Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Down Hopping in Kent

The history of hop picking and migrant East London workers is long, rich and fascinating. I highly recommend the student to Hilary Heffernan's 'Voices of Kent Hop Gardens' for a first rate collection of primary source evidence. And for the more Marx-friendly, try Derek Bright's account of rural conflict and strikes. Of course those days are largely over, what with automation and er, a well organised, collective migrant work-force.

Anyway, it's the second week in September and we're slap bang in the middle of the hop harvest. I nipped out Monday morning to check on quality and progress down at Brooke Farm in Shatterling where Hunphrey grows our East Kent Goldings for us (the most very easterly grown English hops). Last year, and the year before, the crops were poor and there was a world-wide shortage, sending prices through the roof: prices to me rose from £5.50 to £35 per kilo at one stage. Worse than that was a shortage of real quality; luckily Kent grown hops were secured by yours truly good and early in the year so we've been fine, if a little more cautious, ever since.

It didn't stop blowing through this summer and on the hops it shows: see the brown bits? They're bruises from the poor flower getting a good battering. These won't win any awards this year but the nose is promising and the oils are looking good. We could end up with the best brewing quality we've seen round here for a few years, despite looking the ugliest. As for price, who knows? Well, no-one actually. The samples must be taken, in a few weeks time, and the world-wide harvest considered. Then the factors will roll their dice and who am I to call their bluff when they announce a 'small premium on this year's crop'?

Of course, the astute amongst you will know that we'll be limbering up to brew our Pale India Ale pretty soon.....

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