very few hops are irrigated. It is this special and sustainable terroir that produces British hops delicate and complex aromas and makes them perfect for brewing the best session beers in the world. For British craft brewers seeking the high notes in British Hops the key varieties are:
- Admiral hops — cooked marmalade, orangey citrus
- Bramling Cross hops — blackcurrant, spicy lemon
- UK Cascade hops — lychees, floral, grapefruit
- Endeavour hops (a British daughter of Cascade) — citrus, summer fruits
- Target hops — sage, spice, citrus
On farm trial, farmers have some very exciting new varieties coming through that are hitting the high notes too. For a full list of British hop varieties visit here. Other facts about British hops include:
- There are over 20 commercially grown British aroma hop varieties in the UK.
- British hops represent 1.5 percent of world hop production.
- British hops have a world leading hop breeding program.
- The United Kingdom is the only country to have focused so strongly on disease resistance, making British hops both environmentally friendly and inevitably more appealing.
- The low trellis hop growing system, which is more cost effective and the future of hop growing, was developed in the United Kingdom, and is being emulated in the rest of the world.
*Terroir: The factors that affect terroir are the soil, geography, geology, topography and climate. The term is derived from the French “terre” meaning “land” and the concept of terroir has come from the French wine industry.
Alison Capper farms 100 acres of eating and cider apples and 100 acres of hops in partnership with Stocks Farm, Suckley, Worcestershire, England, and her husband Richard and his father Mark Capper. In addition to numerous roles at the farm, Capper’s work includes various positions on the boards of The British Hop Association, The Hop Industry Committee, The NFU’s National Horticulture Board, the Norton Cider Growers Association, Farming and Countryside Education and Red Tractor. She hopes to raise the profile of British hops by running their publicity efforts.