I live in Herefordshire which, with neighbouring Shropshire and Worcestershire, are known collectively as the Hopshires because of the long history of hop growing and consequently beer brewing. At this time of year the hop harvest is underway. Now hops deteriorate quickly once picked so usually they are taken straight to a kiln and dried to preserve them for brewing. But in that drying process, the volatile natural oils in the fresh hops which can contribute to a beer’s taste and aroma are lost. However, recent years have seen the revival of a tradition of making “green hop” beers at this time of year where brewers add some freshly harvested hops to their brew. The window of opportunity for making these beers is very small as the fresh hops are added to a beer that is already being made on the day they were picked so timing of the overall process is crucial.
Another tradition, tied in with harvest festival, is the blessing of the hops, and yesterday these things came together at Swan Brewery, a local brewery in Leominster, where they were making their first batch of green hop beer this year and having the hops blessed.
The ministry team from Leominster Priory were on hand to officiate with a simple blessing – apparently the oldest prayer in the English language, written in Old English from Anglo-Saxon days is a beer blessing!! – after which Jimmy Swan, owner and head brewer, added the bags of green hops (these were Instone Hops) to the kettle for the last 5 minutes of the boil. Following a quick stir, the green hops settle to the bottom of the kettle and then the wort is filtered through them as it is transferred to the fermentation vessels just before the yeast is added.
So there you have it. Rural traditions alive and well and being altogether very tasty! Our village pub, across the road from the house has ordered some of the beer for later this month and I am sure it will be delightful.