Hogs Back Brewery blesses hop garden, continues ‘beating the bounds’ tradition
14 May 2024

Surrey-based Hogs Back Brewery recently held its annual Hop Blessing at its brewery and hop garden in Tongham. Around 100 people gathered in the evening sunshine to enjoy the ceremony and the ‘beating the bounds’ walk, back as part of the event for a second year.

The Hop Blessing took place on Ascension Day (9 May), the day on which crop blessings were traditionally held for centuries. Rev. Claire Holt, of St Paul’s Church in Tongham, blessed the crops and, with Hogs Back Brewery managing director Rupert Thompson, led guests on the walk around the 8.5-acre hop garden.

Blessing of crops was observed in rural communities in a bid to encourage a bountiful harvest.  Hogs Back revived the tradition in 2014 when they planted their original hop garden over the road from the brewery and continued it when they relocated to the current, larger site.  Currently, the 6,000 hop plants in the Hogs Back garden are climbing up strings, spurred by the recent rainfall, and the brewery is hoping for an ample crop to harvest in late August.

Beating the bounds similarly took place around Ascension Day, when the priest would lead a group around the parish boundaries, as a way of instilling this vital information: your parish dictated how much tax you paid, and where you could be buried, for example.  The ‘beating the bounds’ name may have its origins in a tradition of beating children’s heads at each of the boundary stones to drive home the information – a part of the custom that Hogs Back is not observing!

Rev. Holt said: “Blessing the Hogs Back hop garden continues a tradition that would certainly have been part of the cycle of hop growing in Farnham for centuries. It gave me great joy to lead the prayers for the Hogs Back hop garden, the brewery, and all who work in them, for this year and long into the future.”

Thompson said: “The Hop Blessing is always a wonderful event, bringing together the local community to remember how important hop farming was to this region. We’re grateful, as ever, to Claire for blessing our hops and delighted to see so many people enjoying the ‘beating the bounds’ walk and a pint or two back at the brewery.

“Clearly most people today don’t need to know where their parish boundaries lie, but centuries on from that, there is still a desire to connect with the local community and a large part of what we’re doing at Hogs Back is about building those connections, which is shown by the many local residents who volunteer to ‘twiddle’ our hop plants up the strings now, or to bring in the harvest later in the year.

“We’re enormously grateful to this army of ‘Hogs Back Hoppers’, and also to Matthew King, our hop garden manager, for his skill and dedication in tending to the hops.”

Thompson showed guests the Le May Cup, which was awarded to Hogs Back earlier this year for its White Bine hop in the Institute of Brewing & Distilling’s annual Hop Competition. They also received a Gold Award for their Fuggles hop and a Silver for their English Cascade.  Hogs Back is the first brewer to win the Le May Cup.

The Hop Blessing has always been a free event but this year guests were asked to make a donation of £5 to British Heart Foundation, the brewery’s chosen charity for 2024. Hogs Back will be fundraising all year for BHF, especially at the Hop Harvest celebrations in September.

With the hops duly blessed, the Hogs Back team will now be tending the bines carefully until harvest. Three varieties are being grown: Fuggles – used in the brewer’s flagship Tongham TEA ale; English Cascade – used in its Hogstar lager; and Farnham White Bine – a local variety that Hogs Back revived from near-extinction.

Hogs Back’s Hop Harvest celebrations take place from 13 to 15 September, starting with a ‘Roots’ session featuring original music on the Friday, followed by a music festival style event on the Saturday and a more family-friendly TEA Party on the Sunday. Tickets are available on the Hogs Back website.

Guests raise a glass at the Hogs Back Brewery Hop Blessing, with managing director Rupert Thompson and Rev. Claire Holt