Saturday, 20 August 2011

Visit to a hop farm

I visited the hop garden at Northiam Dairy farm on Friday. The guy showing us round said there are only 50 hop farms left in Britain which is a little disturbing. I blame the big brewers wanting higher alpha varieties (so less hops need to be used) and lowering the hop rates in their beers. And of course mainly making lager with foreign hops.

As a traditional brewer (or should that be innovative craft brewer?) I use a lot of English hops. And a lot of foreign hops in that traditional innovative way.

I managed to fulfill a long held ambition of seeing a male hop plant. Hops are dioecious having both male and female plants. In England both sexes are planted so the flowers produced are seeded. The hops are all grown from cuttings though, so why do they plant both sexes? They only plant females on the continent. I'd already heard fertilised flowers are less susceptible to mildew but the hop farmer pointed out that seeded hops also weigh more which means he has a bigger crop to sell.

The male flowers are the small ones in the middle of this picture.

It was interesting to see how the different hop varieties were doing. As each hop variety is essentially a clone of an individual plant the only genetic variation is between varieties. There's no doubt that lack of genetic variation leads to disease susceptibility in a population as one of the varieties he was growing was definitely having a hard time. But on the plus side another was thriving.

The Sovereign hops were looking lush so we're going to make a beer with them using fresh green hops as soon as they're harvested in early September.

What to call it though? Green hops, the Sovereign variety, and as a traditional innovative brewer I'll want the beer to be hop forward so probably an IPA. Green Sovereign IPA anyone? I can't see any problems with that name and it will surely prove popular.


  1. It's definitely great to see the vibrant coloured cones on the plant itself. I've only ever brewed with dried hops myself, so good luck with the green ones.

    As for the name, I hope the name doesn't make some drinkers think the new brew will actually be green, like some I've had the misfortune of coming across, at beer festivals in the past.

  2. Interesting stuff, thanks for posting :)