|Almost ready for harvest|
If you haven’t already guessed the phrase I’m referring to is, “Walking the Talk,”, and on the first day of the recent EBB post-conference excursion, my fellow beer writers and I were fortunate to meet someone who is doing just that! Joris Cambie is a farmer and now also a brewer, who represents several generations of hop growers. He cultivates around 10 hectares of hops on his farm, which is situated a short distance from the town of Poperinge in West Flanders.
Poperinge is the centre of hop cultivation in Belgium, but the hops grown in the surrounding fields are all that remain of a once much more extensive industry; one which met its nemesis during the conflict of 1914-18, which saw this pleasant, but unremarkable corner of Belgium, turned into the killing fields of Europe as its royal houses sacrificed the flower of a generation in a bid to sort out their petty differences and vain ambitions.
I don’t know how true this is, but it seems plausible, but I do know that Joris grows a mix of aroma and high alpha hops, which include the English varieties Goldings, WGV, Pilgrim, Challenger and the American variety Cascade. At the time of our visit, the hops were nearly ready for harvest, and it was good to walk right up to the edge of a hop-garden planted with Cascades, and see the tall bines laden with their abundant green cones; all just ripe for picking.
Somewhat surprisingly Joris' hop farm is a member of English Hops; the largest hop growers co-operative in the UK. Joris claims he gets a better and more stable price by selling his hops through this organisation, which are based just down the road from me, in Paddock Wood, Kent. All hops grown on the farm are 100% organic, and Joris explained to us all the extra work which this entails.
You would have thought that growing hops was a demanding enough business on its own, but Joris thought it would be good to utilise some of the farm’s hops in the brewing of beer. To him, this seemed a natural progression, but the local bureaucrats had other ideas. Joris was told that brewing constituted an industrial activity, whilst he was situated in an area reserved for agriculture. Undeterred, Joris continued with his plans and even committed to grow a certain amount of barley, which could also be used in the brewing process.
During the introductory talk, we were given a glass of De Plukker’s most popular beer, the 6.1% ABV, Keikoppenbier. This is a blond, top-fermented ale which uses three varieties of hops (Admiral, Golding and Cascade), to give the beer its distinctive hop aroma and to provide a good balance with the malt base. We then moved back outside for a look at the nearby hop-garden, where Joris continued his talk on the joys, as well as the pitfalls of hop-growing.
|De Plukker's Brown Belgian Ale|
Every year the brewery celebrates the end of the hop harvest by brewing a beer which includes all the hop varieties grown on the farm. In 2014 these were Goldings, Pilgrim, Cascade, Challenger and WGV. The resulting beer is called "All Inclusive IPA”: the “All Inclusive” referring to the fact that all the farm’s hop varieties are used in the beer. Last year’s beer weighed in at 8.0% ABV.
It was however, well worth the wait!