Early September brings one of the treats of the brewers’ calendar, a trip to the Hop Walk organized by hop merchants Charles Faram. This year the location was Pridewood Farm, Ashperton, Herefordshire. Hops have been grown there since the 19th century and the Powell-Tuck family have been continuing this tradition for almost 20 years.
There were over 300 UK brewers there to participate in a day of learning more about hop growing and harvesting and to listen to various experts giving updates on state of the hop harvest around the world and the effect on price and availability of this essential brewing ingredient.
Alongside all of this there was of course, the chance to sample some beer – not too much for me, I was driving the van but Patrick took good advantage. This year featured pairs of beers brewed in the conventional way but with one firkin with of hop oils added. This may be a way in future of making hops go further by extracting the oils and adding those to beer rather than using whole hops or pelleted hops. Of course this stimulated much debate between traditionalists and those who see this as a way forward. I am sure it is a debate we will hear more of if the growth in small brewers continues to outstrip the planting of hops.
This year Abbeydale decided to take advantage of the opportunity to obtain some hops straight from the field and make a “green hop” beer. (The downside of this was having to drive rather than catch the train). Normally hops, once separated from the bine (stalk and leaves), are dried gently. This stabilizes them so they can be packed and stored for quite long periods so they can be transported and used thoughout the coming year or so. Green hops are taken from the field, separated and then put into sacks. They then need to make their way into beer within hours or, like any vegetable matter they will start to rot and compost.
Because the hops are not dried we needed eight times as much in weight, so at the end of the day we loaded up our van with 100kg of freshly harvested Early Goldings hops and in less than 24 hours they were in the beer. Indeed one of the main challenges was fitting them into the hop back!
Making a green hop beer is such a special thing – a sort of brewery harvest celebration – that we wanted to make a big thing of it. We have wanted for some time to do a series of beers featuring English hops, our Albion Ale series, so what better way to launch them than to start with this green hop beer. It will be called Scepter’d Ale, ABV 4.1% and in fermenter it is tasting very soft, floral and sweet. Final flavours have yet to develop, but with no dark or crystal malts to hide the hops, this should be one lovely beer.