Friday 27 January 2012

The Merry Harriers, Hambledon

I called in at The Merry Harriers on Sunday.

To the uninitiated it may have looked like I was enjoying a Sunday afternoon pint in an excellent Good Beer Guide listed pub. In fact I was hard at work checking the Copper Top was on form. It's a hard job being a brewer.

Monday 23 January 2012

The continuity brewery

Last week I visited the old Young's brewery. Having been closed for years it's a bit of a sad sight, but amongst the gutted buildings there was a glimmer of hope.

Tucked away in the old laboratory is a firkin sized (9 gallons) mini-brewery cobbled together from bits of the old brewery as it was being dismantled. Brewing has continued once a week since Young's closed, maintaining a tradition of brewing on that site that goes back to at least 1550.

The redevelopment plans for the site include a museum micro-brewery so after a rather dramatic downsizing brewing in Wandsworth could be on the up.

Would you like sugar with that?

You never know where beer nerdery might lead you. Mainly to the pub obviously, but sometimes it can take an odd turn.

During my researches into the origins of Goldings hops I found that there's Royal Worcester Mathon Hop crockery, with a design dated circa 1795. How could I resist?

Thursday 19 January 2012

I must not go OCD over the OCB

I've been a bit of a beer bore recently. "Nothing new there I hear you say", but more than usual anyway, though a hop bore would be more precise. I really need to give it a bit of rest, and get out for some fresh air.

But having said that there's always more to learn about beer, and as I now own the Oxford Companion to Beer I have been dipping into it. The book caused some controversy amongst my fellow internet beer nerds when it came out, and it was suggested you should wait for the second edition before getting a copy. But I couldn't be doing with waiting for years so I got a copy for xmas.

Most of the criticism focused on some of history parts that were, quite frankly, a bit rubbish. From the few articles I've looked at I wouldn't say the book is rubbish, though it's not brilliant either, it's more a mixed bag of the good and the bad jumbled up.

There are articles from world class experts: when you see they've got Geoff Palmer writing about the aleurone you know they've not only got an expert, but the right expert. Some of the articles are not so good though, in fact they look like they've been written after a quick google. The editing looks decidedly ropey in places too: there's an entry for Corn (maize) but further on there's an entry for Maize (corn) by a different author. And I've spotted one absolute howler, which I'm sure will shock you as much as it shocked me, when it says Staphylococcus and Clostridium are Gram negative. That one got me ranting, oh yes.

I have joined the wiki that was set up to comment on the book so I can point out the things I've spotted but I really do have more important things to be getting on with. Like obsessing about the origin of hop varieties.

Sunday 15 January 2012

The Farnham Whitebine hop

The origins of the Goldings hop varieties: The Prologue.

As I've said before, I've long been interested in the history of Farnham hops and how they were once considered the best of the English hops. I've been even more interested since I found out that plants originally propagated from Farnham hops are still grown as part of the Goldings group.

I've been looking through books, and on the internet, and even going to the Surrey History Centre and I think I've now got a fairly coherent account of this most prized of hops.

Richard Bradley, writing in 1729, shows that Farnham was already an important hop growing area:

"I should have been more particular concerning the building of the hop-kiln but there are so many of them to be seen about Canterbury and Farnham that everyone may be easily satisfied of their structure". (1)

He provides no details of specific hop varieties though, saying instead:
"Most of the hop planters make three sorts of hops, one of them they n
ame the good or master hop, or the manured or garden hop. The other they call the unkindly hop, and some call this the Fryer, others call it the male hop, but without reason. The third sort is that which they call the wild hop, and some likewise call this the savage" (2)

Hops were first named for the character of their cones, e.g. Long White, Oval, Long Square Garlick; or by the colour of their bines, e.g. White Bine, Green Bine, Red Bine. (3)
Early hop varieties will have originated from landraces, and genetic analysis shows that "at least two populations existed in ancient times and the hops cultivated in England originated from or are related to both populations". (4)

Propagating cuttings from the best plants, or plants with desirable characteristics, has for centuries been how most hops are grown commercially. Whether the Farnham White Bine originated as a cutting or a seedling wasn't mentioned in the first account I found of its origins, Valerie O'Rourke's history written in 1973, but it did name the man behind it:

"Around 1750 a new strain of hop was introduced to the Farnham growers by a Mr Peckham-Williams of Badshot Place, Badshot Lea (a small village in the parish of Farnham). This was a White Bine Grape hop, and was to become famous as the Farnham White Bine, which would be grown in the Farnham hop grounds until the disastrous inter-war years, when the blight hit so badly the growers changed to another variety". (5)

This lead me on to further research that says it was grown from a cutting (12):

"Several varieties of hops are here grown; but the best, and that which is cultivated to the greatest extent, is the whitebine grape-hop, which was first raised from a single cutting about fifty years about by Peckham Williams, Esq. of Badshot Place, near Farnham, who whould never suffer any other sort to be grown on his plantation, which is still kept up by that alone."

Unlike Mr Golding or Mr Fuggle it's clear cut who Mr Williams was, and some sources even accord him a similar honour by naming the hop after him: William's White Bine (13). My brief research has revealed he was born 1718 (or 1719) and died in 1785. I'll leave it there though. The lovely Lisa have been very patient with my Farnham White Bine obsession but she started wailing and gnashing her teeth when I began whittering on about Peckham Williams as well.

Farnham White Bines were considered the best hops in Britain and commanded the highest price:

"The Farnham hops generally fetch one-third more, and sometimes double those of other districts." (6)

Quite why this was the case was the cause of much speculation by William Stevenson in 1809:

"It cannot be scribed to the particular variety of hop which is cultivated at Farnham [...] cuttings from the best Farnham hops have been sent into Kent, and if this were really the case, we may be assured it would long before this have produced the same effect there as at Farnham. (7)
Farnham White Bines grown at Canterbury in Kent were called Canterbury White Bines, and white bines grown at Mathon, Worcestershire were called Mathon White Bines or simply Mathons (14). Though the last white bines in Farnham were grubbed up in 1929, Canterbury White Bines and Mathons are still grown to this day, though they're both sold (to brewers, if not to hop merchants) as Goldings.
Farnham hops were particularly prized for their pale colour and delicate flavour. Stevenson doesn't seem overly impressed by this and says Farnham hops are picked before they're ripe adding rather sniffily:

"We shall not examine whether such hops ought to be called more delicate, or weaker than those of other districts." (8) He concludes that the reason Farnham hops get the best price is due to "the name of Farnham hops" (9) i.e. the brand value.

This doesn't really tell us how Farnham hops got to be such a good brand, but fortunately for me a previous researcher looked at this issue in some detail so I shall quote Ashton Booth on this (10):

"In summarising the factors which lead to and maintained their higher price we discover some factors necessary for commercial success in any enterprise.
First, natural advantages, in the case of soil and topography. Secondly, a high quality product, with quality control maintained through all the growing and processing operations. Thirdly a grading system which ensures evenness of the quality. Fourthly, high quality packaging, prestige wrapping and publicity. Fifthly, a monopoly hold on the best selling site; sixthly, the continued existence of the market demand."

The practices of the hops growers in Farnham were quite distinct from those of the growers in Kent, which I may return to later. I'll note at this point that unlike the hop gardens and oast houses of Kent the Farnham growers it seems had hop grounds and hop kilns.
East Kent and Farnham undoubtedly have the right soil and climate for growing hops. The Farnham growers took more care in their picking and packaging than in other hop growing areas and they were dried without sulphur:

"Mr Lance observes, that sulphur is made use of in Kent and Sussex with a view to give a light colour to the hops. The truth is, that this sulphuring is a process of bleaching, an abstraction, and not addition of colour. The slow combustion of sulphur produces sulphurous acid, and that acid (which does not contain a full does of oxygen), acts upon the hops as it does straw in the manufacture of bonnets. It removes the brown tint, and gives brightness in lieu of it. On this subject Mr Lance says, that at Farnham they avoid sulphur "and yet obtain a delicate colour, because they sort out the bruised hops, and pick early before they are injured by the wind. These Farnham hops are found to keep their strength longer than the Kent, because they have not any brimstone in them. In Kent, the most delicate coloured hops are likely to be the most inferior in strength. The oil and flavour of the hops are exceedingly volatile; the atmospheric air will take them away in a short time, and more particularly when sulphur is incorporated with them. In drying them with sulphur much of the aromatic bitter passes off with the fumes of the sulphur" (11)

Farnham hops were carefully graded and only the finest were sent to the fair at Weyhill near Andover. They held pride of place in their exclusive booths on Blissimore Hall Acre, some of which still stand and were particularly prized by West Country brewers and private gentlemen.

With the coming of railways improved transportation diminished the importance of Weyhill fair and increased competition made it harder for Farnham hop growers. Their premium price became eroded, which made it more difficult to recover after bad years as their land rent and other costs were higher.

Extremely bad summers from 1875 to 1884 caused the start of the decline and many hop growers gave up, and the land was used for other crops, housing or quarrying for gravel.

A series of bad attacks from downy mildew in the years 1925 to 1929 spelled the end of the Farnham White Bines and they were grubbed up and replanted mainly with Fuggles (15), a popular English variety but not one that will have commanded a premium price. The last Farnham hop ground at Holt Pound closed in 1976, the owner blaming EEC regulations (16).


  1. The Riches of A Hop-Garden Explain'd. Richard Bradley. 1729. p99.
  2. ibid. p37-38
  3. Hops. Burgess, AH, 1964. p39.
  4. Hop Variety Classification Using the Genetic Distance Based on RAPD. A Murakami, Journal of the Institute of Brewing. Volume 106, No. 3 2000. p157-161.
  5. Hop growing and its decline in the parish of Farnham 1873-1973. Valerie D O'Rourke. 1973. p7
  6. The Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, Nov 14th 1835. p445.
  7. General View of the Agriculture of the County of Surrey. William Stevenson. 1809. p372.
  8. ibid. p373.
  9. ibid. p374.
  10. Farnham and District Museum Society Newsletter. Ashton Booth. Vol 5, Dec 1978.
  11. The Quarterly Journal of Agriculture. Vol V, March 1834-March 1835. p525-526
  12. The Beauties of England and Wales. Frederick Shoberl. Vol XIV, p242.
  13. The farmer's encyclopædia, and dictionary of rural affairs. Cuthber William Johnson. 1844. p632
  14. Hops. A H Burgess. 1964. p64.
  15. Valerie D O'Rourke. Op cit. p50
  16. Ashton Booth. Op cit. p59

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Top of the Hops

When I saw about this beer (brewed with 2012 different hop varieties) over at Pencil and Spoon I was certainly interested but I didn't suppose I'd ever see it. So I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it on the bar when I next called in at the Sovs.
As regular readers of my blog will know, because hops are normally grown from cuttings every individual plant grown from seed counts as a new variety. At the breeding programme of Wye Hops Ltd they grow around 1000 new plants each year. Most of these plants won't be developed further so their hops will never get to be used to make beer...until now.
The Great Yorkshire Brewery have taken from from 2012 of these plants and made a beer with them. As you'd expect it's pale and hoppy but I was pleasantly surprised to find out it's actually balanced with a bit of malty body. Obviously there's no chance of working out what any of the individual hop varieties adds to the beer (and most will soon be grubbed up anyway) but there's definitely a touch of citrus about it. I liked this beer, so I had a some more, just a couple mind.

Monday 9 January 2012

The Bat and Ball, Farnham

I was convalescing at the weekend, having been under the weather for days. Who would have though the old nose to have so many bogies in it? "Out, damned snot" I went as I blew my nose yet again. Oh yes, you get proper literature on this blog.

But enough of this nonsense. On Sunday the lovely Lisa and I went for a stroll in the forest at Alice Holt, which just happens to be right by Holt Pound farm. Unless I'm mistaken that was the last place hops were grown in Farnham. You wouldn't believe how excited I got as we drove past.

Alice Holt was good, if a bit busy. After doing the whole healthy thing: you know, getting fresh air and stretching our legs, I was feeling much better so it was time for some refreshment.

We called in at the Bat and Ball, a nearby tick. It was a large old fashioned pub with a log fire going and we managed to get seats nearby.

They had half a dozen beers on, and free roast potatoes waiting on the bar, a practice I thoroughly approve of. As seem to be the case in most pubs on Sunday afternoons nowadays there was a profusion of ankle biters wandering round. What's wrong with sitting outside with a bottle of coke and a bag of crisps, eh?

As you would expect in a pub called the bat and ball the was cricket stuff on the wall, but of more interest were the old pictures of hop pickers and a brewery yard with those giant barrel pyramids they seemed so fond of.

I had a pint of Timmy Taylor's Golden Best (3.5% ABV) which isn't as good as Landlord. Lisa had a Itchen Valley Winchester Ale, a well kept malty red beer which seemed to go down well.

Then it was time to head back and get the roast on.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

On the Origin of Hop Varieties by Means of Artificial Selection

Or the Preservation of Favoured Hop Varieties in the Struggle for Life.
My latest beer obsession has been how there came to be ten varieties of Goldings hops in the National Hop Collection. To explain how this came to be I shall not only have to bore you about hop history, but plant physiology and selection methods as well. No whimpering at the back there.
Hops are in the main dioecous, having separate male and female plants. As nothing ever seems to be totally clear cut in biology, occasionally monoecious plants will grow from seeds with flowers of both sexes, though in this case either the male or female flowers are often infertile (1).

It is overwhelmingly the female plants that are of interest to brewers, as it is the hop cones from the female plants that are used in making beer. In some countries it's even illegal to grow male hops.

Outside of breeding programmes hops are grown from cuttings. Even in England, where male hops are grown alongside the females at the rate of approximately 1:400, this is because it helps protect them from mildew and is not because the seeds are used for growing new plants.

The reason for this is that there is great genetic variation in hops, and seedlings are very seldom like the parents. Ian Hornsey (2) writes:"Because the sexes are separate the species is highly heterozygous with the resulting extreme morphological variability of plants that are raised from seeds. This causes problems for the commercial grower who strive for consistency. For this reason, therefore, a commercial grower will propagate the crop vegetatively, there being three major methods:

  1. from hardwood cuttings;

  2. from growing shoots that have been cut up and planted in sterile peat (called mist propagation);

  3. by 'layering', This latter process involves the laying down of a growing bine and subsequent overlaying with soil. After the growing season the bine is unearthed, cut up and planted out."

Though Hornsey has modern science to back him up it's nothing new that hops are grown from cuttings. Burges (3) quotes T Mortimer writing back in 1761:

"Experiments have been made in raising a hop garden by sowing the seeds, but it turns to no account, because it is not only a tedious way, but the hops so produced will be of different kinds, and many of them wild and barren."

More detail is provided by Samuel Rutley (4) writing in 1848:

"I once grew a great many plants from the seeds of the Golding hop; there was nearly an equal number of male and female plants, but there was not one female plant that produced a hop at all like a Golding hop, nor was there a single plant amongst them all that produced a hop that I would have raised a plantation of, or was not very inferior to any hop I ever saw growing in a plantation."

It's interesting to see that in 1848 Rutley talks of male and female plants. The full significance of this was not fully known until 1900 with the re-discovery of Mendel's work on inherited traits and the understanding of genetics that came with it.

Each of the named 'varieties' of hops known to brewers are in fact cultivars, being genetically a single female plant cloned by taking cuttings. Well, not quite all of the 'varieties', as I've already mentioned there are ten different cultivars of Goldings in the National Hop Collection, but more on that later.

Despite the fact hops are commercially grown from cuttings it is still possible for genetic variation to occur through selection of mutants for propagation (7):

"Occasionally a plant will produce a bine which differs somewhat in character from the other bines; this is called a 'bud sport', or 'bud mutation'. The difference may be either in the direction of improvement or depreciation in the quality of the cones, or in the cultural character of the plant. If a cutting from this individual bine is used for propagation, the plant which is obtained, and its vegetative progeny, will retain it characters. In this way, by selecting bines with improved characters, new and better types of hops have been introduced from time to time."

The process of clonal selection is in fact necessary to maintain hop varieties (8):

"The production of bud sports and the intrusion of chance seedlings into gardens from which cuttings are taken for propogation leads, ultimately, to a mixture of types and, in the case of stray seedlings, to different varieties in what should be uniform stock. This has happened to most of the older varieties which are still in cultivation, and has made it necessary to select, from the mixed populations, plants having the desirable characteristics of the variety; than, after observation and testing over a number of years to raise clonal races from the best of them.

Hops can of course be grown from seeds, early varieties will have originated as landraces but are commercially grown from cuttings. Prior to the release of hops from the breeding programme by Wye College only two English varieties in commercial production were known to have been grown from seedlings: Fuggle and Whitbread Golding Variety.

Though my interest in the origin of hop varieties mainly relates to Goldings and the Farnham connection having got this far I'll add a few words on polyploidy for completeness' sake.

Normally hops are diploid, containing two sets of ten chromosomes in their cells, except in their sexual cells (pollen and eggs) which only contain one set and so are haploid. By chemically treating growing buds it is possible to produce cell with four sets of chromosomes in each cell (tetraploids). Why this is of interest to hop breeders is explanied by Burgess (9):

"The sexual cells of the 'tetraploid' form of a plant will, therefore, contain twenty chromosomes, i.e. the full number characteristic of the original diploid variety. If a tetraploid female hop is crossed with a diploid male, the cells of its progeny will contain three sets of chromosomes - two from the tetraploid female and one from the diploid male. They are, therefore, called 'triploids'. As they contain a full complement of chromosomes from the female plant, they will have a very much greater chance of resembling that parent. Dark proposed in this way, by using disease-resistant male plants, to produce disease-resisting varieties closely resembling existing varieties in their other general characters, but, because triploids are usually sterile, containing less seeds."

Burgess was writing when this research was relatively new but in the Barth-Haas Hops Companion published in 2009 there are triploid varieties such as Galaxy and Willamette listed so it seems it's proved a successful way of producing new varieties.

Right, I think I'm ready to get back to Goldings now...


  1. Hops, AH Burgess, p19.

  2. Brewing, Ian S Hornsey, p60

  3. Hops, AH Burgess, p44.

  4. Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, Volume 9, pages 545-546. Online here.

  5. Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, Volume 62, page 87. Online here.

  6. Hops, AH Burgess, p42

  7. ibid p38

  8. ibid p38-39

  9. ibid p50