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Fresh hops, with their infinite variety, are the key notes in beer's complex flavour, and the understanding and use of their chemical properties brings real art to the science of brewing.
The humble hop, Humulus lupulus, is a one-stop chemistry set for the brewer, containing well over 1,000 complex compounds in the form of resins and essential oils.
The alpha acids and essential oils in hops contribute bitterness and aroma to beer and different styles of hops markedly influence the character of each brew. Choosing which hops to use is only part of the story. Hops can be added at different stages, depending on the effect you wish to achieve on the character of the beer.
This will vary depending on whether the hops are added at the beginning of the boiling stage (kettle hops), late in the boiling stage (late hops) or added to the cask (dry hops).
Hops thrive in temperate climates and in loamy, deep, well-drained soil. They also require long days of summer light to flourish and that makes three British counties ideal for their cultivation: Kent, Hereford and Worcestershire.
Harvesting takes place in August and September. The cut hops have their stalks and leaves removed and dried to 10% moisture in oast houses before being packed into foil-wrapped "hop pockets" to keep them fresh for the brewer.
Shepherd Neame has stepped in as a guardian of the nation's hop-growing heritage, preserving the lifeblood of rare varieties more than a century old. We have put aside an acre of land at Queen Court Farm, near Faversham, to house part of the National Hop Collection and to create a new attraction for the public.