Saturday, 24 September 2016

Kent Green Hop Beer Festival 2016

Friday 23rd September was the date for the launch of this year’s Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight. With the weather set fair I booked the day off, and joined a group of 10 local CAMRA members and friends, to travel across the county to Canterbury to attend the launch of this now annual event, at the Canterbury Food & Drink Festival.

I was probably over-dressed for the weather, although the fleece I was wearing did prove useful towards the end of the day, when the sun started to go down; but walking through the busy streets of Canterbury, en route to the festival, it seemed as though summer was still well and truly with us.

The Canterbury Food & Drink Festival takes place over a long weekend, and is held in the city’s Dane John Gardens. This is an attractive public space which lies in the shadow of Canterbury’s medieval city walls. The festival was in full swing when we arrived, and the Gardens were thronged with people who had come along to enjoy the autumn sunshine and to sample some of the goodies on offer at the event.

The festival is Kent’s largest food festival, and with around 100 traders signed up, there was something in the culinary line to suit all tastes. I last attended the event back in 2013, and was surprised to see how much the festival has grown in the last 3 years. The types of food were too many and too varied to list, but must have covered virtually the whole spectrum of comestibles and the range of different drinks was just as wide and varied.

Cider as well as beer was available
Although we had come for the beer, there were local ciders, wines, cordials and even a stall from Kent’s first Micro-Distillery! The Green Hop Beers were housed in a separate marquee, at the foot of the ancient mound, just around the corner from the main section of the gardens. With the organisers claiming this will be the one location and occasion where all available Kent Green Hop Beers will be served in one place at the same time, it was definitely the place to be, for anyone wanting to sample these stunning beers.

Beers are normally brewed using hops which have been dried. Drying helps to preserve the important flavouring characteristics of the hops and ensures the harvested crop lasts throughout the year. Hops providing the “seasoning” to the beers and impart tanginess, bitterness and aroma which contrast with the sweetness and “body”, obtained from the malt.

Enjoying the festival and the sunshine
Green Hop Beers are made with fresh or “green” hops, and the resulting beers have a characteristic fresh taste because the green hops used contain oils and other aroma compounds that are normally lost when hops are dried. The brewers make sure the hops are as fresh as possible by using them within 12 hours of being picked. Because brewing with green hops can only be done during harvest, their use creates a very special beer with a truly unique flavour.

Brewing using green hops is a relatively new idea, and whilst some might describe it as slightly “gimmicky”, the idea has really caught on, especially as they have some amazing flavours due to the abundance of hop oils and other flavouring compounds. These are elements which are either diminished, or lost altogether during the drying process. There is a normally a resinous tang to the beer, and a distinct mouth-feel, which is noticeable in the form of a slight furriness on the tongue and the roof of the mouth.

There were around 30 Green Hop beers available at the festival; all were brewed by Kent-based breweries, with some companies producing more than one. We were disappointed not to see a beer from local hero Larkin’s, but we knew from the brewery’s Facebook page that the hops were only harvested last week (Larkin’s grow the bulk of their hops),  which would have left insufficient time to brew the beer and have it ready for sale.

There will undoubtedly be a Green Hop Beer from Larkin’s at the SpaValley Railway Festival, which my local CAMRA branch helps run ever year, in conjunction with this heritage railway organisation, which operates trains on a restored railway line, between Tunbridge Wells and Eridge. This year’s festival, which takes place between 21st and 23rd
October, will be the sixth such event, and like previous years Green Hop Beers will be an important feature. We have ordered 28 of these beers and so far 22 have been confirmed; so if you were unable to get to Canterbury, take a trip to Tunbridge Wells, ideally by train, for what must be the second largest collection of Green Hop Beers available, anywhere this year.

So what of the Green Hop Beers at this year’s festival? Well, according to the judges, the overall winner was Green Giant a monster 6% IPA from Kent Brewery, hopped with an enormous amount of East Kent Goldings, but my personal favourite was the 5% East Kent Brewers’ Collaboration Beer. Also good was the Gadds’ Green Hop Ale 4.8%, bittered with East Kent Goldings and the 4% Challenger Green Hop from Old Dairy Brewery. Incidentally, Old Dairy brewed three different beers; each using a different Green Hop variety.

There was talk amongst our group though, that this year’s beers seemed somewhat “tame” compared to previous years. Most seemed to be lacking the intense resinous hop oil finish which is such a characteristic of Green Hop Beers, and we put this down to a number of factors; the chief being experience.

By that I mean when brewers first started making these beers, they were unsure how many hops to add to the brew. Brewing calculations, and hence ideal hopping rates, are based on the alpha acid content of dried hops; information which is normally supplied by the grower. In most instances, figures for alpha acid content are not available for un-dried Green Hops, so it was very much a case of “suck it and see”.

or beef?
The result was these intensely oily hop bombs, which we all loved, but did the public at large? And given the high price of hops generally, were such large amounts of hops economically unviable? Brewing Green Hop Beers takes a fair bit of organisation, as the hops have to be used within 12 hours of being harvested. Several breweries have competed to set records for the fasted time from picking to adding the hop cones to the copper, but again with all hands required, Green Hop Beers can work out expensive for the brewer. At the Festival, they were all priced at £4 a pint, but there were obviously extra overheads involved in exhibiting and selling at the event.

I am looking forward to sampling many more Green Hop Beers over the coming few weeks, and especially at our Spa Valley Railway Festival, towards the end of next month, and will make a note of which I find the hoppiest and most true to form.

The obligatory visit to the New Inn
Finally, it is worth mentioning that there were some “ordinary” non-Green Hop beers available at Canterbury. It was pleasing to see relative newcomer, Romney Marsh Brewery there, with a stand selling three of their cask beers and also some of their bottled ales. The 4.1% Marsh Gold, which is normally a bottled beer only, was absolutely stunning and was enjoyed by all of us who tried it. Kent Brewery were also selling three of their non-Green Hop beers, as were Canterbury Brewers.

We left the festival shortly before it closed at 6pm, calling in at the lovely little New Inn on our way back to the station. As always it was good to visit Canterbury and the fact that we were again lucky with the weather, made it a smashing day out.

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