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Are hops the new grapes?

On 06/09/13 by Steve Livens (Policy Manager - Product Assurance & Supply Chain)

Wednesday felt more like a sunny September morning on a Californian vineyard, as 400 invitees from across the brewing industry found themselves in the beautiful surroundings of Stocks Farm in Worcestershire for the 2013 Charles Farm hop harvest open day.

The farm is home to Ali and Richard Capper and over 100 acres of hops that include several different hedgerow and tall hop varieties, all proudly displayed for the visiting masses! The Cappers have been growing hops at Stocks Farm for many years but the farm suffered from wilt in the 1980s, with the result that all the hops grown there must have some tolerance or resistance.

But it isn't just the established varieties that visitors stumble across whilst they amble around this huge farm. Hidden amongst the Goldings, Target, Sovereign and First Gold you'll also find Endeavour, the first new hedgerow variety that was developed by Peter Derby at Wye Hops Ltd.

New varieties currently being trialled also include the mysterious Jester. Whereas hop flowers used for brewing come from the female hop plant, Jester is a hop that has grown with both female and male elements in a single plant. This is the first year that Jester has been grown at Stocks Farm. The variety has produced some beautiful, extended cones which apparently produce a zesty, citrus pineapple character in beer.

Another hop to spot on the leisurely, self-guided tour around the farm is the Bramling Cross. A fantastic, established British Hop variety that is enjoying renewed interest. It is a sensitive plant though, and must be handled with care, with each bine stemming from hand-planted stock. Holes must be dug, lined with manure, watered and only then can the plants be added. It’s then a matter of waiting. If the Bramling Cross isn't planted correctly its delicate root structure won't form properly and the crop won't fully develop.

So what's the outlook for the UK hop harvest this year? As Ali noted, we are only three days into the 2013 harvest so there is all to play for. However, the early summer was not ideal and recent heat has led to the flowers of some varieties being slow to fully develop. However, we still look to have a better crop than in some areas of Europe.

Greater use and awareness of British hops will help to protect the industry. Our unique maritime climate makes for perfect conditions for the cultivation of both new hops and existing varieties. Many of the hops grown in other countries owe their heritage to British legacy hops - we have some of the world’s best aroma and flavour hops growing right here in our home soil.

The British Hop Association would love to see UK brewers advertise their use of British hops and has developed logos for this purpose. These can be downloaded from the BHA website. Our challenge for the next year though is for UK brewers to shout about their use of British hops and name the varieties they use to educate and enthuse consumers. And why not. So come on, let’s hop to it!


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