It started with a buffet lunch at which I bumped into Martin Dickie from Brewdog and had a brief chat with him. The bad news is it will be 18 months until their new brewery is built. The good news is he'd brought some beers with him for the free bar!
There were a couple of talks after lunch. Peter Darby of Wye Hops Ltd. sounded quite upbeat about the development of new hop varieties, but Jonathon Arnold from Robing Appel Ltd. put a bit of a downer on things by telling us that malt prices are going to rise hugely.
Then it was time for a tour with various experts scattered round the farm. The first person I got to was an 80 year old retired hop farmer demonstrating how to string up hop bines. The pole he's using is called a monkey by those in the know.
Further on there were some hops being harvested, which I have to say looks like a shit job.
Peter Darby was waxing lyrical about hops elsewhere in the field. He explained how hops are grown vegetatively, not from seeds, so all hops of a variety are genetically identical clones. This lead to me asking why male hops are gown in Britain and he was kind enough to answer in great detail.
For those of you that aren't aware of such things hop plants can be male or female but only the females will grow the hop cones we need for brewing. Outside of Britain only the females plants are grown so the hops aren't fertilised and so are unseeded.
The reason things differ in Britain is due to an early example of biological pest control. Britain is the place where hops are most affected by powdery mildew and researchers found that unfertilised hop flowers remained open and susceptible for longer than fertilised flowers. So it was decided in 1904 that in Britain hops would be grown with males present to reduce the effects of mildew. Approximately one male plant is grown for every 400 females and several varieties of males will be used so that pollen is released over a range of time. The female varieties that brewers know and love have names like Fuggles, Goldings or Cascade. The males the hop growers also plant have more functional names like 'early' or 'late' denoting when they release their pollen.
I moved on to the picking shed next, where the hop bines are loaded on to the picking machine.
When the hops are picked from the bines they trundle down a conveyor belt where debris is removed before the move on to the kiln.
The hops are dried in the kiln for about eight hours before some cold air is blown through, which moistens them slightly making them less brittle before packaging.
Hops...thousands of them.