The Cask Project

Hogs Back engages community with Hop Blessing ritual

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Hogs Back Brewery blesses hops in community engagement scheme

Related tags Cask ale Hogs back brewery Cellar management Social responsibility

Hogs Back Brewery continued its ‘Hop Blessing’ tradition to bring 150 residents together at its gardens in Tongham, Surrey.

An annual event, this year the brewer of beers such as TEA (Traditional English Ale) added a shortened version of the ancient ‘beating the bounds’ tradition to the event.

The Hop Blessing took place on Ascension Day (Thursday 18 May), the day on which crop blessings traditionally took place for centuries. Officiating was Reverend Claire Holt, of St Paul’s Church in Tongham, who blessed the crops and, with Hogs Back Brewery managing director Rupert Thompson, led the ‘beating the bounds’ walk around the 8.5-acre hop garden.

Blessing of crops was observed in rural communities as a way of encouraging a plentiful harvest. Currently, the 6,000 hop plants in the Hogs Back garden are climbing up strings, spurred by the recent rainfall, and the brewery is hoping for an ample crop to harvest in late August.

hogs back hops blessing
Hogs Back Brewery MD Rupert Thompson and Rev Claire Holt (centre of picture on right) and head brewer Miles Chesterman (left in left picture) on the ‘Beating the Bounds’ walk

Reinforce the knowledge

Beating the bounds similarly took place around Ascension Day, when a group of villagers led by the priest would walk round the parish boundaries, as a way of instilling this vital information in an era before formal record-keeping: your parish dictated how much tax you paid, and where you could be buried, for example.

The story goes that children on the walk would have their heads banged on the boundary stones to reinforce the knowledge – a part of the custom Hogs Back has not revived.

Rev Holt said: “Blessing the Hogs Back hop garden continues a tradition that would certainly have been part of the cycle of hop growing in Farnham (nearby town and civil parish) for centuries. It gave me great joy to lead the prayers for the Hogs Back hop garden, the brewery, and all who work in them, for this year and long into the future.”

A need to connect with community

Hogs Back Brewery managing director Rupert Thompson added: “Clearly there’s no imperative today for most people to know their parish boundaries but there is still a need to connect with the local community. And a large part of what we’re doing at Hogs Back is about creating those connections, which is shown by the many local residents who are volunteering to ‘twiddle’ our hop plants up the strings now or helping to bring in the harvest later in the year.

“When we planted our first hop garden back in 2014, we wanted to help revive hop farming in Farnham, and to brew in a more sustainable way: the hops travel just yards from the hop garden to the brewery, resulting in a miniscule carbon footprint for this part of the brewing process.”

With the hops blessed, the Hogs Back team, led by estate manager Matthew King will now be tending the bines carefully until harvest. Three varieties are being grown: Fuggles – used in the brewer’s flagship Tongham TEA ale; Cascade – used in its Hogstar lager; and Farnham White Bine – a local variety that Hogs Back revived from near-extinction and used in Farnham White, a beer it has recently brewed again to celebrate the Hop Blessing.

Hogs Back’s Hop Harvest celebrations are taking place on 16 and 17 September: a music-led, festival style event on the Saturday and a more family-friendly TEA Party on the Sunday.

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