Picture Gallery: Brewer aims to establish Norfolk’s only commercial hop yard

Simon Barker is creating his own hop yard as part of his micro brewery project at Salle Moor Hall Fa

Simon Barker is creating his own hop yard as part of his micro brewery project at Salle Moor Hall Farm. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew usher

A Norfolk brewer's passion for local ingredients has driven him to build a commercial hop yard at his farmland base – which he believes is the only one of its kind in the county.

A genuine 'locally-sourced' provenance is an easy concept to sell, but can be difficult to achieve.

And that's particularly true if one of your key ingredients is not traditionally grown in your part of the country.

So in the absence of a nearby hops supplier, a Norfolk brewer's desire to use Norfolk-grown flavours in his beer has led him to the only logical solution – to build his own commercial hop yard.

Simon Barker, director of the All Day Brewing Company, has established his micro-brewery in converted agricultural buildings at Salle Moor Farm, near Reepham.

And he has planted his first hop rhizomes, or rootstalks, after completing the construction of a quarter-acre hop yard – which he believes is the only one in Norfolk.

Commercial cultivation of hops requires a particular environment. As it is a climbing plant, they are trained to grow up trellises made from coir strings that support the plants and allow them greater growth. The structure is anchored by 7m chestnut wooden poles.

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Mr Barker said: 'My vision is to get everything from the farm, so all my ingredients will be coming from here. That is the reason for the hop yard.

'It is an interesting structure, and it looks most peculiar. Hops are perennials that last for about 15 years and they grow very vigorously up to about 20ft in height so they become very heavy plants and you need a strong structure to support them.

'There are different ways of doing it, but this is the traditional Worcestershire/Herefordshire design. There is nothing like this in Norfolk. There are a few hop gardens, but this is the only commercial hop yard.'

Mr Barker said traditional practices and local produce would be given precedence at every stage of his brewing operation.

The hop rhizomes were delivered by specialist grower Stephen Wright, who supplies many of the UK's hop growers with root stocks from his nursery at Little Blakenham near Ipswich.

Mr Barker will also use barley grown at the surrounding Salle Moor Farm, sending it off to Crisp Maltings at Great Ryburgh near Fakenham to be malted in the traditional fashion. He intends to malt some of it himself for one-off batches. The water comes from the farm's borehole, and yeast will be supplied from the National Collection of Yeast Cultures at the Institute of Food Research in Norwich.

'It is what I really want to do, because I believe this is how it should be done,' said Mr Barker. 'Norfolk has the best malting barley in the country, if not the world, and that is why there are so many micro-breweries here. And it is very important get nice fresh hops. It makes all the difference to the taste.'

The brewer is planting 400 rhizomes of various varieties, including many traditional English ones. He expects a yield of between a quarter and a half tonne of hops every year.

'We will have mainly Goldings and Fuggles,' he said. 'Those are the two quintessential British hops. But there will also be Toyama Dori from Japan and some Saaz, which is a Czech hop that you get in Bohemian lager.

'People are starting to pay attention to the 'terroir' – in the same way that wine is affected by where you grow the grapes, it is the same with hops. An East Kent Goldings will be different to a Worcestershire Goldings – but no-one really knows what a Norfolk Goldings is like.

'I don't really know why hops are not grown in Norfolk. There is quite an investment needed to make a hop yard and then you need to find a market. As I am using these hops, I am my own market, but if you are a farmer the market will be quite difficult to break into.'

Mr Barker hopes to have his first hops available for 'experimental brews' this autumn, including a green-hopped beer from the very start of the harvest in September.

'It is like Beaujolais Nouveau – there is always a race to get the first green-hopped ale brewed in September, and I intend to be ready,' he said.

Alison Capper, whose family grows more than 100 acres of British hops on the Herefordshire/Worcestershire border is the chairman of the British Hop Association.

She said: 'The provenance is so important to craft brewing, so what Simon is doing is fantastic. It is a really interesting initiative and it keeps the profile of hops high. One of my passions is that beer drinkers start to recognise the variety of hops in their beer in the same way that wine drinkers buy the type of grape.

'The terroir of British hops is unique. Simon has decided to grow two quintessentially British varieties in and it is a really good combination. Because of the delicate complexity it delivers really lovely balanced beers or, as the Americans call them, 'session beers'.'

Mr Barker, 57, launched his brewery venture after retiring from his job as a consultant psychiatrist. He said: 'I retired 18 months ago and I thought: 'What shall I do now?'

'I had been making beer at home for over 40 years and there is quite an interesting technical aspect. It involves chemistry, microbiology and physics, and then there is the arty creative side as well.'

Mr Barker's brewing equipment has been made to his own specifications. The stainless steel vessels are converted boiling pans from a jam factory in Herefordshire. At full capacity, he said the brewery could make 1,152 pints per brew, and about three brews per week.

He is also in the process of trying to revive a 10-hectare organic apple orchard which is part of the farm, so he can put the crop into cider production. His five-year dream is for a distillery and apple brandy.

Are you establishing an interesting crop or starting a new food or drink venture? Contact chris.hill@archant.co.uk.