Hogs Back Brewery in Tongham, Surrey, has started the annual harvest of its hops this week, with a team of 20 Hop Pickers helped for the first time by a Suffolk Punch horse. The brewer is predicting its best ever crop from the 8.5-acre hop garden adjoining the brewery.
Last year was Hogs Back’s first full harvest from its larger hop garden, but the plants are now more mature and weather conditions have been more favourable this summer, helping the hop plants to grow higher, with more leafy lateral shoots bearing the hop cones that are needed for brewing.
Harvesting is being carried out by a team of 20 volunteer Hogs Back Hop Pickers, working with a horse as well as a tractor. The horse, called Sovereign, pulls a trailer between the rows of hop plants and then takes it, full of cut bines, to the hop hangar just yards away. Once there, the bines are loaded into the hop picker machine, which separates out the hop cones. These are then loaded into a kiln to be dried, vacuum packed to capture their flavour, and cold stored at 5°C on site until needed for brewing.
Hogs Back has invested significantly in its hop garden, acquiring its own hop picker, tractor and other equipment. This gives it complete control over harvest, meaning the hops can be picked at the optimum moment and packed within hours – which translates into fresher hops going into the brew and ultimately fresher tasting beer in the glass.
Rupert Thompson, Hogs Back Brewery owner, said: “Growing and harvesting our own hops has been a journey for us, and we learn new things every year about how to cultivate hops that enhance the flavour of our beers.
“This year we’re hoping for our biggest ever crop, thanks mainly to the right combination of warmth and rain, but also because we’re able to pick the hops when they’re at their best, so we have very little waste. And by transporting them just a matter of yards – from field to firkin in a furlong – we’re keeping our carbon footprint at virtually zero, which is part of our drive to become a more sustainable brewer.”
Hogs Back will harvest three hop varieties this year: Fuggles, used in its flagship TEA or Traditional English Ale; English Cascade, used in its Hogstar lager and Surrey Nirvana Session IPA and Farnham White Bine, a traditional local variety that the brewer saved from near-extinction.
After a pandemic-led absence last year, Hogs Back’s Hop Harvest Party is returning, and split over two days on 18 & 19 September, with a more music-focused Saturday line-up and a family-friendly feel to the Sunday celebrations, when Sovereign will be returning to offer rides around the hop garden. Over 2,000 tickets have been sold.
Thompson added: “We’re grateful to our dedicated band of Hogs Back Hop Pickers, who will be helping us to bring in this year’s harvest, and to other TEA Club members who helped with hop planting and twiddling earlier in the year.
“Hogs Back is firmly rooted in the local community around Farnham, and our hop garden has revived an industry that was once important for the region, and which many older residents remember with affection. We look forward to celebrating another successful harvest with all our local friends at the Hop Harvest Festival and TEA Party next month.”
Notes to editors
Hogs Back Hop Garden – key points
- Hogs Back will harvest 6, 000 hop plants this year, from its garden occupying 8.5 acres of prime farmland next to the brewery.
- The hop plants are supported with over 100 large posts and ten miles of high tensile steel wire, strung 18ft above the plants.
- Hogs Back planted its original, 3.5-acre hop garden in 2014, and completed four harvests before moving to the larger site in spring 2019 – though only partially harvested that year, leaving most plants in the ground, as is best agricultural practice.
- Hogs Back cultivates three hop varieties: Fuggles – used in its flagship TEA; Cascade – used in Hogstar lager; and Farnham White Bine.
- Farnham was historically one of the most important hop farming regions in the UK. The Farnham area is ideal for hop growing with a rich, loamy top soil over a chalky subsoil.
- The Farnham White Bine hop was originally developed in the early 1700s just a mile and a half from the current Hogs Back brewery. It was highly prized for its aromas and was the precursor variety to the better-known Kent Goldings.
- Hop farming in Farnham started to wane at the end of the 19th century in the face of growing competition from the Kent hops, which were preferred by London’s brewers, and the rising cost of agricultural labour. The industry declined and finally died out in the mid-1970s.
Hogs Back Brewery
- Hogs Back Brewery was founded in 1992 in Tongham, in the heart of the traditional Surrey hop growing area.
- Its flagship brand TEA, or Traditional English Ale, is one of the leading regional ales in the South East. The first beer brewed by Hogs Back in 1992, TEA has won multiple awards including runner-up in CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain in 2000.
- Other awards include CAMRA’s Champion Bottled Beer of Britain 2020 for its A over T (Aromas over Tongham) 9% ABV bottle conditioned barley wine and a Bronze medal in the International Cider Challenge 2019 for its traditional cloudy cider, Hazy Hog.
- The Hogs Back Brewery range includes a number of award-winning draught, bottled and canned beers, demonstrating its ability to combine brewing expertise and tradition with product innovation to create distinctive, memorable beers.
- While pubs were closed during lockdown, Hogs Back sold its beers through supermarkets and direct to customers, offering Drive Through and Click & Collect options at the brewery, or delivering direct to homes. Details on all options can be viewed on the website.
- As part of its drive to become an ever more sustainable brewer, Hogs Back is aiming to eliminate single use plastic. They have introduced refillable glass Snorters (3.5 pints) and Snifters (1 ¾ pints), and to date have removed 10,000 PETs, earning them Plastic Free Champion status from Surfers Against Sewage.
Press release from Hogs Back Brewery
Issued by: ShielPorter Communications
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