Saturday, September 15, 2007

Traditional Hops of the UK, a dieing breed?

While judging at BrewNZ I had the opportunity to mix and talk with a wide range of interesting and diverse people from various areas of the beer world. From brewers at lager factories, and owners of yeast companies, to beer writers who chemically analyse beer to deem whether it fits within a style or not. One person who I found very interesting was Richard Watkins, brewer at the Wig and Pen brewpub in Canberra Australia. Richard brews a wide range of beers at the Wig and Pen including several real ales which are cask conditioned and served by handpump. Richard had just returned from 3 weeks in the UK including a visit to the GBBF . One thing that Richard noticed which concerned him was that many of the beers that had made it to the GBBF by winning at regional CAMRA Festivals were made with American hops. He was concerned that the big trend towards using American hops rather than traditonal English ones would be endangering the viability of traditional English hop varieties.

As someone who loves traditional English hop character, particularly Goldings and Fuggels this concerned me and got me thinking. The pages of CAMRA's Beer paper and What’s Brewing are increasingly filled with golden ales that are apparently packed with new world hop character
, this is part of the push to market real ale to young people, lager drinkers and women. None of
these are bad things but if the result is the loss of the best hop varieties in world, I’m not happy.
I decided to do a little websearch on the subject and came across an article on National Hop Association of England site, according to the article hop acreage in the UK has dropped 40% in the last 4 years, suddenly Richards opinion seemed awfully real.
The article goes on to point out reasons for the decline as being:

  • low alpha acid content of traditional English varieties
  • an over supply of American and German hops
  • the low price of hops making such farming uneconomic
  • the increasing use of pellets, oils and extracts reducing the required quantity of hops
  • the trend of mass consumption beers becoming sweeter and less hoppy.
The article also highlighted positives such as the UK micro and regional brewers enduring love for fuggels and goldings, the increasing use of hops in beer designed to match food and the new developments in dwarf hop varieties. I hope that enduring love endures.


I just noticed that the article on the National Hop Association site was from 2004, so the figures were not particulary up to date.


melodee said...

wow, this is def interesting!

Barry Hannah said...

Such a shame. As much as I like cascade and other American hops in certain beers the earthy, spicy tang of fresh East Kent Goldings is the perfect counter to rich English barley malts. I find it's so much better in lower gravity beers where the art of brewing shines and subtlety is a necessity.

John said...

As someone of English stock and a beer judge which hops would you class as definitively English?

I'm interested as I have a good few feet (~100) of pig-wire fence to grow some up next year and would like to short-list a few varieties for next growing season. Prior to the final cut I fancy brewing with the short list and then finalising the varieties.

I could do my bit for English Hop varieties whilst simultaneously making some fine ales!

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

Goldings, Fuggels are the main ones, challanger is a popular one although its pretty bold when used for bittering. A particular hops character is as much dictated by its environment as by its breeding, so if you do get hops to grow in your neck of the woods they will take on a character of there own.

I have been warned off growing hops, aparently they take over and destroy concret paths ect.

John said...

Brilliant - Cheers for that. We're lucky enough to have an allotment to grow them in so I'm not too bothered about them cracking any paths.

It might be interestng to taste shop bought hops against home grown hops especially if they take on character from the immediate surroundings. I wonder if there would be a market for the Darlington Golding ha ha!

BtheK said...

More bad news about English hops and hops in general here.
The bad news about barley is in the next posting. Sheesh, we just cannot win.

Mary said...

Hi Kieran,

There are ways to protect these hops. Slow Food UK has quite a following and the Ark of Taste (to quote their site) "aims to rediscover, catalogue, describe and publicise forgotten flavours, documenting excellent food and drink products that are disappearing."
They go on to say that: "Ark products include Herdwick Mutton, Lyth Valley Damsons, Colchester Native Oysters and unpasteurised Cheshire cheese.." So, for the sake of beer and biodiversity, why not hop varieties?

To get the ball rolling, here is the website where products can be nominated for protection.

There is also information on the selection criteria etc. With your knowledge, I'd be keen to hear what you think.

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

Interesting idea, I wonder if fuggels and goldings hops have actually slipped to the point where that would be the way forward. Perhaps for Bullion.