Written by Sophie Atherton www.sophieatherton.co.uk

Brewers from Kent and Sussex have been battling it out to win a prize for best hopped ale.

Whereas most beer competitions are all about the brewer, the organisation behind the contest decided hop growers ought to get some kudos too.

The Weald of Kent Ploughing Match Association (WKPMA) holds the beer contest annually at Marden Cricket and Hockey Club, on the same day as its hop drying competition – which chooses the best hops from the region to go forward to compete for a national prize.

“The British hop industry has been re-invigorated by renewed interest in beer which goes hand-in-hand with drinkers wanting to know how it’s made and what from,” says WKPMA spokesman Stuart Highwood.

He added, “What better way to spread the word about what are essentially the herbs and spices of beer – locally grown hops – than celebrating the grower as well as the brewer?”

The beer which scooped the top prize is Westerham Brewery’s Finchcocks Original.

Brewer Robert Wicks shared the Best Hopped Ale cup with grower Ian Strang.

“We’re heading towards having nearly 2,000 breweries in the UK now, but the brewing boom also includes a trend for using imported hops so it’s brilliant to have a competition that celebrates the power of British hops – which are integral to a good session beer,” said Robert.

Finchcocks Original includes two hop varieties, WGV and Goldings, grown by Ian Strang at the Finchcocks Estate where he’s farmed since 2010. He’s also grown hops on the National Trust’s Scotney estate for more than two decades.

The competition also recognised runners up Tonbridge Brewery for their Blonde Ambition and Coppernob beers, made with Fuggles and Challenger hops grown by Ross Hukins of Haffenden Farm, and Rother Valley Brewery for Keyworth Gold, named after the hop used in it – grown by Chris Nicolas of Hoads Farm.

According to the British Hop Association, Britain grew 8% more hops this year, with around half the extra acreage in Kent. Last year the amount of hops grown across the UK had dropped back to little more than 2,200 acres but has now risen to nearly 2,400 acres. There are more than two dozen different varieties, offering brewers a wealth of flavours for their beer recipes.

“Without hops and the people who grow them beer would taste very different – so we plan to keep on celebrating the growers as well as the brewers,” says Stuart.

The winning beers are available at select pubs across Kent, Sussex and the wider South East.