Wednesday, 15 February 2012

IN SEARCH OF WILD HOPS

…an article from Phil

An un-informed person might have thought that the scarring across my wrists indicated a low self-esteem problem instead of a determination to progress on an adventure into the unknown – in this case into the depths of that place that only Peter Rabbit could possibly find comfort in, the dreaded blackberry bush.


But first a little history lesson.
Ireland and Blundy are permanently set within the history of Forrest, Yaugher and surrounding districts in the Otaway Ranges just south of Colac. I had previously spoken to Steve from Otaway Estate Brewery about the wild hops that existed in the area and I noticed some advertisement proclaiming that the new brewery at Forrest is to brew with these mysterious hops. Bertie Ireland was in-fact the last person to grow hops in the area way back in the twenties and at that time the Large Grey American (Cluster) dominated as the hop of preference, yet these wild hops pre-dated these by some forty years. A search on google brought me into contact with the Forrest & District Historical Society and their publication "Hop Growing at Forrest‟. Compiled by Pam Jennings this booklet details the families associated with the hop farming and the conditions under which they persisted, yet references to varieties that were grown are scarce. Where-by Helen Pearce‟s book "The Hop Industry in Australia‟ published in 1976 provides the clues as to the heritage of these hops that now grow wild, scatted throughout the lower gullies and river banks.
Since 1866-67 the introduction of hops to Victoria from Tasmania saw several different varieties of English (Kentish) – Tasmanian hops being grown. The Canterbury Golding was one of the better adapted varieties for Victorian conditions where-by Early White Grape, Later or Green Grape, Red Golding and Canterbury were the foundations of the Tasmanian harvest. As mentioned earlier the introduction of Cluster into the Yaugher district did not start until early in the nineteenth century and my first stop was to Bambra just east of Deans Marsh which is significant because it‟s hop farming did not progress past the turn of the century. Nestled amongst the thick blackberry bushes down in a deep gully were hop bines extended past the height of the blackberries, trying to gain as much height as they could. The existence of these bines were only discovered by chance by a neighbor a couple of years ago.

My next destination was the newly opened Forrest Brewery and a chat with the owner/brewer Matt who in-turn suggested a location north of town along the west branches of the Barwon River, that provided the perfect environment that Bertie had utilized some 100 years earlier. Now here was the exact same bines that I had earlier seen some 30km to the east taking claim to the same blackberry bushes, as well as extending it‟s foliage high amongst a number of established trees that line the river bank. These bines were awash with cones that were at an early development which contrasts against my own hop plants which in the proceeding days are to be picked. This might again be a clue to it‟s identity as a late harvesting variety but I can be almost certain that these hop bines are of the Golding variety. There was an attempt in 1901 to introduce new Kentish varieties in the form of Brambling, Early Bird and Cobb‟s Hops, distributed to as many growers as possible (all Golding varieties) but these remaining hops growing wild are most likely the Canterbury Golding hop.

As far as the scarring on my arms, well that‟s what one has to endure if ones willing to gather some root stock and collect a number of lateral cuttings in an attempt to propagate these 100 year old hops in the confines of my own backyard. For the time being though, I‟ll leave it to both Matt and Hendo to utilize these wild hops in what will certainly be some very flavorsome and historic brews.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

wow pHIL WHERE IS THAT SPOT ?

booker_h said...

Here's a question for you Phil. You brewed with them yet?

Bayside Brewers said...

Currently have three bines that are just now producing cones so I'll certainly match them up with some Marris Otter when the time right.

AndyMac said...

Thanks to Phil, just added some of my very own 'home-grown' Chinook hops to an ESB on Friday night. They were Chinook weren't they Phil?

Anonymous said...

After reading this I hit Forrest at the end of March. Found a bine not far from town with a few old cones and took some root stock and cuttings. Coming along nicely in the kitchen window. Can't wait til summer.

Andy Graham said...

back in the early nineties, a fellow member ( from Torquay ) of the Melbourne brewclub ABAV collected some hop cuttings from that same area for me. I was living in Bendigo at the time and planted them out.Got three harvests before I left Bendigo. Not sure if they are Golding's though. Aroma and bitterness very low and a slight cat' pissy smell, Disappointed with them but persisted to try to save them. I have no doubt there are some great goldings growing wild out there, but not mine. Look forward to trying a Forrest wild hop ale some time though.
Andy

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