Friday 29 June 2012

A strawberry-pink china mug

After the excitement of seeing the hop growers booths at Blissimore Hall Acre it was on to Devon and the beer festival in Branscombe. There were over 30 beers on at the Fountain Head Inn, each listed on a board and orders taken only by number, Chinese takeaway style.

This didn't make it ideal for remembering what beers you'd had but I think it's fair to say it was lots.

The next day we took a stroll along the cliff and followed the handy signs:

After a couple of something re-badged from Greene King in Beer we moved on to the Mason's Arms, now a St Austell pub. I can remember what I had there as it was the delicious Proper Job (4.5% ABV). The high spot though has be when we wandered on for more at the Fountain Head, and it doesn't involve beer at all.

Already fortified on arrival it was time to see if they'd let me use a strawberry-pink china mug. The barman was a bit of a miserablist who made it clear they were for display purpose only, but I did get to play with one.

So here I am pretending to drink out of George Orwell's favoured drinking vessel. I can see why he liked them, it must hold a quart.

Thursday 28 June 2012

The Hop growers fair booths at Weyhill

On Friday, after months of waiting, I finally got to see the hop growers booths at Blissimore Hall Acre, on the site of Weyhill Fair.

I was so excited about it I adapted a song about a wobbly wordsmith so I could sing about Weyhill. The lovely Lisa did not seem overly impressed by my atempts at musical innovation, and pointed out that as Weyhill Fair had been around for hundreds of years there was bound to be a song about it. A quick google later and there it was, a delightful sound track to this post:

Weyhill Fair

The booths, now listed buildings, are rare examples of permenant fair booths, and were erected by a group of hop growers known as the Farnham Gentlemen.

They now house craft shops and a tea room and they've even, to a small extent, revived the fair. I don't think any hops are involved though.Still, seeing the booths was enough to put a smug grin on my face for the rest of the day.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Trappist wheat beer

When did this happen? And why did no one tell me?

Anyway, it's not bad, the La Trappe wheat beer. Just not what I'd expect from a Trappist brewery.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

More on Farnham hops

Which I 'm sure is a moment you've been wating for. Probably. Anyway it’s about time I wrote up some of the information I jotted down when I looked though the archives of Wye Hops Ltd.

Though those of your who’ve been following my series on the history of the Goldings hops closely will have thought that all that’s left is the out takes but in fact we’re going to have to go back to Farnham for some early, pre-whitebine information.

In “The Hop Industry”  (1934) Hubert H Parker cites some fascinating facts from William Ellis’ “Modern Husbandman” (1750):
“The Farnham hop is pale tender sort, and more delicate but looser that the browner Canterbury hop, which latter however has the merit that it ‘never deceives the buyer’. But in Kent they are beginning to displace the brown Canterbury hop by the Farnham variety. ”

“In 1737 only one acre (in Kent) was planted with the pale Farnham or Surrey bines.” But in 1750 Ellis writes “Within these four years past they have greatly increased the growth of the Surrey or pale hop … since the pale sort of malt liquors are more in esteem throughout our island”

This got me all excited as it shows that before the Farnham Whitebine was selected in 1750 cuttings from the best Farnham hops were already being sent to Kent. With there being Farnham Whitebines and pale Farnham/Surrey bines both going to Kent it does get me thinking that my earlier point that Farnham, Canterbury and Mathon Whitebines are one and the same plant is shaken slightly. On the plus side it gives me a likely ancestor for the Farnham Whitebines, as they could well have originated as a bud sports from the pale Farnham/Surrey bines. That would be the common practice of taking an improved cutting from the best hop available, and is how the Canterbury Golding originated from the Canterbury Whitebine.

So as the pale Farnham/Surrey bines had already been sent elsewhere could the Canterbury and Mathon Whitebines also be descended from these earlier plants and not Peckham William's Farnham Whitebine?

Personally I think not. The Farnham Whitebine was considered the best of the English hops and certainly superseded the pale bines in Surrey so could easily do that elsewhere too. Percival considered Farnham, Canterbury and Mathon Whitebines to be one and the same plant and he's our best source, even if some have now started to question him on another matter.Perhaps though the Goldings group of hops is enlarged by adding the pale Surrey/Farnham hop a possible earlier ancestor? This would put the known history back to before 1737 which is nice.

Another point mentioned that I haven't reallly picked up on before: pale hops were wanted for making pale beer. Nowadays it's only the colour of the malt that's considered important. I wonder how much colour hops can add to pale beers?

But back to my notes. Parker continues:
"Farnham hops maintened the postition of pre-eminence which they enjoyed at the beginning of the eighteenth centruy until 1850 at least, but the select committee of 1890 reported that the best hops were grown in East Kent, next came Farnham hops, then Hereford and Worcester and the Weald of Kent and Sussex last. 1908 East Kents are thought to have declined a little in quality but are still places first; Mid-Kents, Hereford and Worcester, now considered equal are second and the Weald of Kent and Sussex follow. Farnham's are not mentioned. The gradual decline of Farnham as the centre of the production of the finest quality hops is not easy to explain. The Farnham growers had so assured a position for 150 years: soil and climate were suitable to the production of hops of superior quality: cultivation was brought to a fine state of perfection and their methods of marketing graded hops in sealed pockets left little to be desired.  
In earlier years Farnham hops had gone principally to brewers in the midlands, who in the later part of the period, were able to find in the Hereford and Worcester districts a class of hop which was very suitable for their business at a price well below that of Farnham's."
In my post on the Farnham Whitebines I go into the decline of Farnham hops, which was mainly caused by improved tranportation leading to increased competition. Not a bad run run though, being Britain's best for over 150 years.


There's part of the Management of Hops chapter from the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England Volume 9 (1848) I should add considering it's relevance to Parker's later point about Farnham hops:

"At Farnham they are picked in a superior manner to any other district, being picked quite separate, free from leaves, and the inferior and discoloured hops sorted out and put by themselves, which in some degree accounts for the superiority and higher price of Farnham hops; but since Mid and East Kent Golding hops have been better picked and dried, they have been approached nearer to the price of Farnhams, and there has been an instance of hops grown in Kent making more money than any Farnham hops did the same year."
 So Farnham practices, as well as Farnham hops, spread to Kent.

Thursday 14 June 2012

I dreamed I saw Weyhill last night

After the excitement of driving past a sign to Weyhill I've been plotting a detour on our next trip to Devon.

Previously I'd found that the Farnham hop growers booths at Weyhill Fair still stand, but the picture looked old and the booths seemed in a poor state even then.

I still wanted to visit though, and a bit of google-fu later I found out that the booths are listed buildings. This sounded more promising. The listing document had their post code so I moved on to street view and to my delight the booths have been restored and are in very good nick.

I can't wait to visit. I am however slightly disturbed that I'm more excited about  the thought of seeing the Weyhill Fair booths on our forthcoming trip by  than the beer festival we're going to. I'd like to think this is because I have a rounded personality but I suspect it's because I'm just a nerd.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

What to do with my whisky win?

I won a bottle of whisky the other day. Not normally being much of a spirits drinker I'm not sure what to do with it. The last time I won a bottle of whisky I gave it away, but I'm contemplating drinking this one.

When I visited the distillery on Arran I remember the tour guide saying you won't like whisky until you're 40, which I am now. But on the other hand I do drink a lot of beer and I don't want to go down George Best's road.

So I've decided to have a poll where you can vote on whether I should drink my whisky or give it away.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Making the most of the jubilee

Not being one for flag waving bilge I wasn't really looking forward to the jubilee. But it was still going to happen whether I liked it or not so I decided to make the most of it.

As it was a 60th anniversary that sounded like a good time to make a 6.0% ABV beer. I'd been wanting to make an early style IPA  with all pale malt and loads of Goldings hops for some time. To make a dry beer to 6% ABV meant I'd be looking for an original gravity in the mid 50s, which gave me a chance to fulfill another ambition: making a beer to standard barrel strength (original gravity 1.055). I'm quite happy with the result too.

Then there was the double bank holiday weekend. I had to work on the Saturday but got home in time to pop down to the beer festival at The Crown. I was pleased to see that Harvest Pale, Champion Beer of Britain 2010, was amongst the delights on offer. I've only had it from the bottle before and it's much better on draught.

On Sunday we drove up to Langdale in the Lake District and then walked over to Wasdale, one of the remoter valleys.

The lovely Lisa slipped on the path from Styhead Tarn and didn't half crack her elbow. Fortunately the pub was just in sight so she was heroically able to struggle on. The Wasdale Head Inn was mercifully bunting free and a hot meal washed down with Sneck Lifter lifted our spirits.

We were staying at Brackenclose and there I had the rare experience of being out beer buffed. As a professional brewer, amateur beer nerd and dedicated piss artist this doesn't happen often, but the people knocking back a fine selection of ales at the hut included a founder member of Norwich CAMRA and a guy from Edinburgh with keen knowledge of the latest in Scottish brewing. As the only beers I had with me were cans of Gold Label I poured the beer into glasses out of sight in the kitchen to hide my shame.

On Monday we carried on to Borrowdale and got some fantastic views from the top of Great Gable, though it was slightly disappointing to be able see Gimmer Crag over near where our walk had started two days earlier. We had a small detour to the Langstrath Inn before a bit of blagging got us beds in the Fell and Rock club hut. We popped out later to take in the Scafell Hotel, which strangely enough is a tick, though we much preferred the Langstrath.

 The next day we trudged back to Langdale, where due to a navigational error scenic detour we ended up following a compass bearing through sodding mist over the dull bumpy ground of High Raise for what seemed close to an eternity. This route did mean we dropped down to the Stickle barn where more Sneck Lifter was consumed and the jubilee finally caught up with me. They were showing the concert on a giant screen upstairs and and that bird from The Voice were on. No sign of the Irish bloke or Tom Jones at this point, but I suppose it's not unusual.

Saturday 2 June 2012

Hop growing 2012

After the horror of last year's hop growing things are looking more hopeful now. We've got a nicely cleared area at work with a couple of plants growing:

And I've got one out the front at home:

Dare I say it the hop grown in Surrey is looking better than the hops in Kent? Though to be fair the Weald soil at work doesn't look good, and the hop at home benefits from the hard work of my worms.