The origins of the Goldings hop varieties: The Main Event.
‘To a beginner desirous of obtaining definite ideas on the nature of hops, nothing is so puzzling or so annoying as the use of the term "Golding." The inquirer soon learns that it is sometimes employed to denote a particular variety, which every grower in the best districts says, and probably imagines, that he grows; and on other occasions, perhaps more especially in districts suited only to the coarser varieties, the term is extended to include a somewhat heterogeneous mixture of kinds possessing few discoverable characters in common, except that they are hops.’ (1)
Writing in 1901 John Percival’s observation on the confusion surrounding the term “Golding” still rings true today. Though there’s no doubt the original Golding came from a cutting selected by a gentleman of that name a wide range of hops have been, and still are, sold as Goldings.
The National Hop Collection has ten different varieties of Goldings, and Goldings are also sold on the basis of geographical location irrespective of which particular variety they are. The term ‘Golding’ has also been misapplied to hops that are no relation to true Goldings, no doubt in the hope a little gold will rub off on them. It’s no wonder that even an esteemed and widely respected publication like the Oxford Companion to Beer seems a little muddled!
A H Burgess (2) records that the old Hop Marketing Board sold eight varieties of hops as ‘Goldings’ and Peter Darby of Wye Hops Ltd has kindly informed me about the other Goldings clones in the national hop collection (3). The different varieties have come from clonal selection of bud sports and are very similar plants with differences in ripening times and disease resistance.
Back in the day it was important for hop farmers to grow a range of varieties which had staggered ripening times so they were able to spread the time of picking and drying. Increased disease resistance has obvious benefits and both mutants with different ripening times and disease resistance can be relatively easily selected from a population.
To try and bring some order to the chaos I’ll go through the different Goldings clones in the National Hop Collection chronologically as shown in a picture on Stan Hieronymus’s blog, followed by a brief note on locality.
Percvial (1) states that the Canterbury Whitebine, Farnham Whitebine and Mathon Whitebine are so closely related in botanical character that the cannot be distinguished form one another and are, no doubt, one and the same variety. The Farnham White Bine was originally selected from a cutting by Peckham Williams around 1750 as I have detailed earlier. Though it has long been sold as a Golding variety this plant pre-dates Mr Golding’s famous selection as it is, in fact, the parent plant he took his renowned cutting from.
This is the famous variety selected by Mr Golding of East Malling from a garden of Canterbury Whitebines shortly before 1790 (2).
It must have been a bud sport as
Percival (1) records that the Golding hop was:
1. a larger hop than the Canterbury Whitebine varieties, with
2. a bine more speckled with red, of less luxuriant growth, on which
3. the hops hang more singly than is the case with the Canterbury hop.
Growers differed in their views on whether or not it was more finely flavoured than Farnham or Canterbury Whitebines.
This was selected by a farm bailiff named Smith on Musgrave Hilton’s farm in Bramling near Canterbury. It was grown extensively by 1865. I don't know what it was selected from but presumably a Canterbury Golding.
The picture on Stan Hieronymus’s blog listing various hop varieties in the National Hop Collection shows the Mathon as being something separate from the other whitebines, even though Percival considered them to all be the same variety. As far as hops go “Mathon” is simply a shortening of “Mathon Whitebine” it could be that this is a bud sport with different characteristics from the Canterbury/Farnham/Mathon Whitebine clone already mentioned or possibly it origniated from the earlier Farnham Pale hop. I haven't asked Peter Darby if he can confirm this as it's good to have a bit of mystery in your life.
Mercers or Rodmersham Golding
Selected around 1880 by Robert Mercer of Rodmersham House, Sittingbourne from a hop garden reputed to be of the Golding variety.
Selected by James West, a hop factor from a garden of Canterbury Whitebines on the farm of John Cobb, Sheldwich near Faversham around 1881.
There is no record of its selection but it was presumably from Petham, near Canterbury. Slightly more vigorous than other Goldings and less mottled with red.
Amos’s Early Bird
Selected in 1887 by Alfred Amos of Spring Grove, Wye from a garden of Bramlings.
Eastwell Golding and Late Eastwell Golding
The Eastwell Golding was originally grown at Eastwell Park near Ashford in Kent before 1889. Similar to Petham and Rodmersham Goldings but slightly later ripening. The variety now sold grown and sold as Eastwell Golding by the Redsell Farms group is however an early season variety so the National Hop Collection maintain two selections with different ripening characteristics. (3)
We can see the classification of Goldings is based around hops propagated from Canterbury Whitebines and Mr Golding’s famous hop, which was itself propagated from a Canterbury Whitebine. It’s clear that there’s something anachronistic going on grouping these hops under the name of ‘Goldings’. Percival notes that Canterbury Whitebine and Goldings were considered quite separate hops initially and it was not until after the middle of the 19th century that they were merged into one group. In 1901 he said it’s “customary to apply the term ‘Goldings’ to the best class of hops, such as the Canterbury and Farnham Whitebines, the Bramling and Mathon hops, with Cobb’s and the Rodmersham varieties, and stretched occasionally to include others of less repute.” This practice was continued by the Hop Marketing Board and carries on to this day.
Classification of hop varieties is complicated by the fact that hops were often sold on the basis of where they were grown, as East Kent Goldings still are today irrespective of which Golding variety they are.
The Encyclopædia Britannica of 1911 (now there’s an auspicious year) states how hops in Kent were sold:
“The hops grown in Kent are classified in the markets as "East Kents," "Bastard East Kents," "Mid Kents" and "Wealds," according to the district of the county in which they are produced. The relative values of these four divisions follow in the same order, East Kents making the highest and Wealds the lowest rates. These divisions agree in the main with those defined by geological formations.”
This regional division affected how well the plants grew, and which varieties were grown, as for example, the chalky soil of East Kent is good for growing Goldings but on the clay and sand of the Weald Goldings won’t grow well so the coarser Fuggles were preferred.
Which hops can now be sold “East Kent Goldings” is now protected under European law with a tightly defined geographical area and the hop varieties required to have the typical essential oil composition of Goldings (4).
I've got in touch with my hop supplies (Charles Farams and Botanix) to find out which of the true Goldings varieties are sold today and they told me Cobbs, Mathons, Early Bird and perhaps a few Canterbury Whitebines, though both companies sell them as 'Goldings' and 'East Kent Goldings'.
Here ends a chapter, but a chapter only in the history of the origins of the Goldings varieties. If you think I've gone on for far too long already at least in part three: the epilogue there will be sex.
1. Percival, John. The Hop and its English varieties, 1901.
2. Burgess, A H. Hops, 1964, p39-44.
3. Personal communication, 4 Jan 2012