‘Virtual vicar’ leads annual ceremony for Hogs Back hop garden

May 2020

Hop Blessing continues in lockdown

Surrey-based Hogs Back Brewery is celebrating its annual hop blessing despite lockdown, with a ‘virtual vicar’ conducting a socially distanced ceremony shared via the brewery’s website and social media channels.

Rev. Claire Holt, of St Paul’s Church in Tongham, where Hogs Back is based, officiated from the hop garden next to the brewery, accompanied – at a safe distance – by owner Rupert Thompson and a handful of team members who recorded the ceremony.

The hop blessing is being broadcast today, Ascension Day (21 May), which was traditionally a day when crop blessings were held. Last year, around 200 people gathered at the brewery for the celebration, enjoying an evening among the growing hop bines with a pint of Hogs Back TEA (Traditional English Ale). This year, the virtual version is being shared with 25,000 people, including Hogs Back social media followers and members of the brewer’s Tongham TEA Club of loyal local drinkers.

Thompson said: “The hop blessing was so popular last year that we were determined it should go ahead despite lockdown. We’re grateful for the support of Rev. Holt, who also conducted last year’s blessing, and the blessing of our original, smaller hop garden in 2014.

“We are delighted to be involving our local community with the event via social media.  It’s not quite the same as standing in a sun-filled hop field with friends, but we’re pleased we were able to continue this annual tradition.

“Happily, our hops have not gone into lockdown, in fact the recent warm weather has encouraged healthy growth and we’re hopeful of a bumper harvest in September.  We’re also hopeful that we may be able to hold a real Hop Harvest Party rather than a virtual one – even if it has to be smaller scale and socially distanced.”

Rev. Holt said: “Like everyone else, St Paul’s Church has adapted to lockdown, and I’ve become a ‘virtual vicar’ to my congregation. I was pleased that Hogs Back were able to adapt their hop blessing, and happy to lead prayers for the hop garden, the brewery, and all who work in them.

“Ascension Day was traditionally chosen for crop blessings as by this time in the year, new growth would be shooting up – as we can see in the hop garden today. Traditionally, a group of young and old people, 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.”

With the hops now blessed, the Hogs Back team led by estate manager Matthew King, will now be tending the bines carefully to encourage a healthy harvest in September. Three varieties are being grown in the new garden: Fuggles – used in the brewer’s flagship TEA ale; Cascade – used in its Hogstar Lager; and Farnham White Bine – a local variety that they have revived from near-extinction.

Image above shows: Rev. Claire Holt of St Paul’s Church, Tongham, conducting this year’s Hop Blessing in the Hogs Back Brewery hop garden




Pubs continue to serve communities as closure set to extend til July

May 2020

Despite the uncertainty ahead, pubs doing sterling work to help their local communities through the Covid-19 pandemic

With July confirmed as the earliest date for their reopening, the UK’s pubs are facing a minimum of six further weeks of closure, followed by the challenge of reopening with social distancing measures. Despite the uncertainty ahead, licensees and their teams across the country are continuing to do sterling work to help their local communities through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Des O’Flanagan, PubAid co-founder, said: “It came as no surprise that pubs are likely to be one of the last to leave lockdown, but it is undoubtedly going to be tough for many pubs. The fact that so many community pub heroes are putting others first at this difficult time is genuinely humbling and a demonstration of how pubs are a force for good, in their local communities and wider society.

“Let’s hope that pubs are able to reopen safely as soon as possible, so that they can benefit from at least a portion of the trade over the summer months.”

Community Pub Heroes

At The Garden House in Norwich, operators Tanya & Jonathon Childs have given £2,000 to the NHS. The couple won BT’s Sports Manager of the Month and the winnings – which were initially £1,000, doubled by BT when they heard of the pub’s community support – are being used to provide televisions for NHS staff to use during down-time and mobile tablets for patients to stay in touch with loved ones.

The Queen Victoria, Brighton has launched ‘Portable Pub Lunches’, delivering hot lunches to local people in self-isolation or on low income. The not-for-profit service is run by the pub team, helped by a band of delivery volunteers. Sales of its Sunday Roasts – which are so popular with local customers that they sell out most weekends! – are helping to keep the pub afloat and ensure they are able to continue the free lunch delivery service.

The White Swan in Pickering (pictured) has been doing all it can to help local NHS workers. The furloughed staff team have volunteered to cook and deliver lunches to replace the ‘soggy vending machine sandwiches’ at the local hospital, and to look after NHS staff staying in the pub’s bedrooms, free of charge. What’s more, the pub team are planning to offer ‘Holidays for Heroes’ once lockdown is lifted, giving 200 free overnight stays to frontline NHS workers, and have received £250 in donations from the local community to help fund the food and drink on these stays.

The Brook Inn in Plympton, Plymouth, has been selling Sunday Roasts to local residents. For every meal sold – at cost price of £10 – £2 has been going into a pot to provide free or reduced-cost meals for local vulnerable people.  So far, the pub has raised £2,750, and has helped to set up a new food bank for the area, working in partnership with Plympton Team Ministry.

Matt Todd, licensee at The Wonston Arms in Hampshire, delivered the beer sitting in his cellar at lockdown to local people to stop it going to waste. The move was so popular that he has continued the service, taking fresh cask and keg beers and ciders delivered from brewers to residents within a short drive of the pub. Matt even takes a barstool from the pub with him so he can sit down and speak to some of his locals, who are missing the social interaction of their local – at a socially responsible distance of course.

The Farmhouse at Redcoats, part of Anglian Country Inns, has been keeping its local community engaged with a series of recipes for some of the pub’s most popular dishes, including lockdown favourite sourdough bread. Gardening tips are also being shared on social media. The pub garden, and its beehives, are being tended by the team, although some members have joined the national effort to pick fruit

The Elephant in Finchley held a charity beer sale earlier this month and raised £933 for the North London Hospice. Zoe Beresford, assistant manager at the Fuller’s pub, had the idea when she realised that much of the pub’s pre-lockdown stock of bottled beers was on a short shelf life – so rather than waste good beer, they sold it for charity. Customers were asked to donate at least £5 for a pack of four bottles, for collection same day from the pub, with full social distancing.

Malmesbury pub The Red Bull stepped in to keep a ‘meals on wheels’ service going with local charity Heals of Malmesbury. The pub team, led by licensees Dave & Nicola Moody, are preparing 40 meals, three times a week, which are delivered to local vulnerable individuals and families by a team of volunteers.  The service started on VE75 Day, with a very British meal of fish & chips!

Richard Curtis, landlord at The Portsmouth Arms in Hatch Warren, Basingstoke, has been hosting a daily quiz through lockdown, which has become hugely popular, with 300,000 people having taken part.  Over the Bank Holiday Weekend earlier this month, Richard smashed the Guinness World Record for the longest pub quiz, which ran for more than 34 hours, with 75,000 participants answering questions on Facebook Live.  As well as putting the Hall & Woodhouse pub in the record books, the quiz also raised £21,000 for local cancer charity The Pink Place.

Country pub sells £25,000 of gift cards in lockdown

May 2020

The Devonshire Arms in Derbyshire has sold £25,000 of e-gift cards to regulars, using free platform Toggle

Regulars at village pub the Devonshire Arms have spent £25,000 on gift cards to support their local during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The pub in Middle Handley, Derbyshire, has worked with gift card platform Toggle to encourage loyal customers to buy cards which can be used to buy food and drink from the Devonshire Arms once the happy day arrives and the pub can reopen.

Located between Chesterfield and Sheffield, the Devonshire Arms has built up an impressive following thanks to a combination of fresh, seasonal food, great drinks including cask ales, cocktails and wine, and a warm welcome from the team led by father and daughter owners John Tompkins and Alex Tunney, and manager Hugh Wragg.

The business took full advantage of Toggle’s decision to makes its service free once the coronavirus lockdown began in March. “The priority was to ensure that there was a pub to return to for staff, friends and valued customers,” said Hugh. “We signed up on the Monday, and were live selling a huge number of cards from our website by the Wednesday. Set-up was quick and easy.”

The pub had previously sold paper gift vouchers and offers through Groupon, but working with Toggle has enabled it to bring all its offers in-house and sell online. Cards are available in £10, £20 and £50 values, and can be redeemed by customers across the bar when the pub reopens.

Hugh added: “The response has been fantastic, with £25,000 of sales so far, showing just how much our customers value the pub and its place in the community. Promoting the gift cards through our social media, and our 3,000-strong database, has also given us a reason to keep in touch with our regulars and keep the Devonshire Arms ‘family’ together.”

Hospitality businesses can now access Toggle at to quickly set up a bespoke, branded gift card webshop free of charge. Some 700 pubs, bars and restaurants are live on Toggle, 300 of them coming on board since lockdown was announced.

Users can be up and running in around 30 minutes, making gift cards available for customers to buy online and send to recipients by email. The specialist team at Airship, which operates the system, will also provide any technical support needed free of charge.

Dan Brookman CEO of Airship said: “Businesses such as the Devonshire Arms are the life-blood of their communities. By making Toggle free for the duration of the shutdown, we’re helping operators and their customers ensure that there’s a thriving hospitality sector when we come out the other side.”

Operators using Toggle include: JW Lees, Yummy Pubs, Boston Tea Party, Brewhouse & Kitchen, Côte, Turtle Bay, San Carlo, Bob Bob Ricard, Park Chinois, Revolución de Cuba, Hickory’s Smokehouse, Ego Restaurants & Rosa’s Thai Café.

Communities and vulnerable supported through pandemic by ‘pub heroes’

April 2020

Since the Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown last month, hundreds of pubs have stepped up to help their customers, elderly and other vulnerable people, NHS and key workers and local charities.

Despite the uncertain future faced by many pubs about when they might reopen, and how social distancing regulations may impact their business, licensees are ‘pivoting’ to offer a range of food and drink for local people, preparing and delivering hot meals to vulnerable people and providing social and emotional support with online quizzes, chats and music gigs.

Des O’Flanagan, co-founder of PubAid, the organisation that highlights pubs as a force for good in their communities, said: “The pandemic has been the biggest challenge our industry has faced, but licensees have shown huge resourcefulness in transforming their businesses overnight to serve the needs of their community in the ‘new normal’.

“Pubs have been at the heart of their communities for centuries, and the last few weeks have demonstrated just what a vital role they play: the support they are offering to local people, particularly those who can’t leave home, is invaluable, and is frequently done for no gain, just a desire to help.

“When lockdown is lifted, let’s hope that these wonderful licensees are rewarded by the ongoing thanks, and custom, from the local residents they have supported.”

Community Pub Heroes

McMullen Brewery has been helping local NHS workers with a drive through, contactless service for fresh goods and groceries at its Hertford brewery. The service has been so popular that it has been rolled out to seven McMullen’s pubs across Hertfordshire, complementing the support that licensees have been offering their local communities. At The Hare in Harlow, the team cooked up 60 hot meals for staff at Princess Alexandra Hospital next to the pub, the Long Arm Short Arm in Welwyn is home delivering to elderly people, and the Dogs Head in Bishops Stortford collected fabric to make scrubs, donated to the local hospital.  One NHS customer said: “Amazing quality and service, I will be ordering more stunning fruit and veg next week. Thank you.”

The Strand in Exmouth, part of the Craft Union group, has created a foodbank at the pub to support the Friends in Need charity. Operators Doug, Kathleen & George have put a supermarket trolley in the pub garden so that people can leave food donations while complying with social distancing rules. Friends in Need looks after local families that have suffered abusive relationships.

The Crown in Costessey, near Norwich, has raised £1,000 for fresh fruit and veg boxes for local NHS staff.  The money will enable licensees Bradley Richards and Trina Lake to make up 100 boxes for Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital, and complements their regular food deliveries to NHS staff,  made either close to hospitals or to their homes.  Additionally, a plea to regulars brought in enough toiletries to make up boxes for several local hospitals and care homes, providing daily necessities to vulnerable people.

The Crown and Anchor, Chesterfield has been holding daily online raffles to raise cash for the NHS. Currently they have raised £330, and are also running regular quizzes via Facebook. Elaine, who runs the Craft Union pub with Paul, has channelled her inner Mary Berry by giving baking lessons on Facebook, with her cake becoming a raffle prize that was luckily won by a regular a few days before her 50th birthday.

The Chequers in Aylesford is delivering 150 free meals a week to vulnerable, disabled and isolated OAPs in the local community. The service, funded by generous donations and a band of volunteers to deliver the meals, gives elderly people a hot meal and a friendly face checking on them – from a distance.  One message of thanks read: “The Chequers are stars! I’ve been so worried about my father since my mother was hospitalised, but they provide him with a fresh, hot meal, free and delivered to his door.”

The Post Office Inn in Plympton, Plymouth, organises a weekly online concert to raise funds for charities NHS Charities Together and local St Luke’s Hospice. Every Sunday evening, the pub’s operator Danny Jones is performing and streaming live gigs which can be viewed via the pub’s Facebook page – providing the local community with musical entertainment.

The Swan in Croydon has supported local street artist, Chris Shea – also known as State of the Art – to raise money for the NHS.  Chris has painted a series of art pieces across the city of his son watering a rainbow, in honour of the rainbow campaign of support and thanks to the NHS. The pub has continually promoted the campaign via its social channels, helping it to raise over £9,000 to date. Chris honoured The Swan by painting his 100th piece of work, known as rainbow boy, on the wall of the pub.

The Witton Chimes, a Craft Union pub in Northwich, Cheshire, is on a mission to raise funds for local charity Tiny Steps who provide sensory, soft play and a social café to support families. Last week, operator Adam Prestage and his team of regular customers raised £500 for the charity from the pub’s weekly online ‘Kinky Pinky’ virtual disco.




Hogs Back Brewery offers ‘Barbecue to You’ service

April 2020

Expanded home delivery to bring beer, burgers and bread to locals in lockdown

With the barbecue season upon us, Surrey-based Hogs Back Brewery is expanding its home delivery service to offer fresh bread and meat alongside its beers to the many people making the most of their gardens and outdoor spaces during lockdown.

Customers ordering beer from Hogs Back can now order a fresh meat pack – including barbecue staples burgers and sausages– from award-winning butcher Alf Turner, based in Aldershot, and a fresh bread basket from the family-run Good Taste bakery in Tongham. Hogs Back has also partnered with wine supplier Nectar Imports, enabling customers to order wines by the case as part of their delivery.

Alongside the expanded home delivery range, Hogs Back is also launching a 10% ‘refer a friend’ offer, which gives 10% off an order from new customers and £5 to the existing customer who signs them up. The discount is available to customers ordering from the online shop and via click and collect at the brewery.

Hogs Back Brewery owner Rupert Thompson said: “With the sun out and temperatures set to soar, everyone lucky enough to have a garden, terrace or balcony during lockdown will be dining al fresco. Our Barbecue to You service is a great way to source the barbecue essentials of beer, burgers and bread, delivered to your door in one click.

“In these challenging times, it makes sense for us to help other local businesses where we can, and we’re delighted to be expanding our service to deliver products from Good Taste and Alf Turner, who are both very much a part of our community.

“By choosing to buy fresh goods from local companies, customers can not only enjoy the best locally-produced food and drink, but also help these local businesses to weather the Covid-19 storm.  We’ll definitely raise a glass of brewery-fresh TEA to that!”

The Good Taste bread basket contains loaves of white and multi-seed bread, wholemeal and white rolls and a sweet tray bake, while the Alf Turner meat pack includes four steak burgers, traditional pork sausages, back bacon, diced chicken breast, diced steak and steak mince. The Nectar wines include two whites, two reds, a blush and a sparkling white.

Bread, meat and wine are available to customers also ordering beer from the Hogs Back range, which includes brewery-fresh TEA (Traditional English Ale) and Surrey Nirvana Session IPA, fresh for three days, as well as other draught, bottled and canned beers. Wine sales are by-the-case of six bottles, with no mixed cases available.

Hogs Back will home-deliver bread, meat and wine to customers living in selected postcodes roughly within a 15-mile radius of the brewery. Beer delivery charges are dependent on order value and distance, customers wanting to find out more, or place an order, should visit


Hogs Back Brewery implements social distanced ‘hop twiddling’ for healthy hop crop

April 2020

Hogs Back Brewery is carrying out the traditional, and essential, task of ‘twiddling’ the newly-emerging hop plants in its hop garden, while complying with social distancing rules.

Hop twiddling involves winding the hop plants round the strings that are pegged into the ground, and up the poles. It is a vital part of hop maintenance which is both time-sensitive and labour-intensive, so extra pairs of hands have been recruited from the brewer’s Tongham TEA Club of loyal local drinkers.

Volunteer hop twiddlers are being strictly limited in number – just four per session – and they are each given a section of the garden to work in, far apart from others.  Instruction is given from a social distance by hop garden manager Matthew King and two brewery tour guides, Bruce Cornford and Denise Gauntlet.  Each volunteer completes a four-hour session and takes away a container of brewery-fresh TEA as a reward for their labours.

Hogs Back Brewery owner Rupert Thompson said: “Thankfully, our hops have not gone into lockdown, in fact they have put on a growth spurt during the recent warm weather.  Hop twiddling helps the new plants to grow upwards to create a healthy crop for us to harvest later in the year and use in brewing our beers.

“Implementing social distancing for seven people in an 8.5-acre hop field hasn’t proved too difficult, and we know our volunteer twiddlers have enjoyed the opportunity to help maintain this year’s hops, while enjoying fresh air and physical exercise in our sunny hop garden.

“We face bigger challenges with some of the other events in our hop garden, including our Hop Blessing, which attracted 200 people last May, and our Hop Harvest Party, enjoyed by 2,000 guests last September.  Although there’s no real substitute for raising a glass of TEA in the company of friends, we’re looking at the potential for some virtual events, so that the local community can stay involved in the hop garden through lockdown.”

Volunteer hop twiddler Nigel Blake, from Send, said: “I really enjoyed my session in the Hogs Back hop garden. It was great to be out in the sunshine, and to be doing something useful to help a local business.”

Hogs Back has been quick to adapt to the Covid-19 lockdown. The brewer opened a Drive Through service at the brewery the day after social distancing measures were announced, allowing customers to buy beer without leaving their car. They are also offering a home delivery service on brewery-fresh draught beer, as well as bottles and cans.