Marc Meltonville

Heritage Hop Variety Chosen to Recreate 16th Century Tudor Beer

Dr Susan Flavin’s studies in Experimental Archeology led her to this research of 16th Century beer.   The FoodCult Project  began when she was researching the 16th Century diet in Ireland pre the introduction of potatoes.  You can listen to a Podcast by Associate Prof in History Dr Susan Flavin about her unique take on studying history by exploring what we ate and drank during the 16th century.  The Podcast is easy to listen to and their diet in 16th Century included a lot of beer!

Tudor home brewWe know that historically beer has always been closely linked with the ordinary working person’s diet.  For generations brewing was mainly done in the home, it was a basic skill any housewife worth her salt required. On larger estates it is quite likely that brewing was done by specially appointed farm hands. Research into beers and ales in past centuries shows that beer was often drunk in copious quantities, allegedly a manual worker could be given up to 14 pints per day!  Beer continued to be drunk by farm workers in the first half of 1900’s on this Sussex farm. Joe Eyres, the hop drier and cowman,  told me that they drank beer daily; tea was a luxury reserved for Sundays.

16th century brewing

The aim of this project was to recreate a 16th century Tudor beer. What better way than by using , techniques and recipes found on historic records and various old household accounts.  And where better for this to take place than at the Wealden and Downland Museum,  one of my all time favourite places to visit.   

The Foodcult project has been a major collaboration of many people, from historians to archaeologists, all experts in their own individual and diverse fields.  Artisan brewing equipment  was made to replicate what the Tudors would have used

The food historian Marc Meltonville had the crucial role as brewer.

Marc Meltonville

Dr Peter DarbySelecting the right ingredients was essential. Tolhurst hop variety was chosen as closest to the original Flemish Red Bine. This Red Bine is believed to have been brought to England from Flanders at the end of 15th Century.  The Heritage Tolhurst hop variety was chosen by Dr Peter Darby for this experiment, as the best hop to replicate what was available for 16th century brewing.  Except for the National Collection, A Bushel of Hops is the only grower currently offering this Heritage Hop variety to home brewers.  There should be some available next season for anyone who wishes to brew their very own ancient beer.

The other vital ingredient was malt and here the ancient Bere barley was singled out. Bere Barley has been grown in Orkney for over 1000 years, it was probably introduced by the Vikings.  

The three magic ingredients, water, barley and hops.  Bere barely for the malt, Tolhurst hop variety was chosen, water and this historical brew was ready to go, finally after almost 3 years of droughts and a global pandemic which had all conspired to delay original plans! The brewing took place at   Tindalls Cottage  and like any good reenactment Tudor costumes and accurately crafted brewing equipments were used.  

On 15th September 2021 everything was in place.  A trial run to test equipment had been made in 2020 but in September 2021 it was the real deal. Film crew stationed then it was all systems go – brewing and filming were finally underway.

Wealden and Downland filming

To have been a tiny part of a tiny cog in this very special historical brewing adventure has been a privilege.  At present the resultant beer   is undergoing analysis and Isotope testing.  Meanwhile along with everyone else involved, I am eagerly awaiting the final results, just for now many questions still remain unanswered. So after Tolhurst hop variety was chosen, was this 16th Century beer a flop or was it fit for a Tudor king?


For further reading – Martyn Cornell of the Historic Brewery Society has written this excellent article.  Apparently Shakespeare who was born in 16th Century ‘was a fan of ale, but didn’t much like beer.’


Homebrewers Help Preserve Heritage Hops

Homebrewers help preserve Heritage Hops and it’s all down to the old adage of either ‘use it or loose it’.  Any rare breeds are best preserved by actually using them, to have no practical use puts them in danger of petering out until finally becoming defunct; likewise with Heritage Hops. I wanted to grow British Heritage Hop varieties but the reality is that homebrewers help preserve heritage hops and they are doing this simply by using these hops. It’s respect for the little brewers.

Home brewing has sometimes suffered a bad reputation, I certainly remember some pretty grim results made during our teenage experiments.  However today there is a large community of very serious home brewers who are brewing some seriously good beers. It’s worth remembering that many of our top national brewers started out home brewing.

A Bushel of Hops launched in 2015 specifically to grow hops for home brewers; in reality the seed for this idea had lain dormant for many many years.  But as I wanted to grow limited amounts of several different hop varieties, in particular the older British heritage ones, small brewers were natural partners for this venture.  I was reliably informed that being such a small grower I would be able to do things that larger growers could not and wouldn’t want to do.  There is a lot more fiddling around at harvest with small amounts and that is very time consuming.  Also labelling takes on a whole new priority, labels are the only thing that make me obsessively neurotic!

hand picking hopsI don’t want to brew but I love to grow hops, my the main objective is to keep these varieties available for today’s brewers to try, our relationship is symbiotic. My other objective was to supply fresh hops from a current season only and by supplying direct from hop garden to brewer the provenance is guaranteed.  I know each hop variety and exactly where they are grown.  Each year some varieties do well, for no particular reason they will shine above a variety growing right next to them!  Not unlike different fruit trees which crop variably over different years within a mixed orchard.  I try to involve home brewers in this side of growing hops so they know which varieties have done better and look good or which have faired not quite so well and why.  It could perhaps be wind damage which has become more common in recent years, I feel it is part of the provenance and their participation when they purchase hops.  

A Bushel of Hops evolved, there was never a set business plan so along the way so I have been on a journey too.  One of the greatest pleasures each year is receiving feedback,  beers that have been outstanding and some styles that have not worked out as well with a particular.  I think this information sharing is important as some these hop varieties have not been brewed for many decades and as these heritage varieties are discussed in brewing clubs, on Forums they become better known. Nonsuch is a good example, this has had several very positive comments and one from far afield, on Jim’s Forum. This is precisely how homebrewers help preserve heritage hops.

If your partner is a brewer and brewing is not your thing, you may fancy swimming in beer at the 700 year old Starkenberger Brewery in Austria once Covid restrictions are relaxed!  Cleopatra bathed in sour milk, some folk had even more bizarre habits! if you choose a warm beer tub, probably best not to drive afterwards!

English Hops For Home Brewing Competition

Do you enjoy using English hops for home brewing? If so then you won’t get much more English than this Old English Blend  and this is your chance to win a free pack in our easy to enter competition.
A special blend of 5 heritage varieties of English hops, Early Bird, Fuggles, Cobbs, Mathon, and White Grape, you can win 100gm pack of this Old English Blend.
It is completely free to enter the draw with no obligation but please note that entries are only open  to UK residents.
To enter simply answer this question in the form below and hit Submit –
Which is the oldest English hop variety in this blend and in what year was it introduced?

Which of These 5 Hops is the Earliest English Variety? (Select One)(required)


So if you have an old recipe you’ve been wanting to try for a while using some heritage English hop varieties,  or just wish to brew your favourite traditional ale but would like to sample this blend, then this is your chance.

old english blend of hops

All correct answers will go into the draw and the winner will be picked at random on 1st February.

The winner will receive 100gm pack of the Old English Blend. Good Luck

If you can’t wait that long, head over to our Shop to see the other varieties we have in stock.