Surrey-based Hogs Back Brewery welcomed 200 guests to an official blessing of its hop garden in Tongham by local vicar, Reverend Claire Holt, held on Ascension Day (26 May).
Blessing of crops is a tradition dating back centuries in rural communities, as a way of encouraging plentiful harvests. Hogs Back’s 8.5-acre hop garden is home to 6,000 hop plants, which are currently climbing up posts and wires, and expected to be ready to harvest in late August.
Blessing the hops, Rev. Holt, of St Paul’s Church in Tongham, explained the origins of the ceremony, which was traditionally held on Ascension Day: “When the crops were planted, a group of young and old people from the village, usually led by the priest, would walk round the boundaries of the parish, stopping at each boundary post to pray for the protection of the crops. We haven’t done that today, but we have kept the other tradition of raising a glass of ale.
“Blessing the Hogs Back hop garden, therefore, continues a tradition that would certainly have been part of the cycle of hop growing in Farnham for many years. It gives me great joy to lead today’s prayers for the Hogs Back hop garden, the brewery, and all who work in them, for this year and long into the future.”
Rupert Thompson, Hogs Back Brewery’s managing director, said: “Ever since we planted our first hop garden eight years ago, we’ve respected local traditions and were delighted to welcome back Rev. Holt, who conducted a blessing for us at our first garden in 2014 and then in 2019 after we relocated it to the current, larger site. She also returned in 2020 for a socially-distanced blessing, which we streamed to our locked-down friends and followers.
“Centuries ago, crop blessing was a way of recognising the interdependence between man and the natural world, and today, we’ve come full circle, with the environment our single biggest focus after a couple of centuries where we forgot to respect it. Our mission at Hogs Back is to become an ever more sustainable brewer and we are making plans to invest in measures that we hope will take us to net carbon zero by 2030. Blessing our crops is as much about our present and future as our past.”
With the hops duly blessed, the Hogs Back team led by estate manager Matthew King will continue to look after the bines carefully to encourage a healthy harvest later in the year. Three varieties are being grown in the new garden: Fuggles (used in the brewer’s flagship Tongham TEA ale); Cascade (used in its Hogstar lager) and Farnham White Bine, a local variety that they revived from near-extinction.
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