The three-day Green Hop Beer Festival held yearly in early October at the 14th century inn, The Talbot, Knightwick, Worcestershire, England, provides the cask ale enthusiast a splendid opportunity to sample very fresh beers that are not available anywhere else in the land of real ale. Or the world, come to that.
Green hop beers are brewed using only fresh green hop cones that have just been picked and been brought directly to the brewery for immediate use in the brewkettle. Normally hops are dried in a hop kiln so that around 8 to 10 percent of the moisture content is retained in the hops. Thus, green hop beers require significantly more hops to achieve an equivalent amount of bitterness in a beer. The finished green hop beers deliver a crisp leafy freshness of aroma and taste, as well as a forward grassiness, that combined invade the senses and enliven the palate. It’s cask ale at its freshest and purest.
The Talbot is a pub, a fine dining restaurant with its own herb garden, a superb hostelry with well appointed rooms, as well as its own brewery located in a separate building just behind the imposing white-painted main building, a tree-shaded patio, and, across a dead-end road, a large grassy common, complete with picnic tables, that borders the Teme River on which the Talbot has fishing rights. The Talbot used to have its own hop field but it was sold on to other interests.
The first day of the festival was a bit grey and damp but early arrivals were treated to such nifty beers as Mathon Golding, 4.1 percent abv, brewed by the host brewery, The Teme Valley Brewery, using only pale malt and fresh green golding hops from the local Ankerdine Farm, which produced a sassy ale with a lingering but balanced hop attack that cried out for more. Green Gold, hitting 4.3 percent abv, from Oakleaf, Gosport, Hampshire, which was brewed with green goldings, developed citric hop flavours nicely on the palate.
The second day, however, rolled over into blue skies and warming sun, warm enough to sit outside in shirt sleeves, and bright enough that beers had to be protected from the steady gaze of the sun to prevent them from going off. Green Valley, 4.5 percent abv, brewed at the Breconshire Brewery, Brecon, Powys, using green Fuggles hops from the Little Lambswick hop farm presented a delightful hop presence. Green as Gold, 4.6 percent abv, brewed by the Mayfield Brewery, Bishops Frome, Worcestershire, with green goldings harvested from hop fields near to where the brewery is located, was generous in its herbaceous hop flavours.
The third day was a trifle more variable but still warm enough for patrons to remain outside without discomfort. There was an added bonus of the Teme Valley market setting up under canvas right outside of The Talbot, providing pickled and spiced garlic selections, a variety of crusty breads, organic vegetables, a selection of flavourful Scotch eggs and tasty artisanal cheeses to tempt the hungry. Sonic Sandgap, a 3.6 abv cask ale from the Foxfield Brewery in Broughton in Furness, Cumbria, brewed with hops harvested from a 17th century hedge with hops intertwined in it, proved to box above its weight with a tempting hop profile. After that, the Mathon Golding had rounded into top-notch form and I chased its delightful hop bitterness throughout the day as I sampled from the fine food offerings and chatted with Chris Gouch, head brewer at the Teme Valley Brewery and the man behind the Green Hop Beer Festival.
A green hopped beer, the 4.1 percent abv Hops Nouvelle brewed by the Teme Valley Brewery and featuring First Gold hops, was available in bottle condition form for take-away, and I didn’t hesitate in picking up a few bottles to bring back to Toronto.