The September hop walk returned this year in all its glory: a time when we brewers make our annual pilgrimage to the hop gardens of Worcestershire and Herefordshire to meet and talk all things hop and this year hosted by Richard and Ali Capper (and Richard’s father Mark) at Stocks farm Suckley, Worcestershire.
Having not been for several years the first thing that I noticed was how much bigger it had become. There are so many brewers out there now. Good for English hop growers you might surmise, well, I’ll get back to that.
The day goes like this. By mid morning the large marquee is filled with a throng of folk from the brewing industry all ‘networking’. Uncomfortable for me as I am naturally shy, but I was pleased to meet kindred spirits from other breweries who share a dislike of vertical float dispense systems as much as I do! It’s always good to know that you are not alone. Just after 12 we are fed and watered, and this includes a variety of beers on tap. These are either single hopped or combinations of new English hop varieties. The idea of course is to give brewers an idea of new flavours in British hop development. After lunch it’s time for the presentations where we get to hear how the harvest is going in various parts of the World and finally you get to walk around the farm and observe the various operations of the harvest. Except on this occasion where the frequent showers bordered on a near continuous deluge. And it’s too dangerous to harvest in the rain. Although cut bines harvested earlier were held back to demonstrate the processing for folk who hadn’t seen it before.
Anyway, told you that to tell you this. All the presentations, bar one, were by video this year. So we heard how that in Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic the yields had been adversely affected by excessive rain and consequent flooding at the wrong time. (Is there a right time?) and then to the USA where excessive heat in the Northwest (you might have heard about that) had taken its toll on the yield and as a result there would be less Cascade and Citra varieties to go around. I heard an audible sharp intake of breath from a fair few guests at this news as they were stirred from the somnolence of the post lunch gestation period.
None of this was lost on Ali Capper who aside from running Stocks Farm with her husband has a myriad of other posts including Director of the British Hop Association who had been pacing the stage anticipating her moment in the sun.
Ali is passionate about British hops and her presentation did not disappoint. The hop growing community is relatively small she said and at the start of the pandemic they all agreed to cut back on production to match the decrease in demand. They wanted to maintain quality she argued by not flooding the market with hops that did not sell and thus hang around and degrade. It’s also a way of maintaining price. Last year production was cut back by a staggering 43%, and this on an already embattled industry. In the end, she implied, only the British hop growers made the sacrifice. And here’s the rub. Hops are perennial – they grow anyway and in order to stop them producing cones they need to be treated in such a way to stop them growing without killing them off. It’s called idling.
Whilst she sympathized with her colleagues overseas, she was very much here to fight her corner. She said that British growers had gone out of their way in recent years to produce new varieties to meet the exotic demands of the burgeoning British brewing industry and it’s now up to British brewers to step up to the plate and use more British hops. At Uley Brewery we play our part as every brew is made with English hops and only 2, Uley Pale and Gilt Edge are augmented with American and Slovenian varieties. The new English varieties include Jester, Godiva, Olicana, Harlequin and Mystic. This year’s Uley Bitter Harvest Special is being made with Godiva (following on from last year’s Olicana – which was a cracker). Can’t wait to try the new in early October.