The hop harvest is fast approaching and so my thoughts are turning, with a great sense of anticipation, to brewing with the new seasons hop crop and in particular trying out some great British hops. It was therefore interesting to read in the latest edition of What’s Brewing, the newspaper of the Campaign for Real Ale that the British hop variety, East Kent Goldings, have become the first hop in the country to be given Protected Designation of Origin status by the European Commission.
East Kent Goldings embody everything that is good about British hops. The variety was developed from the Canterbury Whitebine variety in the late 1700s and has been sold as East Kent Goldings since 1883. Grown exclusively in East Kent by a handful of growers it is a quintessentially English hop prized for the aroma characteristics that it contributes. East Kent Goldings can be used both as a bittering and aroma hop but it is for their aroma that they are world famous. Typical aroma characteristics associated with East Kent Goldings are floral, lavender, spicy, honey, earthy and thyme.
The sorry thing is that because of the recent trend of brewing pale hoppy beers with American style citrusy hops British hops and hop growers have suffered dramatically. In recent years this has led to the rather worrying statement from British Hop growers to brewers that you either use our hops or lose them. The statistics bear out this rather dramatic statement. According to the Statistical Handbook of the Beer and Pub Association in 1955 UK hop production stood at 256,821 Cwts. By the year 2000 this had dropped to 50,337 Cwts and by 2009 the decline in hop production meant that only 31,657 Cwts were produced. In the 60s and 70s Britain produced significantly more hops than were required by the British brewing industry and so was a big exporter of hops. The rest of the world liked British hops. However, by the new millennium, because of the decline in hop production, Britain was an importer of hops to satisfy the requirements of British brewers. Undoubtedly much of the decline in hop production has been due to the reduction of bitterness levels in beer in general, this as a result of a change in consumer tastes. However, some of this decline can also be attributed to the desire of brewers to experiment with different hop varieties from around the world.
It could perhaps be hoped that the granting of Protected Designation of Origin status to East Kent Goldings will shine a long deserved bright light on British hops, giving hop growers the encouragement to up production or even encourage some farmers back into growing hops.
But what can keen home brewers like you and me do? You might say not much compared to the commercial brewers. But certainly a little can go a long way and if more home brewers used British hops then perhaps there would be more encouragement for commercial British brewers to follow suit. The British hop contributes something special to a well brewed beer think floral, spicy and earthy. They might not be big, bold and brash like their American cousins, instead think of them as elegantly reserved contributing a certain sophistication that cannot be found in any other hop.
So I implore you next time you reach for the Amarillo, Cascade or Mount Hood take a pause for thought, think of those great British hop growers and think of some of the British hop varieties that you may have forgotten.
To find out more about British Hops visit the website of the British Hop Association.