It’s official. The UK is growing 8% more hops than last year – with around half the extra acreage in Kent.
Last year the amount of hops grown had dropped back to little more than 2,200 acres but it’s now risen to nearly 2,400 acres. Some of the increase is made up of traditional British hops such as Goldings and Bramling Cross but newer varieties like Jester and the Kent variety OZ97a are also part of the rise.
It’s also been revealed that OZ97a finally has a name. It’s now known as Ernest after the man who bred it, Professor Ernest Salmon of the hop breeding programme at Wye College.
In other news, harvest season is upon us, which means brewers across Kent will soon be making their green hop beers.
According to the British Hop Association this year’s crop was running a bit behind because of a late spring but excellent weather conditions over the last few weeks allowed the hops to catch up so harvest can start as normal in the week following the August Bank Holiday.
The hop harvest is dramatic, noisy, frenetic and lasts for just a few weeks. Tall hops are harvested by cutting the whole bine and taking it to a hop picking machine where unwanted stems, shoots and leaves are separated from the hops. Low trellis, or hedge, hops are harvested mechanically using a machine developed from a blackcurrant harvester. The hop and leaf is taken to the hop picking machine where the hop is separated from the leaf.
The most important aspect of hop farming is the drying. Hops contain more than 80% moisture when picked. In order to store them this is reduced to about 10%. They are then made into bales of between 60-85kg.
Green hops are used fresh, within 12 hours of picking in Kent, instead of drying them.
Featured hop: Pilgrim
Pilgrim is a British hop variety bred by the Hop Research Institute at Wye College (we might have to do a post just about that at some point!). It became commercially available in 2001. It’s a tall variety but its parents, First Gold and Herald, are dwarf varieties. (Dwarf varieties or hedge hops were bred to be easier and cheaper to grow and pick as they only grow to around eight feet instead of up to 20 feet).
Don’t be put off, but one of the biggest users of Pilgrim has been Molson Coors who at one time (and perhaps still, I’m waiting for their press office to get back to me) used it as a bittering hop in Carling lager!
Pilgrim is what is know as a dual-purpose hop. Good for bittering, which means it is used early in the boil stage of brewing, and also used later in the boil as an aroma hop. It’s good news for growers too as it’s said to be a vigorous hop and is very resistant to wilt and mildew – two of hops great enemies.
Pilgrim means something to me because Tonbridge Brewery have green hopped their Capel Pale (4.5%) with it on more than one occasion (and will do again this year as far as we know). It gave a lovely citrus bitterness to the beer, with orange notes and a dry, earthy finish. Certainly much more memorable than a pint of Carling.
Pig & Porter have plans to green hop one of their core beers with Pilgrim this year so look out for Green Spider Rye later on in the Fortnight – as Pilgrim tends to be harvested later than some other varieties.