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!

Colgate British heritage hop varieties

Colgate and other British Heritage Hop Varieties

Colgate is a British heritage hop variety dating from 1805.  It is one of the British heritage hop varieties I grow for home brewers but it also holds a special place in our hearts.  In 1911 there were 4 pockets of Colgate grown by our family along with 11 pockets of Prolific.  We know this because it was recorded in the oast house that year.  
Colgate hop
So this year, 108 years later, we have harvested a few for home brewers to try.  Only 6 x 100gm packs but when the Website Shop reopens on Monday 14th October, they will be available to purchase.  In the interest of fairness we have limited all heritage sales varieties to one packet per person. It would be fantastic to get feedback from anyone who brews with these British Heritage hop varieties, we’re on new ground and I cannot offer any advise at all.
Colgate British heritage hop varieties
British heritage hop varietiesColgate hop variety has small cones which gradually become oval as they mature.  They prefer heavy soil and are late ripening. We always understood them to be a small hop simply because it had been passed down by word of mouth within the family, but we did not know what they smelt like.  It reputedly had a coarse aroma which is not what we thought but ideas on the ideal hop aroma have change significantly since George Clinch wrote his book ‘English Hops’ in 1919. Warm up the oils of the dried Colgate cones between your hands and the aroma of sweet stone fruits in a traditional orchard, including apricot is what first hits you.  There is also a light floral scent in there with cloves, cinnamon and cedar.  This cedar so gentle it is like detecting a distant cedar forest on a cool summer breeze.  The lead aroma is definitely the stone fruits.  

Sweet fruit is a surprisingly common aroma theme in several of these British heritage hop varieties.  Malling Midseason from 1943 for instance is berries, not blackcurrants but the smell you get when warm ripe strawberries are at their summer best.  A thank you to Kate Hyde for helping out with this sniff test for Malling Midseason, but as with all these aroma tests it is very individualand therefore I try to get the opinion of as many people as possible.  With College Cluster dated 1943 everyone I asked at hop picking without exception said lemon or fresh lemon zest, with a bit more sniffing they said pine so I am happy to pass on that assessment. Malling Midseason was not picked this year, but if anyone using any of the other British heritage hop varieties has anything to offer that they can detect it  would be really fascinating to hear  your aroma assessments.  This is an ongoing project.

These first impressions when they are sprung on people are really interesting when no-one has time to think.  The consensus for White Grape was green herbs, lemons, green peppercorns and mild spice.  Nonsuch from 1940 is another of our British heritage varieties. The aroma assessment for this came in with a citrus mix of lemon and orange zest, marmalade and herby sage. It made people think of mulled wine.  John Ford from 1944 and here the general opinion was again sweet summer berries but with orange peel, mild spice aromas and grass.

We are really pleased to offer these British heritage hop varieties which are not commercially available and sincerely hope you enjoy brewing with them.

So to end, this Colgate has nothing whatsoever to do with toothpaste, that is Colegate!  This British heritage hop was introduced by and named after Mr David Colgate of Chevening in Kent

And The Winner is……….

And the winner is Simon H. Congratulations Simon. You will receive a confirmation email shortly, then your pack of Old English Blend will be winging its way to your brew-pot.

We had 51 entries in all, with 38 having both answers correct – Mathon, introduced in 1729.  A massive thank you to everyone who entered this time. For those of you who’d like another chance to win some hops we will have another draw coming up shortly.

This Year’s Hop Setts Have Arrived

This year’s hop setts have arrived just in time to coincide with the arrival of storm Doris tomorrow!  That will probably delay planting for 24 hours, but we planted several out today and the rest are now safely bedded-in until Doris passes.  I love baby hops and as always these setts from Stephen Wright are superbly grown.

We have the more popular varieties already growing which we wanted to bulk up, but also 2 ‘brand new to us’ varieties for the home brewer to try. Hopefully these new additions to our range for 2017 harvest will whet a few appetites; well certainly enough to give them a try in a brew.

There should also be 2 Heritage varieties on offer this year. But I will wait until closer to harvest to select which two will be listed.

This year’s 2 new additions to our range are Willamette and Perle. I am now really looking forward to seeing how they grow  this season.

Snow drops are out, a few early daffodils along sunny banks and the hellebores are as stunning as ever. This year’s hop setts have arrived, hurray Spring is not far off.