Food And Drink: Land of hops and glory

Michael Jackson Revealed: the intimate connection between the female orgasm, cannabis, the Talmud and the gardens of Kent. Illustration by Fraser Hudson

Much as I would like to sink a pint or three at the public celebrations of the hop harvest in Kent this weekend, I wonder about the beers. Will they be hoppy enough? Is any beer ever sufficiently hoppy? Not for us hop heads.

The expression comes from America, where the blandness of mainstream beers like Budweiser has led to a hunger for hops among many young drinkers. They are the cultists who head for the hop farms of Oregon and snort hugely aromatic beers with names like Bombay Bomber.

If all this sounds familiar, perhaps it is. Botanically speaking, the hop is a member of the family Cannabinaceae. Breweries on both sides of the Atlantic have exploited this relationship by introducing beers made with non-narcotic hemp. A new British example is the perfumy, smooth-bodied, pleasantly dry Greenleaf Lager, produced at the Aston Manor Brewery, Birmingham, for the Hemp Beer Company.

The hop plant is a vine, its flower-like cone the part used in beer. Unless the cone is used within an hour or two, it will shrivel like a flower. It is preserved by being dried in an oast-house, during which time, the aroma would not disgrace a Grateful Dead gig.

Tasting a hoppy Californian beer recently, I found myself noting "fresh sweat" aromas that were nakedly sexy. Shortly afterwards, I heard that two British breweries (see below) had introduced hop-oil cosmetics.

Contrary to popular myth, beer is not made from hops. It is made with them. Beer is made from grain, and the hop is a spice-like preservative and flavouring. Hops have no influence on the alcohol content of beer. What they contribute is aroma and flavour. Depending upon the variety used, the hoppy character may be cedary, piney or lemony, or reminiscent, for example, of orange zest, aniseed or mint. Hops usually have an appetisingly dry finish, and the power of their flavour is measured in a scale called International Bitterness Units. A beer such as American Budweiser has about 12 units of bitterness, while some of the beers listed below are in the 35-40 range. Many American specialities have more than 50.

The use of hops to flavour beer goes back to ancient times - we cultists interpret the Talmud as suggesting Jews employed the hop in brewing - though undisputed proof of its use is more recent: in the writings of a German nun, Hildegarde of Bingen, in the 12th century. St Hildegarde, who is also credited with the first written description of the female orgasm, has become something of a New Age cult figure.

The use of hops in beer vaulted across the Channel from Flanders to Kent in the 15th and 16th centuries with the help of Benedictine monks. The most prized hops in Britain are still grown not far from the coast, by half a dozen farmers with names such as Clinch, Higgs and Bones, in a stretch of countryside about 10 miles long and half a mile wide, between Canterbury and Faversham. This is our Grande Champagne.

There are typically cold winds off the Channel in March and April, the months in which the aroma and flavour of the hop begins to form. Some believe this contributes to the earthy, pithy aroma of the East Kent hops in the family of varieties called Goldings, originally selected from a garden in Canterbury in 1790.

The most famous gardens are at China Farm, run by farmer Tony Redsell. He decrees that hops must be chest-high by Derby Day, and require light rain in Canterbury Cricket Week. They need moisture at their roots, but do not like their feet wet. Clay soil is good, especially if it is drained by chalk, as it is in East Kent. The county has a second growing region, with heavier clay soil, in the Weald, and there are hop gardens in Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire. The hop then vaults again, across Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, to the area around Worcester and Hereford. This westerly region is noted for the Fuggle, a hop with a more aniseedy, almost tropical aroma.

No British brewer uses the plant quite as freely as I would like, but a growing number are highlighting its different characteristics by making hop-varietal beers

For this weekend's hop festival in Faversham (information 01795-532206), the town's Shepherd Neame brewery has supplied its pubs with a draught beer called Late Red, named after a particularly fruity, winey sub-variety of Goldings. The beer will also be available bottled in shops.

The Flagship brewery, of Chatham, makes British Summer Time ale, using Fuggles, Goldings and the junipery Progress hop. The brewery also offers a hop-oil aftershave.

In Sussex, the King and Barnes brewery, of Horsham, maintains a garden of Early Bird Goldings at one of its pubs, the Dog and Duck, at Warnham. The hops were picked yesterday and by the week of 7 September, the Harvest Ale will be available in local pubs, to be followed by a bottled version at Oddbins later in the month.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

    £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

    Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

    C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

    C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home