The Rarest of English Hops
Following on from our visit to Ian Strang’s farm in Lamberhurst (pronounced Lam’brust, if you’re a proper local yokel) we have something very special and incredibly rare to brew with. So rare in fact, that we have the only hops in existence, all 1kg of them!
I know you will ask how did a small, new brewery get hold of them? As is often the case in life, it’s not what you know, but who. And I know Dorothy Hollamby and have done for more years than I can remember. Dorothy has been a hop farmer all her married life. The commercial side of the farm grows around 40 acres of hops and it is where I learnt all I know about hops and hop picking. But a few years ago, Dorothy decided to do something different. She recognised that the insignificant (to some) homebrewer lost out to the big breweries to try new and old heritage hops. So in a moment of madness, a new hop farm was born. Dorothy’s homebrew farm is called “A Bushel of Hops”.
Over time, Dorothy has selected rare and unknown hop varieties for inclusion into her growing business, simply because what didn’t fit then, just might now. Like us, Dorothy has a real passion for old English hops that have either fallen by the wayside or were never grown on a big commercial scale. She ensures that the hops are as fresh as possible, they are vacuum packed as you would expect and only ever the current season’s harvest. This little enterprise means that you can get a hop here that no one else can – very exciting to hop fanatics like me!
So, on to our hop with a bit of it's history first. The late 19th Century and the first half of the 20th saw a massive development by Imperial College, London. The most significant area (to us brewers anyway) of this development was the hop breeding program based in Wye, near Ashford in Kent. In this tiny village, a new era of English hops were born. Years of research into the characteristics of the varieties, their resistance to disease and their suitability for commercial use, was painstakingly studied. Some made it and some didn’t. But each was given a catalogue number, no matter what. Those of the greatest interest were always kept.
Despite the success of the research over many decades, funding and subsequently the college, ceased to be in 2009. The enormous task of moving the breeding program was then required. With no public funding it was up to the British Hop Association (BHA) and some of the big national breweries to fund the relocation in order to save the vast amount of hops that had been bred over the years. The vast majority were saved and are now under the careful watch of Dr Peter Darby, who continues the College’s work in the breeding program under the new name of Wye Hops Ltd. The historic collection contains hundreds of varieties. It is managed by the BHA and any variety that is of interest can only be grown by a member, such as Dorothy.
During my own random research into old varieties, the one that took my eye was the very hop that we have in our possession. I’m not sure why; I think I just loved the name! This hop was bred in the late 1930’s and stood on farm trial during the war years. It was found to be a very good, consistent cropping plant with sustainable resistance to disease. So a good growers hop all round. But on brewing trials it was found to be of no interest - note the hop all others were measured against was a Fuggle. Brewers then were fickle people and the fabulous Fuggle was the hop above all. But what really interested me, was that it was given a name. Back then, as now, most were only given a number. But to be actually named - that meant something. With no obvious reference back then to its supersonic icon, they had named this hop… Concord.
The Concord has not been brewed with since its trials in the 1940’s so there is no real information as to what it actually tastes like. We hope that the lucky few that get a bottle (there are only 50) will let us know what they think of it. In fact the only way to get a bottle will be to commit to answering a short questionnaire for us about the beer, so hopefully you have a nose for hops as well! We will then enter all the names in a draw to win a brewery tour and tasting as a Thank You. The information you give us through the questionnaire will help farmers like Dorothy decide whether more of it should be grown. We may then be able to look at other hops in the archives to see what else we can find. Exciting times ahead!