Launch of the Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight at the
Canterbury Food & Drink Festival 2012
Friday 28th & Saturday 29th September 2012
Despite the somewhat ponderous title of this article this was in all other terms, a beer festival. Actually it was a beer festival within a festival. It was exceptional in that it showcased so many of the things that are good in this world. Namely Kentish brewers, Kentish hops and, especially, Green Hop ales. These are beers that use un-kilned, sometimes known as green or fresh, hops. They are normally dried so as to ensure a supply all year round. This process ensures that most of the oils, acids and esters are retained but inevitably some tastes disappear or are diminished. Green hop ales are generally fuller in flavour and impart a smooth fresh taste. They do not necessarily have more bitterness than standard cask ales.
The festival was actually the precursor to Green Hop Ales fortnight and ran from Friday 28th to Sunday 30th September. Yet it was the only place where it was possible to taste all of the beers although some of the county's premier free houses did take a considerable number of them. The celebration was the brainchild of Eddy Gadd of the Ramsgate Brewery in conjunction with Jon Mills of Canterbury Brewers who are based at the Foundry brewpub in Canterbury. It was sponsored by Simply Hops, the wholesaler.
As it was part of the Canterbury Food and Drink Festival it had a number of local drink producers' stands separate from the Beer Festival. Breweries with stands were Nelson of Chatham and Ramsgate Brewery (Gadds).
These two were cheek by jowl with a number of stalls selling cider. Namely they were Rough Old Wife from Old Wives Leas; Biddenden Vineyards (wine and cider); Hard Core from Chartham; Dudda's Tun of Doddington and the Kent Cider Company of Faversham. Somehow I'd missed Kentish Pip Cider of Bekesbourne and Big Tree Cider of Hartley both of whom were in the program.
The festival was opened by Jon Mills. Please see photograph of him being applauded by, amongst others, Eddie Gadd of the Ramsgate Brewery and Colin Aris of the Conqueror Alehouse also in Ramsgate. Back in the small tent, I found I was totally spoilt for choice. There were twenty-four beers from eighteen breweries! However pleasant, it was still a dilemma as each beer was unique and I wanted to try them all! So I made the momentous decision to return on the following day, Saturday. This meant I could have twelve half pints on each day and return again on Sunday if I failed, and I didn't!
There were too many beers to list, so I'll stick to mentioning the highlights. But firstly, let me say that of the twenty-four on offer, I thought only one was substandard and another was indifferent, yet drinkable. It would be wrong to say which breweries produced them, as it was probably the first time they'd done anything like this. But, of course, this left a mere twenty-two that were absolutely superb. An interesting feature is that the hops had to be picked from the bine no more than twelve hours before being used in the brew.
Most of the beers were new recipes but some were normal beers with the green hops replacing the usual dried hops. They came from all over Kent and ranged from the largest, Shepherd Neame, right down to the smallest, I think, Black Cat of Groombridge with it's 2.5 barrel plant. I must add that Shepherd Neame's Oast Dodger (5.5%) was produced on their 4 barrel plant, so the difference in this case is actually not very much at all.
Another notable ale was a joint production between Canterbury Brewers and Canterbury Ales. You may have heard that US President Obama has a brewery in the White House, on which his chefs brew beers that are served to his guests. After a long struggle his three recipes were revealed, but not until a freedom of information act had been evoked. So here we were, drinking the same beer as the President with the only difference being ours had green hops in it. Obama's Honey Ale (4.7%) used the same Kentish hops as the original, East Kent Goldings and Fuggles. I liked it a lot.
I was chatting to Tonie Prins of the Hopdaemon Brewery, who didn't exhibit a beer, and he thought he might like to have a go at one of the President's other recipes some time. On a similar subject, this was certainly a festival to meet the brewers and talk about the beers. At one time I counted no less than six serving the thirsty customers. See photo of Eddie Gadd earning himself a well-earned refuelling break.
I was intrigued by two beers from Old Dairy which were both 4.0% and used precisely the same ingredients in the same proportions with the exception of the green hops which were respectively Target and Bramling Cross. It was interesting to compare them at the same time.
And then there was Goldings Mild, from the Swan on the Green brewpub of West Peckham, the only example of this style. It used the Early Bird variety of Goldings and was probably too bitter to be a true mild, but was really nice all the same.
I guess it will be on the last weekend in September again so look out for it during 2013 and subsequent years. I cannot extol the sheer wonderfulness of this little festival except to say it's the best I visited in 2012 and I'll be there again in future.