This wasn’t quite true in this instance, as along with several other members of the British Guild of Beer Writers, and other interested parties, I’d received an invite from UK Brewery Tours, to spend some time at Hukins Hops. The instructions were to take a train to nearby Headcorn station, where a pre-booked taxi would pick me, plus a handful of others up, at 11.15am. I duly arrived and joined two other beer writers, Bryan B and David Jesudason, each of whom had a child in tow, and after piling into the taxi, we were transported to Haffenden Farm.
Several other guests arrived independently, including one lady who had journeyed by train from South Wales, plus a couple who had travelled down the night before and stayed in nearby Tenterden. Writer, Des de Moore, was also present along with a professional photographer. We were met by Dom, from UK Brewery Tours, who had arranged the visit and acted as our guide.
Hops have been grown at Haffenden Farm’s 50-acre site since 1900. The farm is part organic, and is self-sufficient in terms of electricity, thanks to bank of 200 solar panels. The surplus generated is sold back to the national grid. There is also a large tank to store recycled rainwater, including run-off from the nearby road, but given the dry year we’ve experienced, the farm is struggling water-wise at the moment.A range of different hop varieties is grown, with Fuggles, Challenger, Ernest, Bullion, and Cascade all contributing to the harvest. The varieties above, are listed in the order in which they ripen, so with five different types of hops, the growing season on Haffenden Farm is extended, and by implication the hop harvest as well. The latter point is important, because with harvest time being by far the busiest time of the year, spreading it out, by virtue of different ripening times, does make life a little easier for both the labourer’s who pick the hops, and the family that owns the farm.
for greater picking speeds, improved efficiencies, larger drying areas, and increased capacity. This, combines the latest technology with Hukins existing passion for hops, allowing them to grow, pick, dry, press and preserve their award-winning hops to the highest standards. The project received funding from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development; a source of investment that unfortunately is no longer available, thanks those who blindly voted for Brexit, without bothering to check the facts. taken to the processing shed.
The bines are then hung on a series of hooks which transport them through the various stages of the picking machine, which can handle up to 1,200 bines per hour. Hukins use a reconditioned “Bruff” machine, dating in part from the 1960’s. Such machines are still in demand, and are said to have been so robust, reliable and so efficient in their operation, that the company went out of business. We met the engineer who looks after the machine at Haffenden Farm. He officially retired in 2009, but returns every year, as he loves tinkering with this mechanical monster.In the meantime, special thanks to Dom from UK Brewery Tours, for arranging and conducting the tour, and thanks too to Hukins Hops, for allowing us to visit the lovely setting of their farm, and witness, at first hand, how this vital flavouring ingredient for beer is cultivated, harvested and then prepared ready for the brewer to work his or her magic.