Drying Hops is Where a Golden Alchemy Happens

Drying hops is where a golden alchemy happens. To be completely accurate hops are preserved, they are not dried right out.  The final moisture content at between 8-12% will dry each cone enough for it to store well, and not go mouldy.  Drying takes time, it cannot be rushed, hops are not a fast food and the less heat used the better for the essential oils. The other factor is hops are sold by weight so if they are dried right out, which can happen, then a grower would be at a disadvantage, this is apart from the obvious storage needs of the hops. 

But for me it’s this process from green hops to preserved hops, this magic of drying hops is where a golden alchemy happens, even their colour becomes more golden. The green hop aromas of the herbal based fresh scents change dramatically to the moreDrying Hops is Where a Golden Alchemy Happenssoporific complex aromas. Spicier, piney, citrussy, fruits and honey, depending on the variety but too many to list straight off.

Hops have been grown on the family farm since 1600’s.  In all this time each hop dryer has passed on his craft to the next dryer in waiting.  Each dryer would have undergone a long apprenticeship before naturally progressing to No 1.  As the hop harvest only takes place once a year for a few weeks, unlike almost every other job, so the apprenticeship was normally combined with growing the crop throughout the year.  This continuity has sadly changed today as most people come and go.   

Nowadays moisture metres, and gauges are requisite for growers but nothing can replace living this hands on apprenticeship, learning directly from another experienced grower.  It takes time for a person to instinctively see and understand the small tell tale signs on a kiln. Whether the hops need another 1/4 hour or the heat needs to be altered or when a certain kiln may blow a hole.  Each kiln has it own peculiar anomalies, as does each hop variety.

So what looks like nothing much happening when a dryer puts his hand into the hops on the kiln nothing could be further from the truth.  He will instinctively be reading the load, he will feel the bottom of the load, the top of the load and how many fat strigs are present, registering how pliable they are etc. There are many little signs he will automatically be assessing.

A whole year’s crop can be spoilt if the hops are not dried properly, the dryer’s job is critical to success.  You can read more about hop drying here.







old photographs showing rural life and hop picking

Old Photographs Showing Rural Life and Hop Picking

I have always loved old photographs, especially old photographs showing rural life and hop picking naturally or just general images of country ways of life that have disappeared. I find them all fascinating. So when Tony from The Ostrich Hotel in Robertsbridge told me that he would lend me some photos of bygone hop picking days I was over the moon. He very generously suggested I should have them copied so that I could share them on this website.

Well, that all sounded fine until they arrived when they turned out to be glass plates, I had assumed they would be ordinary negatives ….. yikes… Not only a huge responsibility but also less straightforward to have them copied. Fortunately I met Jon, a young man who works at Jessops, who is interested in photographic conservation work. He literally took them under his wing and I am very grateful to him. I hope that Jessops value their young staff members who are prepared to go that extra mile.

I find these photos are poignantly beautiful, the hats are divine, and the children appear naively innocent. They were of course unaffected by a constant social media flow. These images also record our social history. I had not expected to be so affected by the children.

old photographs showing rural life and hop picking


These two old photographs showing rural life and hop picking, were probably taken around 1900. Life may have been hard then, indeed harsh for some families, but although life was tough these children almost certainly knew where their food came from and had direct contact with the land. It struck me that because those children were personally involved with the harvest, usually working alongside their extended family, they instinctively realised its significance, also that the wellbeing of their families depended on pulling together. Gathering the harvests in was a priority and local country schools closed so that children could work with their families until these vital harvests were completed.

I am definitely not saying this was a desirable situation for any child to be in, nor am I hankering after some nostalgic idyll. For some of the children there was no option and I know some loathed hop picking. But I do feel sad that the pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction leaving a lot of children far removed from any natural contact with the land. The result is they have no true understanding of where their food comes from, and a small percentage have no idea at all. Many are unaware of either the commitment or responsibility of caring for livestock, the practical effort that growing demands and consequently the significance that harvest once held. Not that long ago most families would have preserved at least some food at home for the winter months. Today supermarket shelves are brimming with foods from all over the world. Ready meals, fresh fruit and vegetables available year round whether or not they are out of season in this country, if you have the money you can purchase whatever takes your fancy. Reality has gone bonkers, this cannot be sustainable.

Life may have been far from perfect then, but this year an estimated £13bn of food waste will be thrown away in the UK, yet we have more food banks than ever – we don’t appear to have advanced at all.


old photographs showing rural life and hop picking

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.