Not pernicious: a celebration of English hops

Hop celebration has been firmly on the English beer calendar of late. Single hopped series, green hopped specials and uber-geek experiments have seen lupulin love come to the fore.

But what about English hops themselves? Some brewers actively disdain them. Others are held in their thrall. Maybe there's two sides to the story: an industry with tradition and heritage to be proud of whilst developing apace to match the needs of contemporary trends. A recent event in Yorkshire gave me the chance to find out more straight from the, uh, merchant's mouth.

Ossett Brewery held a green hop festival at their Sheffield bar, which is cunningly named The Hop. But there was more to it than just the beer. On the Saturday afternoon, representatives from hop merchants Charles Faram and hop farmers Stocks Farm gave presentations on the state of the English hop industry, its challenges and its attractions. There was a stillage of green hopped beers bedecked in hop bines, which you can almost see in this inexpertly-framed-after-five-pints photo:

Samples of several green hopped beers were served in those rather natty third-pint samplers served in wooden paddles. Which, amazingly, no-one leant onto and so no glasses were sent hurtling across the bar like an alcohol-fuelled trebuchet.

The audience drank as Ossett's Head Brewer Paul Spencer talked us through a variety of green hopped beers on offer. They included those made with newer varieties such as Sovereign and Boedicea alongside the more traditional Fuggles and Goldings brews. Eighteen brewers were represented over the four-day festival with a range of ABVs and styles, including a pale 2.8% bitter, a 4.5% porter, and a 7.0% IPA.

Paul Corbett from Charles Faram gave a great presentation that covered a brief biology of the hop plant, world hop producton figures, UK developments and a (literal) insight into the industrial processes of hop production and processing with some interesting video clips. I've never visited a hop farm so I've never seen the machinery in action - it's certainly something I'd like to go and see for myself in 2013.

If you've ever heard her on the radio, you'll know how passionate Ali Capper is about British hops. Her session was no exception, detailing the work that she and her husband are doing at Stocks Farm to introduce new varieties alongside their established tall and hedgerow hops. At the end of the talks the audience got the chance to get up close and sticky with some samples, as All BEER's Alex Barlow graciously demonstrates. It was a crucial part of the day, to experience new varieties such as Endeavour by feeling the oils between your fingers, to take in the raw aroma, to judge its potential in giving an English ale an aroma and flavour profile that may otherwise require continental hops.

There was plenty of chance to drink afterwards too. Beer of the session for me was Green Goddess by Ilkley, brewed with the help of beer writer Melissa Cole. Saisonny with orange peel and peppercorn, flowery hops cutting across the spun sugar, it showed green hopped beers can be sassy rather than grassy.

One of the most telling moments of the day, and quite sad in its own way, was when Paul was talking about the development of new varieties. Those that have the bold flavour and aroma profiles of American and New Zealand hops so beloved by the new wave of British contemporary brewers. Because such hops, it seems, were part of this country's development programme once... but regional and national brewers had no desire for them.

Thankfully, losing the world-class hop resource of Wye College has not meant that such experimental varieties are lost too. The British Hop Association is committed to introducing disease-resistant strains with complex aromas. Seven new varieties have been introduced in the last twelve years alone. With over eight hundred plants in the national collection, it seems that Britain has every right to be hopeful for a bright hop future.

Just in case you haven't come across these before, here's a rattlebag of resources about British hops.

As linked to above, there's plenty of info available on the websites of hop merchant Charles Faram, hop farmers Stocks Farm and the British Hop Association.

There's some great audio interviews and features too; Ali Capper on local radio, these interviews about about urban hops and a feature on the BBC's Food Programme.

The British Hopfather himself, Dr Pete Darby, has two great essays available, this one on British hop growing development abd this one on the history of hop breeding and development.

Thanks to Ossett and Alex Barlow from ALLbeer for the invite.


  1. Are their any new English hops that reproduce that characteristic piney citrus flavour of the common US varieties?

  2. Jester... English hop that tastes, well, New Zealand. Hopefully lots more interesting UK hops to emerge soon