You may have noticed the sudden appearance of green hop ales in your local pub recently. You may also be dismayed to find they disappear after only a few weeks. So what is green hop ale?
How did hops get into beer?
Hops have been around for a long time. Their first recorded use was as a salad plant back in 1000 AD. They are part of the Cannabaceae family that, as the name suggests includes cannabis. Hops can be used in a number of ways including dyes, rope and sacking and paper making.
Traditionally the English and the recently arrived Anglo Saxons drank Ale. Ale contained no hops taking its flavour instead from mixes of herbs and spices. These mixtures were sometimes referred to as Gruit. In Europe Gruit Guilds formed and kept their best recipes closely guarded secrets. The first mention of hops in brewing came from France in 822 AD. Abbott Adalhard laid down a number of rules concerning the running of the abbey at Corbie in northern France including the gathering of hops and malt for brewing.
The Germans are credited with the first commercial cultivation of hops in the 12th or 13th century and were certainly exporting hopped beer from the 13th century. It is likely that hopped beer was first consumed in England as an import but times were a changing and in 1422 the first hopped beer was produced in England.
It was a development that was resisted by many at the time. For a while Britain produced both ale and beer (un-hopped and hopped beverages, a bit pedantic but it was an important distinction back then) Then in 1710 parliament banned un-hopped beer. Was this act for the benefit of the drinker, after all hops make beer last a lot longer? Or was it because they had just imposed a penny a pound tax on hops? Whatever the reason (and I think we all know what the reason was) hopped beer was here to stay.
So what is Green Hopped Ale?
Hops are like any other crop; they have a season during which they are harvested. In the UK the harvest usually starts in early September and is usually over by early October. Once harvested the hops are dried and then stored. Baled and placed in a cold store will keep them for about a year, vacuum packing two years and pellets last about five years.
However, during the harvest the brewers of Kent (and other counties) have access to fresh green hops. Eddie Gadd, the driving force behind the Ramsgate Brewery came up with the criteria for Kent green hop beer.
- The hops must come straight from the vine within 12 hours of picking and not dried in any way.
- Only hops produced in Kent can be used.
- Only beers produced within the county boundary can hold the name.
And the point of all this?
Part of the attraction for me is that this is a seasonal event. In a world where we can have a salad on Christmas day it is important to appreciate the natural cycles that used to play such an important part in our lives.
Most importantly though is that green hop beer tastes good. Fresh hops retain the essential oils that can be lost or reduced during drying. Other parts of the hop plant, normally extracted before processing also gets into the mix. All of this results in beer with a very different character from the rest of the year’s brews.
It is also an excuse to celebrate good Kentish beer.
The Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight
Officially launches at the Canterbury Food and Drink Festival, Kent’s biggest food festival. You will also see green hop beers in your local pubs and bars. There is also a green hop trail where buses take enthusiastic beer lovers to some of the Kent breweries taking part. This year they include The Ramsgate Brewery, Gadds to you and me, Wantsum, Goody’s Ales, Canterbury Ales and the Foundry Brew Pub.
It is a fantastic event and great fun. It’s also easy to get involved. You can go the whole hog and go to the Canterbury Food and Drink Festival eat drink and get a T shirt. You can then do the green hop trail and eat and drink and dance and get T shirts from five different breweries. Then you can race around the county trying to sample every one of this year’s green hop ales, picking up the odd T shirt on the way. Or, you can just walk to your local and enjoy a pint. T shirts are not compulsory by the way.