Tuesday 13 May 2014

Root hog and die

There's not doubt about it that often history has got it wrong. Let's face it, the good guys always lose, and frequently end up dying in a hail of bullets. But much as we might like to go back and tell Mr Mühsam to leave a day early, or have a word about icebreakers with Petrichenko sadly such things can't be done.

But with beer history things are different. We might not be able to drink long lost beers, but it's perfectly possible to try and re-create them based on historical records, which often leads to great tasting beers we can hope our brewing ancestors would be proud of. And it seems it's not just in brewing that history can be turned around.

One of my historical beer related obsessions has been the Farnham Whitebine hop, my blog post becoming the basis of my magnum opus in the Journal of the Brewery History Society.

For the journal article I had a more upbeat ending than on the blog, mentioning that though hops were no longer grown in Farnham, one hop farm in the wider Farnham area survived and the pockets of Fuggles grown on the Hampton Estate continue to proudly bear the Farnham Bell. I did think there was always the possibility for them to return to their roots and plant some Farnham Whitebines too, though it seemed wishful thinking.

So I was astonished to hear that Hogs Back Brewery were looking into planting Farnham Whitebines on a commercial scale. As for obvious reasons I tend towards pessimism I didn't get too excited about it until I heard the plants had been ordered. After that I had to accept that a great historical error was going to be corrected.

Which lead to me driving to Tongham filled with excitement, when once I would have been filled with dread (but that's another story). The hops (a combination of Whitebines and Cascade) are going in a field opposite the brewery.

and a sign proudly proclaims that the Whitebines are back.

I could only get there in the afternoon but helped with planting a few.

... and I can't wait to see them grow.

The Hogs Back Brewery is spitting distance from Badshot Place where Farnham Whitebines were first grown in 1750, so it really is an ideal spot. A history going back over 250 years does though raise the question of how close are the plants we have now are to the plants that were grown then? Like all venerable varieties they will have been re-selected, and are mostly known as Mathons now. In 1901 John Percival considered the Farnham Whitebine, Canterbury Whitebine and Mathon to be one and the same plant, though others saw small differences. There may well have been a mutation or two down the years, but it seems certain that the plants have continued to be propagated from cuttings, not grown from seed, so any variation will be minor, and being back on home ground the soil and the climate are the same. So I'm happy with that, and I can rest easy in my bed knowing that the Farnham Whitebines have indeed returned home.