From Fields of Hops to Contemporary Craft Beer

Discover Herefordshire’s hop-growing heritage & bright future

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swan brewery
26th August, 2021

In 1724 the writer Daniel Defoe described the county of Herefordshire as having: "…the finest wool, and the best hops and richest cider in all Britain … and hops they plant in abundance." Herefordshire has been growing hops since the 1600s, and they really were in abundance with a peak of 10,000 acres in 1894, there is now only around 500 hectares of hops grown across Herefordshire and into the Worcestershire borders.

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swan brewery
Image
swan brewery

Hop growing is woven into the landscape of Herefordshire - hop yards flank the River Frome as it meanders through the county, pubs bear names like “The Hop Pole” and Hereford Hop cheese can be found in the finest delis across the country.

Our great growers are responsible for much of this legacy. Half of the UK’s total acreage of hops is grown here by conscientious farmers whose attention to detail and precision means that a perfect crop is produced year on year. The scent of hops is rich in the air through the months of September and October when the year’s crop is harvested and baled, ready for beer making.

Hop growing often spans multiple generations, with knowledge being passed between them and with each generation, little improvements are added to the hop yards and picking sheds.  Hop growers in Herefordshire aren’t just the history of hop growing though, they are also at the forefront of hop variety innovation, seeking the next new variety to make the perfect pint.

The success of British Hops is the terroir* - our maritime climate means that our hops have a lower myrcene level and the hop aromas produced are more delicate and complex. British Hops thrive in session beers because the delicacy creates a lasting, moreish flavour on the palette. Herefordshire’s hops are mostly grown on a clay loam soil, which retains moisture and means that hops are never irrigated – creating the best conditions for the hop plants to thrive.

This rich history of hop growing has attracted some of the finest craft beer makers too - with the best ingredients on their doorstep – why wouldn’t they!  Herefordshire boasts over 15 craft brewers making the most out of this local crop. Wye Valley Brewery has been making beer in Herefordshire since 1985 and sources over 80% of it’s hops from within 10 miles of its brewery in Stoke Lacy. The Swan Brewery in Leominster makes sure that 85% of the hops they use come from Herefordshire and Worcestershire in their selection of beers.

The proximity to Herefordshire’s hop yards also means that brewers can make an extra special product once a year – green hop beer. Rather than adding in a dried hop, these beers use hops which are fresh from the bine and added direct to the beer. Ledbury Real Ales champion green hop beers throughout the picking season, using single hop varieties from a selection of farms across the county and making unusual beers with amazing aromas, often using new experimental varieties to make something really unique. More modern British hop varieties are proving hugely popular on the craft beer scene, producing some seriously punchy varieties which are excellent in IPA style beers and stand up to our foreign counterparts.

Richard Phillips, a hop grower from Stoke Edith has recently started The Monkey Shed Brewing Co - using his knowledge of hops to realise a 10-year dream. Not only does he grow the hops, he is brewing the beer himself too, and launched his first beer –Lockdown- in October 2020. A small “hop” over the border into neighbouring Worcestershire sees the ultimate dream team of The Hop Shed brewery and hop farm at Stocks Farm, Suckley. The brewery itself is located next door to the picking shed and brews exclusively with local hops. Their love of quality British hops and experimental varieties have led to them picking up several great taste awards. The farm grows 10 commercial varieties, plus a good number of new and upcoming varieties with different flavour profiles –showing the possibilities for hop growing in this wonderful part of the world.

The importance of hop growing and craft beer in Herefordshire extends beyond the past and present – there’s a bright future too where the continued collaboration of these industries creates the most perfect tipple for any occasion!

*The complete natural environment of a fruit that affects the characteristic taste and flavour, including factors such as soil, geography, geology, topography, climate.

With thanks to Felicity Beaumont, Stocks Farm