Friday, August 09, 2013

Land of Hopportunity

Earlier this summer Matthew Hall and partner Chris Bradley held the first open day at Yorkshire Hops at Chris’ farm in Ellerker, East Yorkshire. The attendees included brewers, Andrew Whalley from Charles Faram hop merchants, James Fawcett from his maltings at Castleford, noted beer writers Barrie Pepper and Sam Parker and friends. Light refreshments were supplied by family and friends whilst alcoholic beverages were provided by Adrian and Vicky from Yorkshire Ales.
 

Things have moved on rapidly for Matthew since planting some plants on a trial area of land at nearby Elloughton last year. The success there, including selling the resultant green hops to the local Big River Brewery prompted Matthew to seek a larger location to expand his endeavours. He has teamed up with Chris, a good friend of his dad, to transform his hobby into a commercial business.

 
Since 2006 Chris has been growing cereal and energy crops and was keen to diversify to create the most northerly commercial hop farm in the UK. The duo got their heads together and formulated a business plan. With more than 1000 breweries in Britain and well over 100 breweries in Yorkshire alone there simply has to be a market not just for hops but more especially “Yorkshire Hops”.

 
Visits to the traditional hop growing areas around Hereford and Worcester proved extremely thought provoking in that the methods used seemed quite antiquated using machinery and systems from the 1940’s and 1950’s. This was followed by a trip to Germany to seek out the production methods there. The net result was the purchase of plants from the Hop Association, and harvesting and grading machines from Worcester and Munich.
 
This February the first hectare of land was converted from grassland into a hop garden. 300 tonnes of turf were cut and removed; around 500 wooden posts were erected, 11km of wire affixed, and a seemingly endless run of hop netting attached. Over 3,600 Sovereign and First Gold variety plants were then planted in 16 rows of 227 and after just a couple of days, the first few tips were appearing on the tall hops.


 Simultaneously, Matthew has been driving the marketing side via social media, using Facebook and Twitter to enlist sponsorship from members of the brewing industry. Local breweries including Big River, Brass Castle, Wold Top and Brown Cow have shown their support alongside Saltaire and Bridestones from the West Riding. Other individual sponsors have signed up. Indeed, Chris has mentioned that it is the interest from brewers that has been the main inspiration for the project to succeed. On the other side of the trellis, Phil Saltonstall from Brass Castle has indicated his excitement by the scheme and is looking forward to producing entirely local beers later in the year.
 
Activity remains brisk with the hop burrs turning into hops in early August. It will not be long before the first green hops will be ready for picking. To retain their freshness, the whole crop will have to be harvested within a five-day window and added to the brewing process within a day of being graded to capture their distinctive aromas. Crops in future years will be dried and packed and will not be so time critical.
 

 The trial are at Elloughton continues to be monitored for growth of other hop varieties and it will not be long before preparations will kick into action at the main site with the arrival of a further supply of 3650 plants to be planted on a neighbouring hectare of land. 

With the national hop acreage dropping year on year and the concern that within 10 years the UK may end up buying in most of its requirements, it is heartening to see such a business bucking this trend and most importantly in Yorkshire.
Spurn Pint

For more details about Yorkshire Hops, visit www.yorkshirehops.co.uk who can also be found on Facebook and also twitter @YorkshireHops

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