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Richard Frost, Shepherd Neame’s new head brewer, celebrates his first Kentish hop harvest this month, having witnessed at first hand how the county’s farmers and growers have overcome challenging weather conditions to bring in the crop.
Richard, who joined Britain’s oldest brewer in January, after spending 33 years brewing in the Midlands, has relished the opportunity to be up close and hands-on with one of beer’s key ingredients in the heart of the hop country.
He said: “It is inspiring to be able to brew beer so near the hop fields – in the past I would only get out to see the growers at hop buying time. This year I have seen the shoots come through, and the stringing and the maturing of the plants as I have travelled around the county visiting hop gardens and talking to farmers.
“It has been a difficult year for growers with an exceptionally cold spring and a damp early summer affecting growth so we can expect the hop harvest to be a couple of weeks later than usual. But we are confident that there will be enough good quality, aromatic hops to continue to brew Shepherd Neame’s quintessentially Kentish ales.”
Although exceptional weather has created problems for all producers, Richard said the expertise and experience of growers such as local farmer Tony Redsell and hop researcher Dr Peter Darby, ensured that the hop fields of Kent continued to yield hops of the finest quality.
The first of those hops were available in time for him to create his first ale for the Hop Festival: Queen Court Harvest Ale, enjoyed at the festival throughout the first weekend of September.
“The recipe for Queen Court Harvest Ale relied mostly on last year’s hops but we were able to add a small quantity of the first hops of this year’s harvest at the end of the brewing process to provide an extra delicate hop aroma,” said Richard.
“Hops are an intrinsic part of Kent’s heritage, which we celebrated at the Hop Festival, a wonderful event unique to this part of the country. I’m also looking forward to my first Hop Blessing service in October, when we brewers join hop and barley farmers to give thanks for another successful harvest.”
Richard’s team at Faversham brews a wide range of traditional Kentish cask ales, such as Spitfire and Bishops Finger, as well as distinctive international lagers under licence, including the award-winning Asahi Super Dry and leading US craft beer Sam Adams Boston Lager. Beers are brewed using chalk-filtered mineral water from an artesian well under the brewery and 95% of the hops used in Shepherd Neame’s traditional cask ales are grown in Kent.
Richard said: “Kentish ales brewed with local hops have a special character and I have really enjoyed talking to growers and discovering the range of historic hop varieties in the National Hop Collection, supported by Shepherd Neame at Queen Court Farm.
“It is inspiring for a brewer to have such direct access to so many different hop varieties which gives us a real chance to develop different flavours and styles in our pilot brewery.”