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England and its hops

England´s hop growing areas

There are conflicting accounts about the beginning of hop farming in England. The general consensus is that hop cultivation was introduced to England between the beginning and the middle of the 16th century by the Flemish as the essential ingredient for the preparation of beer. The Flemish settled primarily in South-East England, especially in Kent. In this area, which is referred to as the Garden of England, they started hop farming to supply their brewing industry.

A solid historical footing in hop cultivation is first found as hops were put into use for the production of beer at the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th centuries. However, hop crops in the British Isles do not appear to have sufficed. In the course of the 16th century the use of hops for ale production finally caught on, for if your ale may endure a fortnight … through the benefit of the hop. The preservation and the merits in taste were recognised. The increase in demand for hops turned the brewers’ attention to hop cultivation. The spread of hop farming created a need for hop trading, particularly due to the import of hops from the continent to make up for the inability of domestic hop cultivation to meet the growing demand.
It is known that England was already exporting hops to the continent, primarily to Germany and Holland, in 1750. All the conditions were therefore ideal for London’s marketplace to flourish. England’s most important agricultural area, Kent, was just beyond the city gates. Like Nuremberg in Germany, New York in the USA and Saaz in Bohemia, London became one of the most important hop-trading centres.
The Kent hop-farming area rapidly grew to be the largest in England. Kent was divided up into East Kent with the towns of Canterbury and Faversham, Mid Kent with Maidstone and Tonbridge and Weald, southwest of Tonbridge towards the other hop-growing area of Sussex. The hop-farming areas in Sussex border those of the Weald of Kent. The countries of Surrey and Hampshire form another hop region centred in Farnham. In the north-western hop-farming counties of Hereford and Worcestershire cultivation is concentrated in the Lugg and Teme river valleys. Hop farming in England today is concentrated in the counties of Kent and Herefordshire.

Seeds as a special feature of English hops

In the main hop regions of Europe and in other regions of the world it is customary not to cultivate fertilized hops. In contrast, English planters almost exclusively cultivated fertilized, i.e. seeded varieties even up to ten years ago. The brewing experts on the continent classified seeded hops as inferior produce. The fertilization of valuable red-bine varieties was said to damage the appearance of the hops. Seeded hops on the other hand were less susceptible to various diseases. Particularly in England, with its fluctuating yield being linked directly to the climate, this was important for the planter. In addition, the yield was reduced by more than 50%, compared to seeded hops, if the planter used seedless varieties.

The English varieties and their naming

In the 18th century relatively simple features were used to distinguish between hops. In England a distinction was made only between hops with white and green bines. They were further distinguished by the area in which they were grown, such as Farnham and Canterbury. Later they were derived from names like Golding or Flemish. Other variety descriptions turned up such as Dadshot, Avenall, and Collegate.
The best known variety, however, was the Golding. The Golding distinguishes itself mostly through its high yield and good quality. The variety spread successfully and by the 19th century both Sussex and Kent were almost exclusively planted with Goldings, Canterbury, Grapes, Jones and Collegates. Between 1860 and 1870 the early maturing Bramling and White’s Early Golding, a descendent from Golding, were introduced, followed by a variety called Prolific. Fuggle, an early maturing variety still grown today in England and the USA, was introduced in Kent and Hereford between 1880 and 1890.

In 1907 Prof. Salmon, mycology specialist at Wye College, produced his first hop crosses with the aim of developing new varieties with a high soft resin content and other good growing features. His earliest success was Brewers Gold, followed by Northern Brewer, Bullion, Malling Mid Season and many others whose names are now forgotten.
Today, the area of cultivation in England is 929 ha with a slightly falling trend. The main varieties are Golding, First Gold, East Kent Golding, Fuggles and Target.

English aroma – very British

You don’t have to go to Persia to smell a fresh squeezed lime, or to Indonesia to let your palate taste the wonderful aroma of vanilla.  You just have to stay in England and go the nearest hop field, just because British hops impart an incredible range of aromas to the beer.

In 1907 Prof. Salmon, a mycology specialist at Wye College, produced his first hop crosses with the aim of developing new varieties with high soft resin content and other good growing features. His earliest success was Brewers Gold, first released in 1934. This variety accounts for moderate alpha acid content, vigorous growth and high yield and shows a spicy, woody aroma combined with sweet fruit notes. Wye College also developed, in 1934, Northern Brewer by crossing a female Canterbury Golding with a male strain known as OB21. However, this variety with piny and minty notes was not released to the UK growers until 1944. Virtually all today’s high-alpha varieties are based on the breeding work of Prof. Salmon. Varieties such as Brewers Gold and Northern Brewer were ignored for years, and only after World War II these two varieties found their way to Belgium and from there to Hallertau in Germany. Northern Brewer contributed in no small way to the success of German hops on the world market.

The Wye College continued in the tradition of Prof. Salmon making valuable contributions to hop growing. Since the middle of the last century, they have released many varieties. Bramling Cross was bred by a crossing between a traditional Golding variety and a male seedling of the Manitoban wild hop in 1927 and released in 1951. The raw hop shows a spicy and fruity aromatic flavour profile. In 1965, they released Progress, a daughter of Whitbread Golding with strong rust aromas, herbal coriander, white cabbage and brewer’s yeast which creates a full and intense flavour. Progress is somewhat similar to Fuggle but slightly sweeter and usually providing a softer bitterness in beers of all types.

In 1971, the Wye College released North Down, a variety with spicy, pine notes combined with some floral and berry attributes. One year later, the two well-known varieties Wye Challenger and Target were released. Wye Challenger was developed at Wye College from a cross in 1963 and released in 1971. The raw hops present sweet fruits coupled with citric, spicy and woody notes. Target is the most widely grown British hop, which offers very high bitter value and very good storage stability. Its aroma in its raw state is defined by the woody flavours of tobacco leaves, cognac, barrique and tonka beans, combined with light vanilla notes.

In 1988, the hop works at Wye College was transferred to Horticulture Research International (HRI). 1996 was a great year for HRI Wye, as 3 varieties, Admiral, First Gold and Pioneer were registered. Admiral was bred from Challenger and North Down with the aim of expanding the varietal range. In terms of the alpha acid content, it matures about one week earlier and it has very good storage stability. The flavour profile of Admiral in the raw hops is characterised by green grassy nuances, tea and sweet fruits. First Gold is derived from the Whitbread Golding variety. It produces a well-balanced bitter and fruity, slightly spicy flavour note during the brewing process. In its raw state, it evokes woody, vegetal qualities accompanied by fruity aromas and tart nuances of citrus. And finally, Pioneer has some citric, cedar and herbal notes.

In 2004, the work of HRI was transferred to East Malling Research. Some years later, in 2006, 2 varieties saw the light into the market, Pilot and Pilgrim. Whereas Pilot has a typical English hop aroma, Pilgrim offers a blend of intensely aromatic herbs, sweet fruits and cream caramel combine perfectly with vegetal and citric aromas.

HRI at East Malling Research kept researching into new varieties until 2007 when the programme was closed. The breeding work was transferred to Wye Hops Ltd, subsidiary of the British Hop Association, based at China Farm, Canterbury, Kent. Until today, Wye Hops has released 2 varieties. The dwarf variety Boadicea (released in 2008) successfully combines moderate alpha content and a pleasant flavour reminiscent of spicy/herbal and woody- aromatic notes combined with light menthol and sweet fruits aroma.  The second variety, Sovereign, was bred at Wye College in 1995 and released in 2010 by Wye Hops. It displays sweet fruity elements along with caramel, tea and green notes.

The last creation of Wye Hops was Endeavour, which was produced by cross-breeding in 2002 and is a new dwarf hop variety which still on farm trials. With its unique, typically English flavour notes, such as citrus and spicy red fruits, it helps to produce an exceptional aroma in beer. It combines citrus fruits, cream caramel and red berries to produce a full-bodied aroma.

So many aromas, so many possibilities and everything just around the corner. Whether you are looking for a caramel aroma or you desire some woody flavours such as cognac or barrique notes just take a look to the very versatile British hops!

Variety sheets to all present English varieties with descriptions of aroma and compounds are available on our website under the heading of UK.
Further reading:
The Hop Atlas. The History and Geography of the Cultivated Plant. 1994 Ed. Joh. Barth & Sohn, Nuremberg, Germany

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