Category Archives: Hops

Where The Wild Hops Are

In the backyards of at least one terraced street in Cambridge, wild hops grow. The mature bines outside the back door of our nineteenth-century cottage look well-established, and I like to think they’re remnants from the city’s brewing industry that once centred around this area; less than a hundred metres away the Fitzroy Brewery, rented out to customers for brewing under the supervision of the owner, was one of many that survived into the last century, and at the other end of the street stood a maltings and, to this day, two pubs.

Hop bines

At the beginning of March, the first shoots appear and we trail them along the trellis, towards a well positioned buddleia, which they reach by May before launching vigorously up through the branches, winding over 15 feet to the top, spreading out to cover the canopy within a month.


In September the heaving bunches of hop cones, luminous light-green in the early morning, late summer sun, were almost ready for picking. As we were admiring them and wondering what to do with them, we noticed Adnams brewery had made a call for wild hops

“We are making a plea to members of the public to let us know if they have hops growing in their garden which they are willing to donate, or if they know where wild hops are located… the new beer – which is set to be an amber pale ale – requires hops that are freshly-picked.”

On closer inspection many of the hops were still a bit young, so we left most of them to continue ripening, but nevertheless filled a few bags of hops for the cause. The Suffolk brewery is a two hour drive away, but Cambridge is home to Adnams’ Castle Inn, so we arranged to drop the hops off there, to be collected by dray when it next made a delivery.

A week later the hops looked just ripe for picking, and we spent a day pulling them down (our arms shredded by the bines, as if they were protected by an invisible clowder of angry cats) and sorting them so only the finest were selected for brewing – the rest we hung throughout the house, the aroma drifting about, with us lifting our noses to inhale it like Bisto Kids.

Ah! Hops

The next dray to the Castle Inn would have been too late for the hops to reach the brewery in time for the proposed brewing date, so instead we were directed to another Adnams pub just over the Suffolk border in Great Wratting, about twenty miles east of Cambridge, where the hops were enthusiastically received by the landlord of the Red Lion.

Red Lion, Great Wratting

The beer was brewed on September 18th and began appearing in pubs last week. As luck would have it, we had booked a night in Southwold just as Wild Hop was being served in the town’s pubs, so we were able to spend an enjoyable evening in the Lord Nelson drinking a few pints of it.

Wild Hop

It was probably wishful thinking, but we were sure we could taste our hops in the beer – the familiar aroma, and earthy hop flavours with hedgerow berries in the aftertaste – even though we only contributed a fraction of the hops (a hat tip to @recentlydrunk who foraged the Cambridgeshire hedgerows and sent bags of hops to Adnams). It seemed remarkable that Adnams had managed to tame so many varieties of wild hops and make a beer that was the “true taste of East Anglia” that they were aiming for.

Thanks to Adnams for making good use of hops that would otherwise have never reached their true potential, to Belinda for co-ordinating our deliveries, and to Louise who endured the wrath of the hop bines to help harvest them. The bottled beer should be in the Adnams shops in November, and in a nice touch of serendipity, rumour has it that an Adnams Cellar might soon open in Cambridge.

Wild Hop Harvest in the Backyard

This weekend we picked the hops that grow wild in our backyard in Cambridge.

Hop  harvest

A few years ago we put up a trellis and trailed them along it. Vigorous climbers, they soon covered the trellis and were reaching up to the tall elderberry bush above it. They soon covered that too.

In 2010 the hops smelt sensational, loaded with citrus aromas. We cut some down to hang inside the house but didn’t get around to using them to brew.

The following year, the bines grew but there were no hop cones at all. No explanation, nothing.

This year the hop cones returned but we also had male flowers. Not only are they useless for brewing but I suspect they may have affected the female plants – the hop cones aren’t as aromatic this year as they were a couple of years ago.

Male hop flower

Male hop flower

Amazing that in less than 4 weeks these female flowers developed into the large cones we picked this weekend.

Female hop flower

Female hop flower

We put some of the fresh hops into freezer bags and straight into the freezer, the rest we dried out using a homemade dehydrator a friend had constructed.

Hop Dehydrator

It’s based on this food dehydrator (pdf):

We were even invited into some neighbouring gardens to take a few more wild hops found growing there. They seemed to be a different variety, paler and softer, more aromatic.

We hung some leftover hops inside the house and still left plenty to continue growing along the trellis and up the elderberry bush.

After a few hours of cutting, picking and smelling hops, we slept soundly that night and for longer than usual, perhaps under the soporific spell of the hops.

Hop Flowers

The hop plants are flowering. These burrs look promising:

Hop flowers

But these look like male flowers. Not so promising:

Hop flower

Hops over the Elderberry

There are some hops growing in my back yard.

Hops along the trellis…

Hops in the Elderberry…
Hops in the Elderberry
Are these Common Hops, Humulus lupulus? Perhaps remnants of the local breweries and growers that once existed in this area of Cambridge?

More importantly, what to do with them?