‘Virtual vicar’ leads annual ceremony for Hogs Back hop garden
Surrey-based Hogs Back Brewery is celebrating its annual hop blessing despite lockdown, with a ‘virtual vicar’ conducting a socially distanced ceremony shared via the brewery’s website and social media channels.
Rev. Claire Holt, of St Paul’s Church in Tongham, where Hogs Back is based, officiated from the hop garden next to the brewery, accompanied – at a safe distance – by owner Rupert Thompson and a handful of team members who recorded the ceremony.
The hop blessing is being broadcast today, Ascension Day (21 May), which was traditionally a day when crop blessings were held. Last year, around 200 people gathered at the brewery for the celebration, enjoying an evening among the growing hop bines with a pint of Hogs Back TEA (Traditional English Ale). This year, the virtual version is being shared with 25,000 people, including Hogs Back social media followers and members of the brewer’s Tongham TEA Club of loyal local drinkers.
Thompson said: “The hop blessing was so popular last year that we were determined it should go ahead despite lockdown. We’re grateful for the support of Rev. Holt, who also conducted last year’s blessing, and the blessing of our original, smaller hop garden in 2014.
“We are delighted to be involving our local community with the event via social media. It’s not quite the same as standing in a sun-filled hop field with friends, but we’re pleased we were able to continue this annual tradition.
“Happily, our hops have not gone into lockdown, in fact the recent warm weather has encouraged healthy growth and we’re hopeful of a bumper harvest in September. We’re also hopeful that we may be able to hold a real Hop Harvest Party rather than a virtual one – even if it has to be smaller scale and socially distanced.”
Rev. Holt said: “Like everyone else, St Paul’s Church has adapted to lockdown, and I’ve become a ‘virtual vicar’ to my congregation. I was pleased that Hogs Back were able to adapt their hop blessing, and happy to lead prayers for the hop garden, the brewery, and all who work in them.
“Ascension Day was traditionally chosen for crop blessings as by this time in the year, new growth would be shooting up – as we can see in the hop garden today. Traditionally, a group of young and old people, usually led by the priest, would walk round the boundaries of the parish, stopping at each boundary post to pray for the protection of the crops.”
With the hops now blessed, the Hogs Back team led by estate manager Matthew King, will now be tending the bines carefully to encourage a healthy harvest in September. Three varieties are being grown in the new garden: Fuggles – used in the brewer’s flagship TEA ale; Cascade – used in its Hogstar Lager; and Farnham White Bine – a local variety that they have revived from near-extinction.
Caption to attached image: Rev. Claire Holt of St Paul’s Church, Tongham, conducts this year’s Hop Blessing in the Hogs Back Brewery hop garden
Issued on behalf of:Hogs Back Brewery
Ros Shiel: email@example.com / 07841 694137
Date of issue: 20 May 2020
Notes to editor
- 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. Distribution of TEA is currently at an all-time high.
- 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.
- Hogs Back’s traditional cloudy cider, Hazy Hog, launched in 2013, won a Bronze medal in the International Cider Challenge in 2019.
- Hogs Back planted a hop garden adjacent to its brewery in 2014, growing three hop varieties: Fuggles – used in its flagship TEA ale; Cascade – used in Hogstar lager; and Farnham White Bine.
- Hogs Back relocated its hop garden in 2019. At 8.5 acres, the new hop garden is nearly three times the size of the previous one and when fully mature will provide 50% of their hop requirements.
- Hogs Back is planning to build a hop kiln and warehouse close to the hop garden, which will allow hops to be dried immediately after picking and packed within 24 hours using state-of-the-art vacuum packing technology to capture the hops’ freshness.
- The hop garden is an essential part of Hogs Back’s commitment to brewing sustainably. With the hops grown just yards from the brewhouse, they are brewing beers with the freshest ingredients – ‘from field to firkin in a furlong’.