Keyworth Early Heritage Hop Variety

Heritage Hop Varieties for The Home Brewer

This year’s Modern and Heritage Hop Varieties for the home brewer have been selected, all that remains now is to complete picking, drying and packing them all. Hop-picking is always an exciting busy time but nothing can be guaranteed until the crop is safely in the bag, quite literally!

The four varieties offered in the draw earlier this year, as expected were all very different once in hop. For consistent performance, the star of the show this year has to be the Northern Brewer hop variety. The setts grew away before the other varieties and it was the first variety of the four to come into hop. The individual hops grew out well and definitely had the largest cones. The 20 Northern Brewer plants were picked at the beginning of last week.  Below Northern Brewer hops.

Norhtern Brewer Hop variety

First Gold hops on conveyor

The First Gold hop variety which was Ashley’s choice as winner, were also looking good at the back end of the growing season. As the only dwarf variety, the bines may have been short but they more that made up for this lack of stature by being covered with hops top to toe.    So that kilo of dried hops for the  winner was secured this week. Hurray, I am hugely relieved and hope Ashley is pleased with them and has enjoyed his year following their progress as a virtual hop grower.

The only downside was the picking which wasn’t even a problem.  The hop machine was designed to pick tall hop varieties, so picking those shorter bines meant the first 2.5 foot did not get picked properly. This was easily rectified by putting the bines through the machine again upside down!

First gold hops on the kiln

The Bullion hops definitely had the bona fide Bullion aroma early on, they were the first of the varieties to have a nose to them. They have grown away well and like the Northern Brewer all the plants grew evenly throughout the year. They were picked along with the Northern Brewer at the beginning of last week.

However the Chinook hop variety also chosen with home brewer in mind were the slowest of these four offered to grow away this Spring, they were also the last to come into burr. I will not pick these this year but allow them to ‘grow and blow’ so they can gain strength for next year. The full-on aroma of the Chinook hops is quite powerful. But then it should have some oomph, after all it is the Brew Dog’s number 1 favourite hop.

All the photos below were taken on 22nd August so you can clearly compare the differences between them at that stage. Clockwise from the top left are Northern Brewer, Chinook, First Gold and Bullion.
heritage hop varieties for the home brewerThis has not been a ‘normal’ growing year. However, the long cold wet spring with little sunshine did help the young hops establish simply because the ground stayed moist for longer than usual.  Generally, across most varieties we noticed the burr was slower dropping out into hop. This was probably due to the combination of very dry conditions combined with the sudden very hot sunshine at that crucial time, but that is this year and every year is different.

Another of the Heritage hop varieties for the home brewer is the Keyworth Early variety, the swirled rosette shaped ends of these cones are pretty. This variety was also picked this week.

Heritage Hop variety Keyworth Early

I have often wished there was a reference book for the different hop varieties. Julian Healey’s ‘Hops List’ has ticked that box, he has listed 265 different hop varieties from a brewing perspective.   He set himself a pretty awesome task to brew and taste all those hops.  It is available as an ibook or for Kindle via Amazon, who described The Hops List as ‘the world’s most comprehensive hop dictionary’.  I don’t own a kindle and being a bookworm prefer to sit down with a cup of tea and browse, so will await the paper version with anticipation.

At the end of hop picking I will list any other heritage hop varieties for the home brewer which have been picked.  Some varieties will be in very limited quantities so it will be on a first come first served basis.  This seasons hops will be ready for despatch from beginning October onwards. 2015 hops are no longer available.

First Gold hop Setts being planted

PicMonkey CollageThe First Gold hop variety which Ashley chose in the ‘Be A Hop Grower for a Season’ draw arrived earlier this week.

The laid back feel of the outdoor winter work for the hop grower  suddenly ended, stringing and banding are underway but with the delivery of the new hop setts, its all change and we are up on our starting blocks for the off.  Growing hops should come with an Official Government Health Warning, it can be addictive. Ashley you have been warned!  That withstanding I really hope you enjoy our year ahead and the end product.

Yesterday 11th February was a beautiful February day, an early ground frost then the sun shone, a perfect day to be outside to start planting hop setts – my friend and I even got our jackets off.  The soft golden sunshine of February to plant out the First Gold hops was very apt, golden light on these First gold hop setts felt like a good omen.

PicMonkey Collage

All the hop setts arrived in perfect condition. Thank you to Stephen Wright who always produces such wonderful quality setts.

The First Gold hop setts were planted out second as that was the space I had chosen for them, leaving the Northern Brewer hops needing to be planted first. Ideally of course the ground could have been drier, but although very sticky on top, it was not too bad once underneath that first yukky layer.   Wealden clay makes it easy at times to think wistfully of the lighter Suffolk soil where these hop setts were grown – we are either soggy or like concrete with only brief windows of ‘just right’ in between these extremes!

The other varieties being planted this year are Chinook hops and Bullion hops.  Four very different hop varieties to brew with, seemingly different looking setts and probably four very different varieties with their own quirks to test a hop grower.   Growing hops is never boring.
heeling in First Gold hop sett


We are doing a trial run for a slightly different style of design for this new hop garden, it requires a different layout for the hop hills when planting. It remains to be seen how successful ( or not! ) this will be but unless you try you don’t know. However it has also meant working out a new hop stringing configuration, which we have nicknamed the Sussex Zig Zag. A plus for this Zig Zag method of growing hops is that it allows plenty of air around the growing bines. In hop gardens strung using the Umbrella method of stringing, the plants are set out at 6’6”, a coincidence that is exactly 2 metres in today’s metric language. Growing hops on the Zig Zag design each hill is planted alternately with 3’3” spacing up a line. But because they are planted alternately either side of the centre line each plant is at least 6’6” from it’s neighbour. The screw pegs are laid out to mark the planting positions for the hop setts and will stay there permanently ready for stringing.

Hopefully this sketch will this make clearer.


new hop garden planting design


savedI so love young hops, these new First Gold hop setts for planting now have kicked off that full of promise  ‘spring is here’ feeling!

However, for a hop grower I am not the fastest planter, I confess to rescuing earthworms as I see them, then placing them back on the soft soil afterwards. I know I am not alone in being unable to knowingly chop a worm in two.  On the radio I once heard a remark by someone who said           “I could never be friends with someone who deliberately trod on an earthworm” Hear hear to that. But I do love to be hands on and feel the soil. It’s satisfying to see each hop sett nestled in with just the buds showing.  It is important not to plant them too deeply.  The Northern Brewer hop variety and First Gold hop setts were all planted, then spot on cue last night we had heavy rain to settle them in.

First gold hop sett settled in

A First Gold hop sett planted with buds just showing