Hops A-Z: K is for Kent

Kent may be seen by some as the 'Garden of England', by others as where the traffic jams for France start, but for English beer lovers it's the cradle of our hop industry.

Dating back to the sixteenth century - exactly where and when is, like much of hop history, open to conjecture - English hop production began with Kentish farmers. The first recognised printed work in English devoted to hop farming, "A Perfite Platform of a Hoppe Garden", was authored by a Kent farmer, Reginald Scot in 1574. By the mid-seventeenth century, the county was responsible for a third of UK hop production and fuelled the burgeoning brewing industry in London as the 'porter' style became increasingly popular there.

Why Kent? The climate was certainly suited to crop production. Kentish resourcefulness had optimised yields in the ideal locations and also maximised production on the less-suited areas of stodgy clay. Rich farmers were able to invest in the labour-intensive production methods that hop farming required. And the likes of Scot were able to pop over the water and learn a trick or two from his Flemish counterparts.

Through the nineteenth century, the county continued to be pioneers of the UK hop industry. Training hops to grow onto strings from poles started here with Henry Butcher. The varieties Fuggles and Goldings were Kentish born. At its peak in 1878, 77000 acres of the country were under hops with Kent the majority producer. Each September saw an influx of workers from London and other urban areas who came to join the locals and see what they could earn as hop pickers.

But the start of the twentieth century saw the beginning of the end for Kent's hop dominance. Changes in drinkers' taste, cheap imports, higher utilisation, crop disease and the First World War all took their toll on the industry, as this map shows.

Today, UK hop production is a shadow of its former self and Kent seems to have more places selling dried hops than cultivating live ones. But never forget that English beer was built on Kentish hops.