The Others: The Hop Merchant

The Others is a monthly series looking at the people who aren’t brewers that help to produce beer and get it onto your tastebuds. This month, the hop merchant…

In the last edition of The Others, we took a look at the work of the Hop Farmer. Once the Hop Farmer has grown and harvested the hops, they pass them onto the Hop Merchant.

The Hop Merchant is essentially the middle man between the hop farmer and the brewer. Charles Faram has been providing hops to customers since 1865, and current managing director Paul Corbett has been with the company since 1989, when he joined as a “market manager”.

In the years since, the number of people employed by Charles Faram has increased to 16. In total, across the UK, Paul estimates that there is around 900-1000 people working in the hop industry in the UK. It is at a critical point, and at risk of losing the people with the relevant skills, and also being unable to sustain itself.

If I was to write everything that Paul Corbett told me on the afternoon I spent up in Worcestershire last year, it would take several pages. Indeed, I wish I had a recorder to record everything, rather than having to rely on written notes. Paul is definitely a man who knows hops, and is worth listening to if you ever get the chance.
Part of the warehouse at Charles Faram

The hop merchant gets the hops in bales that are then split down into smaller quantities for distribution to the brewers. Due to the limited storage space of many breweries, much of the hops ordered will be stored at the hop merchant until they are required. Certainly at Faram’s, there was a number of sections in the warehouse assigned to various breweries.

One problem the hop merchant does encounter is the difficulty in predicting demand, and also weather, both of which can limit what is available. At Faram’s, there are some contracts running up to 2017, ensuring those brewers will be able to brew their beers.

Next on The Others, I shall be looking at the backbone of beer, malt.

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The Friday Pint 2 #16 – Maltings, Maltings and More

The more observant of you may have noticed that last week, I failed to post an edition of The Friday Pint.

I did write one, as I was sat in the tent outside Tuckers Maltings, drinking the two beers I had at that point (I took two glasses with me to save on trips to the bar, and also to spend more time sat down). Alas, with no access to any sort of internet I was unable to post it.

“Ah, but David, why did you not post it when you returned home on Monday?” you may be asking. It’s a very good question, and considering it wouldn’t have taken me long to take my iPad out and hit send, I probably should have sent it.

The answer to that question may be that I have been rather busy in the last couple of weeks, leading up to moving out of where I currently am and back home to Southampton for a few months.

It didn’t help me that this came at at time when I had the Maltings Festival to go to, and a trip down to Warminster Maltings booked. I wasn’t going to sacrifice these just to move out quicker though, and I’m glad I didn’t.

On the first point, the Maltings Festival. I traveled down on the Thursday and attended the evening session. I decided to work through the ranges of breweries, rather than hop around semi-randomly as I often do at festivals. That night saw me drink the beers from Arbor and Art Brew, including the wonderfully delicious Yakima Valley IPA, and Orange IPA.

As well as being in a wonderful setting, the festival also had the best conditioned beer I’ve had at a festival in a very long time. Depending on which way you come into Newton Abbot, it also has a very nice train ride, along the coast for part of it, which I highly recommend doing at some point.

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I was also there for the Friday afternoon session, and the Saturday session, at which I was joined by my Dad. It was at this session that I decided to start drinking some of the favourites from the past two days. Of the beers I drank on the Saturday, it’s Bristol Beer Factory’s Southville Hop that I ended up drinking most of, and it’s a beer that I’d drink a lot of again if I ever see it.

So, that was Tucker’s Maltings. Tuesday saw me travel down to Warminster to be shown around Warminster Maltings, and talk to Chris Garratt for a future edition of The Others (The next edition, featuring The Hop Merchant, will be up soon).

It was a wonderful building to walk round, and I left with a lot of notes and information. I expect that the malt section of the others may be split as well. Whilst at Warminster, I realised that The Others is about more than the people, it’s about the number of people.

At Warminster Maltings, there are around 20 people contributing to the running of the business, from the obtaining of the grain, to the distribution of the malt to the brewers. Behind this, there are around 50 farms supplying grain to be malted.

That’s at least a potential 70 people who could have had an input to your pint, before the people who look after the yeast, farm the hops, sell the hops, maintain the water supply, build the casks/kegs/bottles/brewing equipment. The list goes on, and with it in mind, it seems difficult to drink a pint and not think of all the hard work that has gone on for it to reach that glass.

 

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The Friday Pint 2 #15 – Midlands Whisky Festival

So, last time I said I’d be holding back this week’s post until after the Whisky Festival, which I attended on Saturday. I think it’s fair to say I drank a good amount over the afternoon, and I left with a few of the bottles that stood out.

Highlights of the festival for me were many, not least the chance to try a whisky that would have cost me £750 for a bottle had I bought one on the day. I worked my way through a number of ranges, and dipped in and out of a couple of others, notably Ardbeg, Tomatin, and Glenglassaugh, who’s Evolution Ex-Tennessee cask was one of my favourite drams of the day.

As well as bottles from each of these distilleries, I also left with a bottle of Evan William’s Bourbon, (which I found a lot easier to drink than I’ve ever found Jack Daniels, and even Jim Beam), and a bottle from the Carn Mor Collection.

There’s another festival scheduled for September, I think I’ll be sitting this one out, but I’d like to go again. I’ve had a good time and learned a lot the two times I’ve been.

This weekend though, it’s back to the beer, where I’ll be spending three days at Tuckers Maltings in Newton Abbot, and most likely taking a bit of time out to drink some cider in Ye OIde Cider Bar. Hopefully, I’ll be able to find a way to upload the next edition of The Friday Pint a bit closer to schedule, until then, I’ll most likely be tweeting or checking in what I’m drinking on untappd.

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Birmingham Beer Bash – Tickets on sale now!

What do you get when you combine several like-minded people, beer, and a social network?

The answer to that could be many things, but in the case of around 10 people from around Birmingham, and one from Southampton who was in the area on the weekend of the Twissup* that they attended, the answer is the Birmingham Beer Bash.

It hasn’t always been called the “Birmingham Beer Bash”, nor was it conceived at that Twissup back in April of 2012. Perhaps fellow blogger Dan Brown put it well when he said in his review of that Twissup: “when a gathering happens in the name of something, then perhaps it means err something.”

Discussions of organizing a festival, independent of any influence from campaigning groups or associations, began one night in May. Soon, with all the twitter names that were in on the tweets, it became impossible to discuss, and the forum was set up. There, the committee was able to pitch ideas and desires much more easily, with much more than 140 characters.

Fast forward almost a year later, and after much discussion, many meetings, and a lot of hard work by the team (not least David Shipman, who you should all buy a pint if you go), we finally have tickets up for sale.

Over the weekend, there will be four sessions, each with a limited number of tickets. A number of breweries have already been named, including festival sponsors Purity, Thornbridge and Freedom.

Also named at the time of writing: Beer Geek, Weird Beard, Redwillow, Tiny Rebel, Compass, Blackjack, and Durham. There’s a stream of updates coming from the @birminghamcubed twitter account, so if you want to know who’ll be at the Beer Bash first, go and follow them.

EDIT: This afternoon alone, Partizan and Harbour have also been added to the list of those who will be bringing their beer. Many more names will be added, and much more exciting news will be revealed.

It’s certainly a very nervous and exciting time behind the scenes. We’ve come a long way since the idea was first formed, and yet we’ve also got a lot left to do. Of course, all of the hard work being done to bring this festival to Birmingham will be worth nothing if people don’t turn up. The Birmingham Beer Bash is promising to be something special. There’s a lot being lined up that will be announced between now and July. In the meantime though, you may wish to secure your tickets before they sell out.

The Birmingham Beer Bash takes place at The Bond Co in Digbeth on the 26th and 27th of July.

 

* A Twissup is a gathering of people organised through Twitter to drink beer, essentially derived from “Twitter Piss-up”.

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Black and Tan Experiements #20 – Vibrant Forest

For this impromptu edition of Black and Tan Experiments I’m deviating from the usual pale ale/IPA and Stout mix, and instead going for a Saison and Stout mix.

The Saison in question is Vibrant Forest’s recently released Farmhouse Ale (available to buy from Bitter Virtue in Southampton, and other local stockists). I opened it earlier this evening, not intending to use it in a blend. The first thing that grabbed my attention was the aroma, a wonderful mix of spices that draws you in and makes you want to taste the beer. The spices also come through in the taste, along with a slight hint of bananas.

Whilst drinking the Farmhouse Ale, I began to think that it could make a good blend with Vibrant Forest’s imperial stout, Black Oktober, a thick, luxurious imperial stout that has had a number of good reviews.

I suspect that I maybe right, though the blend needs more Farmhouse Ale than I used one this occasion. The flavour of saison works well with the imperial stout, perhaps more so than any of the pale ales and IPAs I’ve used in previous experiements, however with the amounts I used (around 4:1), the effects of the saison were far too subtle.

Both beers are certainly amongst the best that Vibrant Forest currently brew, and I think I’ll be trying this again, more methodically, to see exactly what the best blend is.

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From the archives: Ale vs Beer

The following piece has recently been translated into modern English from documents thought to date from the 13th century…

What is Beer?

Beer is ale that has had flowers known as hops added to it for the flavouring usually obtained by gruit. Beer is not Real Ale. Hops are not to be mistaken as an acceptable substitute for gruit. Whilst some people will claim that hops are a good thing for ale, they are wrong. Ale should be drunk fresh, and so the addition of something for it’s preservative qualities is a pointless addition.

CRURA, the Crusade for Real Ale, is dedicated to ensuring that consumers are not mislead by the influx of these new hop led beers on to the market. We feel that real ale, made with water, malt, gruit and yeast, is a part of our history and culture that is being threatened by an inferior product.

Don’t be fooled by beer. Ask for a genuine ale.

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The Friday Pint 2 #14 – In Search of Alternatives

After a weekend and a day (last weekend’s pass was extended to my birthday on Thursday) of indulging on beer, I now return to not buying beer.

Before last weekend, my bottle stash in London was beginning to look rather empty. Now, thanks to a trip to a few bottle shops, and bottling some homebrew, I now have a fuller beer box. In a few weeks time I should have another batch of homebrew bottles to add as well, and so I should have no need to go shopping for beer. Which was one of the original intentions of this year, to brew more to fill the gap.

Today I went out with the intention of finding somewhere and writing this post whilst drinking something other than beer. I passed multiple pubs, yet for some reason, none of them really drew me in, and after a couple of hours of walking around Central London, I decided to head home.

In terms of Cider, I know I have a couple of choices. There’s The Southampton Arms, and there’s The Euston Cider Tap. For everything else that isn’t beer, I know of nothing. I know places exist in London, yet I am not aware of where they are. This is something I should really look into.

Alternatively, I could just end up at The Southampton Arms most weeks, but that wouldn’t be fitting with what I’d intended this year to be when I started it.

Next weekend I’ll be heading up to Stourbridge for the Whisky Festival, and will be putting off The Friday Pint until Saturday evening.

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The Others: The Hop Farmer

The Others is a monthly series looking at the people who aren’t brewers that help to produce beer and get it onto your tastebuds. This month, the hop farmer…

Alison Capper has been in hop farming for around five years, moving into the industry from marketing after marrying her husband Richard. Stocks Farm has been in the Capper family for over 50 years, and it is believed that it has been a hop farm for over 200 years. The farm itself is split between the growing of hops for the beer industry, and the growing of apples for supermarkets and the cider industry. 100 acres of land is given up to each of the two segments of the farm.

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Hedgerow hops being harvested.

Alongside Alison and Richard there are also three full time and 14 seasonal staff working at Stocks Farm. I had the opportunity to visit the farm last September thanks to Paul Corbett of Charles Faram, and was taken through what happens at a hop farm by Alison.

At Stocks Farm, both hedgerow and bine hops are grown. The varities of hedgerow hops grown on the farm include First Gold, Soverign and Endeavour. As the name suggests, these hop plants grow in a hedgerow style. The hops are harvested by the machine shown in the photo below, and transferred into a trailer being towed in the adjacent row. At this stage there is a lot of waste mixed in with the hops, which needs to be removed.

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Workers on the farm removing by hand the unwanted debris that has been missed by the previous machinery

 

Bine hops produced at the farm include Pilgrim, Pheonix, Golding and Target. The bines are trained to grow up strings, which are hooked along wires. The bines are harvested by a machine that cuts the bine towards the bottom, whilst a worker unhooks the top of the bine and places them into a passing truck.

Whether hedgerow or bine, all of the hops end up in the same place, passing through mulitiple pieces of machinery to seperate the hops from the waste material. At the end of the harvest, 400 tonnes of waste will have been produced, which is subsequently reused on the orchards.

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Hops being dried in the kiln. It’s hotter than it looks!

When the hops have been seperated they end up in the kiln to be dried. The hops will drop from around 80% moisture to around 12% moisture, and £16-20,000 worth of oil will be burnt in five weeks to dry 80 tonnes of hops. Each batch of hops sits in the kiln for around eight hours (the time depends on the amount of moisture present). After they have been through the drying process, the hops are left to sit and condition, letting a bit of moisture back in to the hops.

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A bail of hops being labelled ready to go to the hop merchant.

When the hops are finally ready, they are pressed into bails, all of which are hand stitched and labelled. It is at this point that the hops then move on to the hop merchants, who will be the focus of the next part in this series.

As well as running Stocks Farm, Alison Capper is also the face of the campaign to encourage more use of homegrown hops, over the American and New Zealand hops that have become more favoured in recent years. You can follow the British Hops Twitter account run by Alison, and also visit the British Hops website for more information.

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