Hop to it is the challenge that has been issued this month by Arundel Brewery to keen gardeners.
Twenty local folk are being offered the chance to enter a unique hop-growing contest – and to see their hops brewed into a special real ale.
The Arundel-based firm is inviting gardeners to enter straight away as the plants have just arrived at the brewery and will be ready to plant out towards the end of May.
Closing date to apply to take part is May 16 when all the names will go into a hat and 20 lucky participants will be drawn to have a hop plant to nurture over the coming months.
There will be two chances to become a winning hop-grower in this exciting two-year project. The vines will not bear fruit until 2015, but in autumn this year they will all be measured. The winner will be the gardener who has grown the biggest vine – not necessarily in height as the plants can be trained to grow horizontally as well as vertically. The prize will be a case of Arundel Brewery’s award-winning Sussex Gold.
Next year will see the greatest challenge when the hops are harvested and the winner will be the gardener whose vine has produced the biggest crop. He or she will scoop a case of Sussex IPA.
The entire harvest will then be brewed into the brewery’s enormously-popular Christmas beer.
Since it was taken over by the Walker family about 18 months ago, Arundel Brewery has been spreading its wings and becoming more and more involved in the local community.
“Last year we used some hops grown in his own garden by a man in Brighton and that was a great success, attracting a lot of interest, and gave us the idea of inviting gardeners in and around Arundel to grow some for us,” said Samantha Walker, the firm’s marketing director.
“Our business is part of the community and we have a real involvement with a local product. Growing hops is quite challenging, but competing to grow the biggest and the best should be a lot of fun. Some varieties of hop plants have been known to reach 25ft in one growing season.
“The hop we have chosen is Redsell’s Eastwell, a classic Golding hop. It is named after Tony Redsell, founder of the British Hop Association, and it has been supplied to us by Willingham Nurseries in Kent, which are long-established hopgrowers.
“We decided on this particular hop because it is considered to have a typical ‘English’ aroma and is particularly good for the dry hopping of traditional ales, and for the style of ales we produce, as well as Belgian-style ales.
“We also chose this variety with our Christmas ale in mind – from this year on it will be called Red Nose, so the hop variety Redsell’s Eastwell sits well with that.
“The growing competition will have two phases. The first, will be this autumn, when we will measure all the plants and the grower with the longest/tallest vine will win a case of our Sussex Gold.
“As there is never a crop from the plant in its first year – it spends its time laying down its root stock – we will revisit the competition again in the autumn of next year and we will ask the growers to harvest their hops.
“The grower who has the largest harvest, which can be 1kg in weight in some rare cases, will win a case of our Sussex IPA. All the hops will then be used in the 2015 Red(sell’s) Nose Christmas beer.
“There are 20 plants available and anyone who would like to grow one of them should contact Arundel Brewery either by phone or email before May 16. We will then draw 20 names out of a hat and contact everyone directly who has been successful. The plants will then be available for collection either from our farmers’ market stall in Arundel on May 17, or from the brewery.”
The hop plants thrive best in a fairly shady spot and instructions on growing them will be supplied to everyone who is chosen to take part in the competition.
To enter or for more details, telephone the brewery on 01903 733111 or email email@example.com.