Think hops, think Surrey? Probably not, but Hogs Back, already the British brewer growing largest volume of hops, has plans to change that. As part of a 12-month, £700,000 project, Hogs Back has announced that it’s building a hop kiln at its Tongham site.
Costing £350,000 and believed to be the first traditional-style kiln to be built in the county for over a century, it is slated to begin operating before the brewery’s September harvest.
The kiln will sit next to the estate’s new 8.5 acre hop garden, where Fuggles, Cascade and Farnham White Bine varieties are being grown. The hop garden saw an extra 4,000 hop plants being introduced, on top of the 2,000 lifted from the original growing land.
With the kiln's new-found proximity to the garden, all those extra hops will be able to be dried as soon as they’re picked. And with the new equipment will come higher turnover – and it's going to need it.
‘There are two new movements in the market that favour the use of UK hops,’ Hogs Back Brewery’s MD Rupert Thompson told Imbibe. ‘The first is the return to more sessionable drinking beers – some of the classic UK hops are perfect for such beers.’
Thompson’s team now grows Cascade in Farnham, taking advantage of its powerful aroma and distinctive character to make its Hogstar lager and Surrey Nirvana pale ale.
The other movement? Increase in customer interest in locality. By upping its hop yield, and improving the efficiency of its production process, Hogs Back Brewery is hoping to double the volume brewed with own-grown hops. ‘Currently about 20% of our hop usage is from our own hop garden,’ Thompson said. ‘With the new one being more than double the size we hope to achieve a 50% own-grown hop usage in a couple of years.’
With new craft brewers favouring the US, Australia and New Zealand when it comes to their hops, Hogs Back’s investment could be a risky one. And with the UK hop acreage only recently coming back into growth after decades of decline, the guys are definitely going against the grain. Hopefully, come September, it’ll help put Surrey, and Britain as a whole, back on the hop map.