Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Land of hops and glory

Last week I went to a trade day about organic beer. Billed as 'Land of hops and glory' there was a series of talks, a look round a hop farm and, I'm pleased to report, some excellent beers to taste.

An added bonus for me was seeing  for the first time in many years James McCrorie, the founder of the Craft Brewing Association (CBA). He's recently passed on the reins of the CBA, a transition that did not go entirely smoothly, but he seemed quite untroubled by it and optimistic about the future.

As well as talks on organic food, farming and brewing there was also one on marketing. Not quite what I was expecting, but I have to say it was fascinating stuff.

I was also delighted that a great, grand, glorious hero of the cask beer revolution, Roger Protz, gave a talk. He seemed passionately in favour of organic beer, which I must admit slightly surprised me. I'd have though an old Trot like him would be more into nationalising the means of production, miltarising labour and massacring rebel sailors.

As it was pissing down it wasn't an ideal day for a farm tour but it was something I couldn't miss. It was by reading about the hops grown on this farm that I heard that Farnham Whitebines are still grown, something that's sparked an obsession of which I've enjoyed every minute. 

Sadly things did not go entirely to plan. The didn't have good records of where all the hops had been planted so weren't entirely sure about where some of the varieties were. The Farnham Whitebines are somewhere in amongst this lot:

So near but yet so far
I'm not sure it really counts as having seen them if my eyes have passed over them but I don't know which ones they actually were.

Being organic, and conditions being so damp, they were having a problem with downy mildew which doesn't bode well for the whitebines. They spray their crops with compost teas, teeming with bacteria and fungi, so a biofilm will form on the plants and competitively exclude pathogens. As a microbiologist this made sense to me, though I missed out on the tour of the lab as I was busy grilling a golding's guru on Early Choice so I don't know the details.  

The farm is also biodynamic, which as a scientist sounded like a right load of bollocks to me, but I do enjoy hearing about other people's wacky beliefs. I also enjoyed hearing about the researches the bloke from Stroud Brewery has done into traditional African beverages, some of which sound like they haven't changed in thousands of years.

I don't know if we'll make any organic beers at work: it's more effort and costs more for the same return, but I am pleased to report that the days of all organic beers tasting rubbish are behind us. There's a wide range of organic ingredients now available and I enjoyed the beers I tried that day from Stroud, Little Valley and Bath Ales.


  1. nationalising the means of production, militarising labour and massacring rebel sailors

    That one never gets old, and indeed why should it.

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it: get an article into BEER including the words "iron broom" and "shoot them like partridges".

    On another blog I was reading that the German equivalent to "organic" labelling is actually "biodynamic" - if you want your food grown in dung (and who doesn't?) you've got to put up with the Steinerite woo as well.

  2. I think Roger has given up on sailor massacring. Bad for the image. The rest? Who knows?

  3. @Phil the German use of "Bio" for organic shouldn't be confused with the mystical Steiner bullshit that is "Biodynamic". "Organic" is a different kind of bullshit.

    1. Really? I stand corrected (I got it from this comment). It is the case that 'organic' has no agreed international meaning, so 'organic' in another country doesn't necessarily tally with our own dear Soil Council's definition.