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23rd May 2023

Hogs Back Brewery adds ‘beating the bounds’ to Hop Blessing

Brewer continues traditions, unites local community

Surrey-based Hogs Back Brewery recently welcomed 150 guests to the annual Hop Blessing at its brewery in Tongham, this year adding a shortened version of the ancient ‘beating the bounds’ tradition to the event.

The Hop Blessing took place on Ascension Day (18 May), the day on which crop blessings traditionally took place for centuries. Officiating was Rev. Claire Holt, of St Paul’s Church in Tongham, who blessed the crops and, with Hogs Back Brewery managing director Rupert Thompson, led the ‘beating the bounds’ walk around the 8.5-acre hop garden.

Blessing of crops was observed in rural communities as a way of encouraging a plentiful harvest. Currently, the 6,000 hop plants in the Hogs Back garden are climbing up strings, spurred by the recent rainfall, and the brewery is hoping for an ample crop to harvest in late August.

Beating the bounds similarly took place around Ascension Day, when a group of villagers led by the priest would walk round the parish boundaries, as a way of instilling this vital information in an era before formal record-keeping: your parish dictated how much tax you paid, and where you could be buried, for example. The story goes that children on the walk would have their heads banged on the boundary stones to reinforce the knowledge – a part of the custom that Hogs Back has not revived!

Rev. Holt said: “Blessing the Hogs Back hop garden continues a tradition that would certainly have been part of the cycle of hop growing in Farnham for centuries. It gave me great joy to lead the prayers for the Hogs Back hop garden, the brewery, and all who work in them, for this year and long into the future.”

Rupert Thompson, Hogs Back Brewery managing director, said: “We were delighted to welcome Claire back to bless our hops and to see so many local people for our first ‘beating the bounds’; guests enjoyed walking with friends, family and dogs round the hop garden, and working up a thirst for a pint of beer back at the brewery!

“Clearly there’s no imperative today for most people to know their parish boundaries, but there is still a need to connect with the local community and a large part of what we’re doing at Hogs Back is about creating those connections, which is shown by the many local residents who are volunteering to ‘twiddle’ our hop plants up the strings now, or helping to bring in the harvest later in the year.”

He added: “When we planted our first hop garden back in 2014, we wanted to help revive hop farming in Farnham, and to brew in a more sustainable way: the hops travel just yards from the hop garden to the brewery, resulting in a miniscule carbon footprint for this part of the brewing process.

“We are constantly looking for ways to become a more sustainable brewer, for example we have taken plastic out of much of our packaging. We are aiming to reach net carbon zero by 2030.”

With the hops duly blessed, the Hogs Back team led by estate manager Matthew King will now be tending the bines carefully until harvest. Three varieties are being grown: Fuggles – used in the brewer’s flagship Tongham TEA ale; Cascade – used in its Hogstar lager; and Farnham White Bine – a local variety that Hogs Back revived from near-extinction and used in Farnham White, a beer they have just brewed again to celebrate the Hop Blessing.

Hogs Back’s Hop Harvest celebrations are taking place on 16 and 17 September: a music-led, festival style event on the Saturday and a more family-friendly TEA Party on the Sunday. Tickets are available on the Hogs Back website.

Captions to attached images:

  • Guests raise a glass at the Hogs Back Brewery Hop Blessing, with managing director Rupert Thompson and Rev. Claire Holt (centre)
  • Head brewer Miles Chesterman (3rd from right) joins the ‘Beating the Bounds’ walk


Issued on behalf of: Hogs Back Brewery

By: ShielPorter Communications

Further information: / 07841 694137 / 07734 054389

Notes to editors

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 Tongham 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, Tongham 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. In recent years it has launched two low-alcohol beers: Little Swine 2.8% and Little Swine 0.5%.
  • 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 12,000 PETs, earning them Plastic Free Champion status from Surfers Against Sewage.

Hop farming in Farnham

  • Farnham was historically one of the most important hop farming regions in the UK. At its peak in the 1870s, hops accounted for around 40% of the land available for farming in the parish. The Farnham area was ideal for hop growing with a rich, loamy topsoil over a chalky subsoil.
  • Farnham hops commanded a premium price, with a hop pocket – 240lb of dried hops – selling for £9 – £10 in the early 1800s, compared to only £7 – £9 for Kentish hops.
  • 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.
  • In Farnham, unlike Kent and other growing areas, farmers chose to harvest the hops before they were completely ripe, resulting in a two-week period of intense work for the pickers and a need to supplement local labour with imported labour.
  • A carnival atmosphere prevailed during the hop harvest: schools were closed, church attendance fell off and shops opened on Sundays to take the money from hop pickers.
  • The hops, once dried and packed down into pockets or sacks, were sold to brewers in the Farnham area and to West Country brewers, who purchased them at the Weyhill Fair near Andover.
  • 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.

Issued on behalf of: Hogs Back Brewery

By: ShielPorter Communications

Further information: / 07841 694137 / 07734 054389