21 Sep Let’s Go To The Hops
It’s harvest time and here at Rascals Brewing Company Inchicore we always look forward to this time of year because it’s the conclusion of Social Hops. After six months of growing, it’s time for some brewing and drinking. It’s the most wonderful time of the year for beer fans. But what exactly is Social Hops and how did it begin?
Andrew Douglas runs Urban Farm and describes himself as an ‘urban farming geek’ and is a proponent of everything from hydroponics to aquaponics to rooftop gardens and unique growing feats in unusual places. He started Social Hops five years ago.
“I was noticing that some people were hanging out in the community gardens but had little interest in growing vegetables,” explains Andrew. “Carrots and cabbages aren’t for everyone, but I could see people enjoyed the social element as well as growing your own. I thought: what else could we grow that isn’t a food source? There was an international hop shortage at the time, which didn’t really turn out to be a shortage – they were just being held back – and it was then I thought: let’s grow some hops.”
Many years ago there was a much more prosperous hop-growing industry in this country, especially in the likes of Kilkenny and Tipperary. There were enough microbreweries to keep supply and demand going and growing conditions were very favourable. However, along with the demise or buying-out of these small breweries, macro beer production began using hop extract oils instead of fresh hops and the writing was on the wall for hop farms.
Fresh hops being used for Social Hops 2020
Andrew says it’s a shame we don’t have any commercial hop growing now. “We don’t have the facilities to mechanically harvest hops in Ireland. It’s all hand-harvested in Ireland. But on the other hand Social Hops is such a success because people enjoy the traditional horticultural craft element of it.”
Social Hops is open to anyone with an interest in the field. “Initially when it began I simply sent out a few tweets to gauge interest,” Andrew says. “There was a great response. From that, it snowballed to where we are today. We needed to get a brewery on board and originally we’d teamed up with O’Hara’s and then we started working with Rascals. The original idea was to pilot it in Dublin with Rascals and make a blueprint for other communities to do the same.”
Rascals head brewer Cathal throwing his eye over the 2020 batch of hops.
“Anyone can sign up for Social Hops. Every March we distribute a starter pack and then meet again over the summer and see how everyone is getting on with their plants. In total we have about five events across the year. All the plants are grown outside in pots or in the ground, in the back of pubs, community gardens, people growing them on their balconies or rooftops. Anywhere really!”
What variety of hop is used? “Prima donna hop it’s called, which is a dwarf variety of hop, 3 to 4 metres in length. The standard would be twice that length so it might not be practical for urban growers,” explains Andrew.
Once everyone has grown their hops there’s a big harvest and all the growers deliver the fruits of their labour to Rascals HQ where a brew is made. Here’s Cathal getting busy with all those lovely fresh hops:
Unfortunately the social element of Social Hops 2020 is curtailed slightly this year because of Covid-19 but that won’t stop us from making a mighty good beer and rewarding all the hard-working growers. No doubt the beer will be just as decent as every year! Well done to all involved. If you’d like to learn more about Social Hops, you can follow them on Twitter here.