Brewing in Maidstone

British beer has four main ingredients, which Kent was well placed to supply:
• Barley (converted to malt) – gives body and alcohol
• Hop flowers – give flavour and preservatives
• Water (90%)
• Yeast – fermenting agent

Hops began to be grown commercially in Kent from the 16th century, and the local brewing industry was further supported by the 1682 Maidstone Charter, which gave the town a Hop Fair.

In Kent, hops were grown on wires fixed on 4-5 metre high poles. In the early hop gardens the entire pole was upended and the hop flowers picked from it. Later ‘bin men’ were appointed to pull down the hop bines with a hook. The bines were then laid across the pickers’ laps and picked into a bin. The flowers were dried in traditional Kentish oast houses before going off to the brewery.

At the peak of Kentish hopping (1880-1940) c.77,000 acres of land was dedicated to growing hops.

A ‘Hopping Special’ train would run from London Bridge, bringing as many as 200,000 East Enders from London for a three week ‘holiday’ to join the locals hop picking. As they filled each bin or basket, the picker would be given a token, or have a notch added to their tally stick.

In the early 19th century an exciting gamble was to forecast the weekly changes in hop prices due to a late frost, appearance of hop fly, etc. This was known as the ‘Hop Lottery’.