Monday, 25 May 2015

Hops yesterday, today and tomorrow

I’ve found some good articles about hops in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing. And I’ve only been looking in the 1950’s.

The one I’m looking at this time has a nice overview of long term trends in English hop cultivation.

“Hops have always been quick to react to demand and supply, and, until recently, to attacks of pests and diseases. This is shown well in Fig. 1, representing acreage and yields from 1870-1958. In the old days, favourable years with a bumper crop would often cause a fall in price with a sharp cut in acreage, e.g. 1886-1888, till a disastrous year would give a hop famine, a recovery in price and a gradual build-up in acreage, e.g. 1890-1894, though the general trend has been steadily down since the peak of 1878. Recently, however, and particularly since 1946, we have had much more stable conditions, thanks on the one hand to the Hops Marketing Scheme and the Board which administer it, and on the other to improvements over the last thirty years in the control of disease and in husbandry generally.”
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Vol. 65, 1959, page 467.

I’d noticed that myself looking at the numbers for hop production and prices. There were crazy fluctuations from year to year. It can’t have made life easy for hop growers. But in the 20th century the trade become controlled and that seemed to have a stabilising effect. Though the graphs show a clear long term downward trend in the amount of hops grown. There’s a simple explanation: British brewing required far fewer hops due to the fall in both beer output and hopping rates.

There’s an interesting point here:

“The main factors at work to-day in influencing the acreage, the varieties grown and the methods of growing and the distribution of acreage are Quota, Verticillium wilt and the development of mechanical picking. If we compare (Fig. 2) the trends in barley and hop yields over the past 70 years, it is noticeable how the yields of barley have increased lately — particularly with the advent of the combine harvester and Proctor—while yields of hops have fallen under the artificial influence of Quota and the effects of wilt and of machine picking.”
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Vol. 65, 1959, page 467.

I understood that disease had an effect on the varieties of hops grown, but not mechanical picking. Though it makes sense. And there had been a real surge in machine picking after WW II. In the US the move away from hand picking had occurred a few decades earlier.

“Picking machines which tend to lower yields  have increased from about 10 in 1948 to 256 in 1956, and the quantity picked by machine from 2% to 48% of the crop, while the importance of disease is shown by the distribution of acreage and the spread of Verticillium wilt.”
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Vol. 65, 1959, pages 467 - 468.

I’m surprised that mechanical picking had a negative impact on the yield. It’s fascinating to see how quickly the industry was moving to machines. I wonder what was spurring the change. Was it shortages of labour or purely a matter of cost?

I’m not sure that I understand what this is saying:

“In the last 10 years the class of person coming hop picking has improved visibly, and while in 1946 the 3,000 London pickers at the Bodiam Farms of Guinness Hop Farms, Ltd., arrived in 4 or 5 trains, now there is one train and a fleet of lorries and cars.  Opinions vary on the changes in the standard of hand picking today, though the best is good.”
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Vol. 65, 1959, page 469.

It seems to imply that fewer but better off pickers were coming to Kent.

Here’s something more about the problems with picking machines:

“Picking machines have come on with a rush since 1950: good samples can be obtained but this is usually at the expense of up to 10% to 20% of the crop which is too often replaced by leaf and stem. There is also a substantial loss of soft resin which nothing can replace, and the hops are often so bruised that they tend to ferment and heat before drying, with ill effects on the colour and brightness. On a broader view, machine picking is stimulating a requirement for firm hops with a habit of growth suitable for mechanical picking and for hops of a wide range of ripening times. For hand picking, hops are normally fit for 2-3 weeks, but for machine picking the optimum period is shorter and a range of several varieties is desirable.”
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Vol. 65, 1959, page 469.

That’s quite a large loss of the crop. Not only that, there was extra rubbish in with the hops and the hops could be damaged and resin lost. With all those disadvantages there must have been some other big incentive to move to machines.

What I really liked about the article was the table of hop varieties grown. I can’t recall ever seeing numbers for the different types before.

“Wilt has also begun to have a real effect on the varieties of hops grown, illustrated (Table I) by the change between 1912 and 1952 and the rapid build-up of tolerant varieties since 1952.”
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Vol. 65, 1959, page 468.

Here’s the table. You know what this tells me? That I got it right by mostly sticking to Fuggles and Goldings for the recipes in The Home Brewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer.

1912: 1952: 1957:
Varieties Varieties % of crop Varieties % of crop
Goldings (Canterbury or Old Goldings) Old Golding } Old Golding }
Canterbury Goldings } Canterbury Goldings }
Bramlings Bramlings } Bramlings }
Mathons Mathons } Mathons }
Hobb's Early Goldings Early Bird Bramlings } Early Bird Bramlings }
Searle's Early Goldings Eastwell Goldings 24% Eastwell Goldings 25%
White's Early Goldings Rodmersham or Mercer Golding } Rodmersham or }
Buss's Late Goldings Petham Golding } Mercer Golding }
Late or Wild Goldings Cobbs } Petham Golding }
Bate's Brewers Tutshams } Cobbs }
Cooper Whites Whitebines } Tutshams }
Whitebines }
Green Bines
Red Bines
Fuggles Fuggles 72% Fuggles 67%
Jones Brewer's Gold } Brewer's Gold }
Grapes Bullion } Bullion }
Meophams Northern Brewer } NorthFronrdrewer }
Henhams John Ford 4% John }
Mayfield Grapes Pride of Kent } Pride of Kent 8%
Colegates Early Promise } Early Promise }
Prolifics Keyworth's Midscason }
Whitbread Golding }
Variety }
Bramling Cross }

I’d never have guessed that almost as three quarters of the hops grown in England were Fuggles. Even by 1957 newer varieties were still making up a pretty small percentage of the crop.

Given their unsuitability for machine picking, it’s a surprise so many Fuggles were still grown:

“Picking machines have also had an influence in popularizing New Varieties in place of the older varieties—especially Fuggles—which shatter very easily, resulting in loss of crop and a broken sample, always with reduced brewing value, usually with excessive leaf and stem, and frequently overvalued. New Varieties are denser in the cone and so shatter less easily, and can be picked to a cleaner sample with less loss. Picking machines are here to stay and now pick over 50% of the crop, so it is important that growers should be told which New Varieties are most acceptable and learn to grow and pick them properly, while brewers should become more willing to accept them and to learn to brew with them.”
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Vol. 65, 1959, pages 468 - 469.

I’d be really interested to see what the percentages are for the different varieties today. I wonder if the figures are available anywhere? My guess would be that the first group – what could loosely be called Golding varieties – would still account for about a quarter of the crop.

Lots more to come on hops when I can get my arse in gear.


Phil said...

Fascinating stuff about machine picking and its effects on the hops grown. Nobody said "these hops are wrecked, this mechanisation lark isn't working" - they said "let's get better machines and find a hop variety that stands up better to rough handling (and sod the taste)".

As for why they did it, it's like Marx said all those years ago - capitalists will always replace workers with machines where they can, because workers need paying day after day (and need looking after in other ways), but once you buy a machine it's yours. And this, of course, is where Leftists can find common ground with conservationists and 'pure food' enthusiasts - which is where CAMRA came in.

Martyn Cornell said...

Is the percentage column missing from 1912 or was there never one there?

Ron Pattinson said...


there wasn't one.

Unknown said...

I wonder if 'day tripper' pickers were coming out to the farms in the lorries and cars mentioned above and if the resulting inconsistency in quality of crop could have also spurred on the advent of mechanical pickers.
I recall reading that poorer families would treat the picking season as their holiday and that they'd return to the same farms for generations.
Just a thought.

Ron Pattinson said...


It says specifically that quality was lower with mechanical picking. And elsewhere in the article it says tha standard of hand picking was resonably good.

Christoph Pinzl said...

Hello Ron,
the problem was that english hop varieties didn´t match with
US-machine-picking-methods. At the end they actually don´t change varieties
in England but the technique of the machines. Pioneers like McConnel &
Hinds, Strettle & Burr or Strettle & Burr with their movable machines had
to leave for the genius of a man named Albert Brookes. His "Bruff"-machines
with their vertical order and their rotating drums with picking fingers
solve all the problems. This reputation leads to the first picking machine
in Germany/Hallertau as a Bruff in 1955.
Regards from
Christoph Pinzl