This month, we invited farmers from both Oxford Farming Conference and Oxford Real Farming Conference to taste some great British beers and discus how our country’s soil, climate and regional characteristics influence our pint.
No encouragement needed, attendees tasted beers from Marstons and Stroud Brewery, and sniffed malt and hops from Warminster Maltings and Hampton Estate. Between sips we heard from a panel of hop growers, maltsters and brewers who shared their experiences and insights in the beer industry. What did we learn?
Pride in British beer
Tradition, heritage and provenance: the three buzz-words for British beer.
Through years of focusing on yield, some of the subtle genetic characteristics of our hops have been diluted. But with the renewed focus on heritage we have the opportunity to conserve some of the attributes that make ‘British’ varieties unique.
Using our climate to our advantage
In many ways our soil and climate is similar to many other countries. But there’s something about the UK that sets us apart: cloud. The quality and quantity of our sunlight is a key distinction that influences not only our hop-growing capabilities but also the chemical characteristics of our produce. And that in turn influences the taste of our beer. Far from being a problem, could this give us a marketable advantage, selling our ‘cloudy’ British flavour?
The rise of ‘craft’
Craft and micro-breweries continue to grow in number, as does the popularity of craft and premium beers. During the 1990s there were less than 100 micro-breweries in the UK, but today there are estimated to be as many as 2,000. The increase in small-scale breweries with a focus on provenance helps to support local growers, for local markets.
Growing the Great British hop
It all starts with the crops. And to have successful crops you need successful soils. Different soil types will deliver different flavour profiles, for both malt and hops, so the geographical origins of any beer will influence its taste. But wherever it’s grown, the health of the soil is a key factor.
Are you a hop-grower? Find out more about the Cover Crops for Better Hops field lab.