Thornbridgers like ourselves love spring. No longer do we have to throw steaming hot water onto the external pipes so we can pre-rinse our dirty casks. No longer do we have to waste time plunging our bright red hands into a bucket of warm, soapy water just to keep them warm instead of washing barrels. Toes like ice-cubes nestling in our Wellington boots, in my case with my possum-merino blend socks on, wondering why we didn’t put two pairs of socks on that morning whilst cursing the chilly snow.
Couple that with the bustle of activity as the dormancy of winter dissipates, buds opening, spring blossoms blooming, insects and birds and animals emerging and you can see why it makes a brewer happy. Yet beyond all of the Pantheistic worship is the most exciting thing that spring offers the Thornbridgers. You guessed it… the new seasons hops have all arrived at our hop suppliers!
Stefano, Dave and Matt all left early on Monday morning to make the trek down to Newland, a small town close to Malvern in Herefordshire where Charles Faram & Co Ltd, our hop suppliers, run their hop warehouse. Myself and Catherine were both already in London, so we also headed over and had planned a night in a local pub called The Talbot at Knightwick, which (oh, so conveniently) happened to have a little brewery attached called Teme Valley Brewery as well as a great selection of local sourced food.
Stef, Dave and Matt met up with Charles Faram hop legends Paul Corbett and Will Rogers, both veritable black belts in the art of Hop-kido. They all went off to visit Mark Andrews who had grown the delicious fresh Target hops that we had used in our 2008 Green Hop Vintage of Halcyon (our Imperial IPA). I met up with them upon their return and we got into some serious hop sniffing!
We started with the more delicate hops then moved right through to the pungent beasts, and I thought it would be a good idea to put a few aroma descriptors next to each… you never know if any budding home brewers are going to be reading this blog! So here goes…
Sovereign – Similar to Fuggles/Goldings with good pungency and floral notes
Saaz – Hay, dried apricots with hints of spice
Lubelski – Smokey, slight oxidised character, some spice
Crystal – Noble aroma, Cascade-esque character, mango and stone-fruits with some citrus
Mount Hood – Perfume and wood, quite delicate
Sterling – Old lemons and some lemon dishwashing liquid
Santiam – Lots of pineapple, clean character
Sladek – Mint, spice, hardwood
Aurora – Biscuit, slightly cheesey with some mint
Atlas – Hint of lemon, wood with some patchouli
Savinski – Lemon dishwashing liquid with some root vegetable character
Bobek – Fuggles like with some more lemon
Celeia – Styrian Goldings like but more intensity with a little lemon zest
Sorachi – Lemongrass, pineapple, mouldy citrus (but in a good way!)
Bramling Cross – Grapefruit, passionfruit and some berry characters
Pilgrim – Very pungent with some almost dairy characters
Willamette – Mango, peaches, ribes (blackcurrant)
Marynka – Banana, shoe polish, slight vegetable character
Northern Brewer – Intense hop pungency
Ahtanum – Delicate citrus, fresh cut hay
Cluster – Pine, citrus some bubblegum
Galena – Pineapple, pine needles, oriental wood
Herkules – Intense hop pungency. Hard to characterise
Chinook – Pine, citrus, grassy
Centennial – Orange zest, pungent
Amarillo – Grapefruit, floral with some sweetness
Simcoe – Sage, slightly balsamic, citrus and some rubber/sulphur
Cascade – Citrus and tropical juice, good pungency
Challenger – Green peppercorns, chocolate, some cheddar
So I suppose you could call this list a beginners guide to the 2008 crop of hops! It was amazing to smell the difference that the hops would have from farm to farm and really highlighted how important it is for us as brewers to nose the hops before every brew to ensure we’re getting consistent aroma and flavour characteristics into our beer. It also works as a fantastic brainstorming session as we begin to build beers based on the hops we are nosing. Needless to say, we have a few already! The other fun part of testing the hops is how stupid we look doing it! Catherine took a few photos, so I thought it would be a good idea to put some in…
Next stop for Catherine and I was the Talbot where we managed to plonk ourselves down in front of the massive open fire and get down to some serious card playing! It was really cool for us to actually be staying in a pub where we didn’t have to run downstairs all the time! We decided to start snacking and because the bar menu had so many great meals on it, that’s what we ended up doing all night! We started off with some pheasant giblets on their toasted homemade bread which were awesome and then went for an amazing prawn and crab bisque. The bisque had been made with the crab shells as a stock and was intensely aromatic and took me straight back to growing up on a beach in New Zealand and getting crabs with my family every low tide. We also went for a beautiful pigs-head brawn which was amazingly fresh and full of pieces of pork, fat and wonderful natural gelatine. A little later we shared a baked Chaser cheese with yet more freshly toasted bread, olives and sundried tomatoes. It was awesome! To top it off, a little rhubarb crumble and fresh custard made us the happiest New Zealanders in the whole of Worcestershire! The food went well with the selection of Teme Valley ales that they had on tap, all full of delicious locally grown English hops with names such as This, That and T’other… This was my favourite though.
The English breakfast the next morning was a show stopper! Eggs, bacon, black pudding made on site, kidneys, mushrooms, baked beans, tomatoes, fried bread and probably one of the nicest sausages I’ve ever had in the UK, made by Parsons Nose, a local supplier. In fact the Talbot’s breakfast was officially voted the best pub breakfast in the whole UK by the British Pork Executive!! Coupled with their home preserved apricots, rhubarb and marmalade, this place is well worth a visit! They even make their own fruit liqueur which they put in your room as a nightcap! And because of my love of traditional food (and the fact I spotted the menu below as we left), I’m definitely going back!