Surrey based Hogs Back Brewery is predicting a healthy first harvest of its hop garden in September, with an expected crop of around 30 zentners* or 1,500 kilos – enough hops for 25% of their beer output.
The 3.5 acre hop garden, which was planted last year adjacent to the brewery, is the biggest owned by a brewery 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 centre 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% 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.”
He added, “Historically, some British brewers grew hops for their beers, but it was rare and highly dependent on the location and soil type. Reviving this tradition not only provides a more environmental and local solution to a global shortage of aroma hops but it’s also 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.
“Sharing hop picking and drying facilities with Hampton Estates, our hop providers, based just a few miles from the brewery, means we are more in control of exactly when we pick and dry. It is also going to allow us to do some interesting and novel experimentation in future years.”
The revival of Farnham White Bine is a source of particular pride for Hogs Back. 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.
“We applaud what many brewers are doing with imported hops but at Hogs Back we are taking a different approach, drawing on Britain’s rich brewing heritage to create innovative styles such as our Hogstar English Lager and Montezuma’s Chocolate Lager, as well as continuing with our 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.”
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.
*The zentner is a traditional agricultural measurement of about 50 kilos, still used to measure hop harvests.
The picture shows head brewer Miles Chesterton (left) and owner Rupert Thompson with other members of the brewery team, in the Hogs Back Brewery hop garden.