Meeting the Hop Merchant
Last February, Paul Corbett, hop connoisseur and Managing Director of Hop Merchants Charles Faram made a visit to McMullen’s Head Brewer Chris Evans for an annual showcase and selection of the finest hops for our beers.
Charles Faram was established in 1865, Paul’s earliest recollection of supplying hops to McMullen was in 1994 (20 years ago!) when he first visited Tony Skipper the then Head Brewer. 10 varieties have been purchased in the last 12 months by McMullen’s but of these, five are core varieties that are used for our resident real ales AK, McMullen Cask, Country Bitter, IPA and our bottled beers Hertford Castle, Country Bitter, Stronghart and No1 Pale Ale.
Picking the best hops is an annual event here at the Hertford Brewery. The hops are harvested in September each year and after they have been collected off farms, sampled and checked for quality they are brought to the brewery for selection. Paul usually visits us between December and January.
Hop growers present their produce in two formats “rolled” or what is referred to as the “cut”. A “cut” of hops is a sample taken directly from the packed bale or pocket and presented in a pressed cube shape. Whereas, a “rolled” sample is a loose sample taken with a corer and folded and rolled into a cylindrical shape. The blue papers in which Charles Faram present the hop samples are used to show off the best qualities of the colour of the hops. Interestingly, many USA based hop growers still use brown paper.
The main factors that affect the quality and aroma of the hops (the main ingredient to McMullen’s 100% natural beer) are caused by Mother Nature. Extremes of heat, cold, flooding or drought can damage crops as well as depress yield. We hope that these events don’t occur too often!
The country and region the hops are grown in (referred to as the “terrior” in wine speak) can also have a very big effect on the flavour the hops produce. For example, the Slovenian Styrian Goldings featured in some of Chris’s ale cask ale recipes adds the very tasty citrus character as shown in the beer cyclops profiles. The Styrian Golding is actually the English Fuggle variety which was taken over to Slovenia in the 1920’s. Grown in the UK Fuggle gives much more earthy, grassy, minty flavour. Completely different from the Styrian Golding in flavour but still identical in a laboratory test!
Paul says “when harvesting hops it is all about the right balance between ripeness and over ripeness”. If hops are picked too early, they are greener in colour and not aromatic. Hops when picked overripe can be brown and unappealing buy have much more oil content. Growers aim towards the riper end to get the maximum oil content without the hops going brown; the natural oils adding great flavour and body to beer.
And that, bring us onto Chris Evans and his brief on how to pick the best hops.
Steps to picking The Best Hops
When Chris chooses hops he will select from three samples from different growers, and will assess the quality of the hops on the following (in no particular order):
- Intensity of the aroma
- Signs of pest and disease
- Weather damage
- Presence of strig (stem of plant) and leaf
- Overall quality
- Alpha acid content
Paul’s thumb rule is to not necessarily judge with your eyes but with the aroma.
After a day of sampling, Chris Evan’s final chosen samples for a new season of brewing are:
Bramling Cross: GM Day, Kent
Fuggles: Pridewood Hops , Herefordshire
Progress: GW & EA Powell-Tuck, Herefordshire
Styrian Celeia: Anton Fonda, Slovenia
WGV: A Coombe-Jones, Kent
To contact our Herefordshire hop supplier Charles Faram visit www.wellhopped.co.uk or follow Paul Corbett on Twitter @CharlesFaramcomments powered by Disqus