Tuesday, 20 September 2022

A History of Hop Growing in Ireland - Revised & Expanded

[This was first published in three parts in 2011. This is a combined, revised and expanded version of those posts.]

“Historically, hops were not grown in Ireland ...”

Or so says an online encyclopaedia entry on hops, and although some people know this not to be true, the sentence is so often repeated in similar wording that I thought it would be best to do some myth-busting to highlight that hops were grown in this country in various quantities and were even used in commercial brewing.

This is a record of the history, mentions and other snippets of information pertaining to hop growing in this country, where I will show and prove that we have been growing hops in this country for the last 400 years at the very least in varying amounts and with various degrees of success, albeit not on the same scale as the bigger hop growing countries.

I will be doing so in a chronological timeline which might help others who are interested in the subject or need to reference it – I only ask that you credit me and my website if you use any of my research.

So, where do we start – the first date I can find mentioning actual hops is from the first half of the 17th century…

1632 - A quote in an article in The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, Volume 17 first published in 1830 and itself quoting an earlier source says that hops, along with other crops, were introduced to Ireland in 1632 'and grew very well.' Not exactly a verifiable source but it is certainly very conceivable that hops would have made their way here by this time, if not before.

1689 - The Calendar of Ancient Records of Dublin from this year and published in 1895 states that 'Flemish hops by retail not to exceed eighteen pence per pound. And English and Irish hops not to exceed two shillings and three pence per pound.’ This price-fixing exercise mentions the term Irish hops as distinct from Flemish or English ones, so is this an indicator of a reasonable crop being grown here? Perhaps not but it is a worthy reference...

1699 - A mention of ‘a duty on Irish Hops’ in this year in a version of The Continuation of Mr. Rapin's History of England from the Revolution to the Present Times by an N. Tindal and published in 1761. This duty could of course be covering the possibility of hops being grown here and exported but it certainly hints at there being a trade in Irish hops.

Pre-1727 - A comment from an English parliamentary discussion published in an English newspaper in 1886 says that 'In the reign of George I [1714-1727] a duty was imposed on Irish hops...' This might be confusion with an act passed in 1711 that prohibited the importation of hops into Ireland from anywhere except England but could equally refer to the above mentioned earlier duty. It is worth noting here that some of these references are looking back at events in the past so their accuracy must be questioned a little. It is also possible that this comment and those above refer to hops that were imported into the country before being exported again.

1729 - In his publication on the trade in this country John Carteret asks why we cultivate so little hops in Ireland given the huge quantity we import, and he states that we could raise good hops in the southern part of the country. He also says, 'that with some it has succeeded well', which would let us believe that there is a certain amount of production. He also claims that the issue of the lack of hop growing lies with the want of hop-poles as 'there are so few plantations or trees to be met with' that produce suitable hop-poles in Ireland.

1729 - In the same collection as above from that year Arthur Dobbs in his Essay on the Trade and Improvement of Ireland makes similar comments. He mentions that hops have been 'tried in several more northern counties with tolerable success.' He also goes on in some detail regarding the benefits of growing hops for both trade and employment.

1733 - The Dublin Society published a book of instruction on hop cultivation (link below). From the tone of this volume it appears that hops were not very common or plentiful here at this time, but certainly known. It also points out that hops were quite expensive to import and gives details of potential returns and instructions on raising poles for support, on harvesting and packaging.

This is probably a good time to mention the Dublin Society who feature heavily in the coming years. It was founded in 1731 and its remit was to encourage new trade and enterprise, and in doing so create more local industries to replace imported goods, and therefore create more employment here too. To aid in this it created what it termed ‘Premiums’ or rewards for those who achieved certain criteria of volume, application or excellence of certain Irish goods and produce. Its name was changed to the Royal Dublin Society in 1820, and most Irish people would be familiar with the acronym RDS.

1736 - In the Dublin Society's Weekly Observations published in 1737 there is a letter - one of many - that mentions beer made with 'Irish Hops and Irish Malts.' The writer goes on to say that in this country 'we are not arrived to any great perfection in the culture and management of hops; nevertheless, the year 1736, gave us sufficient proof that in a good season we may be supply'd from among ourselves with that valuable commodity.' The writer then goes on to extol the virtues of said Irish hops by comparing them with Kentish and Worcester hops and finding them equal of better. (He goes on to discuss boiling times and bitterness of hops - and hop stalks!)

1737 - Another writer in the same publication as above gives extremely detailed directions on 'the raising of hops in red bogs' in two letters, where he had 'reared them with most success' for the previous 15 years. He appears to have sold the hops as he says that 'the profit has for many years fully answered my expense.' This may be the first mention of commercial reward for a crop of hops in Ireland. Those 'red bogs' - seemingly - could not be reclaimed or used like 'black bogs', so they were ideal for the venture. He also mentions that these 'Bog-Hops' (His name for them …) were less prone to 'swarms of insects which too often infest our upland hops', implying that hops were being grown on other sites in the country.

1740 - A newspaper article from 1963 states that hop growing in Ireland goes back to about 1740 and the main centres were Offaly, Laois, North Tipperary and Kilkenny but it gives no references and so must be treated with caution, as it was being reported more than 200 years after the time, although it could be based on the Dublin Society reports that follow ...

1741 - A ‘Premium’ or reward is offered by the Dublin Society for '200lb weight of the best hops of Irish growth for that year’. - via The Gentleman's Magazine. (This award appears to have started in at least 1740 from snippet sources elsewhere online ...)

1741 - In December of this year the members of the Dublin Society met in Market House Thomas Street in Dublin to examine hops and give out premiums for the best and second-best parcels of Irish-grown hops. There were 22 candidates, so I presume 22 actual growers. 12 were judged not quite up to the standard of the 10 best, and those 10 were further examined for ‘Colour, Smell and Feeling’. They awarded first place to Mr Humphry Jones of Mullinbro in Co. Kilkenny - near Waterford - and the second to Edward Bolton of ‘Brasil’ (Brazil near Swords?) Co. Dublin. ‘The judges declared that Mr. Jones’s hops were as good as they ever saw brought from Kent.’ The total quantity supplied from all the entries was 45 hundred-weight (Over 2,250 kg?) and apart from 2 parcels all the rest were as good or better than those imported. Three other growers were singled out as next best - Anthony Atkinson from King’s County (now Offaly), Mr. Lee of Wexford and Samuel Ealy [Ely?] of Ross in County Wexford.

(The above was from a nice reference I found of a reprinted report by the Dublin Society in a newspaper from January of 1742. This and the other reports certainly show that we had a decent geographical spread of hop farms of a reasonable size – perhaps – around parts the country.)

1742 - The following year Mr. Humphry Jones again had the best parcel of 2 hundred-weight (2 hundredweight or approximately 100kg) of hops and received an award of 20 pounds. He had grown ‘65 C. 6 lb’ of hops (Is the ‘C’ in this case an abbreviation for Stone? I am not sure…) Most of his hops were sold to ‘brewers in Dublin’ and that they were ‘equal in all respects to any English or Irish Hops they had ever before made use of.’, which suggests that they were of good quality and that Irish hops had been used by commercial breweries before this time.

1743 - In an 1861 reprint of a report from this year Humphry Jones again took first prize, second was Samuel Ely, Ross, Co. Wexford and third was Mr. Sutton – no address given. The same report also gives an award to Thwaite’s brewery, Dublin for using ‘10 tons’ of Irish hops in their beers, William Bererton came second using '3 tons' in his brewery. More proof that Irish-grown hops were used in Irish beers in the 18th century.

1744 - The same reprint of above gives the award in this year to Samuel Ely and second place to Ephraim Dawson (no address given) – no sign of Mr. Jones!

c. 1746-1786 - A gentleman called George Stoney from 'Grayfort, near Borrosakean' wrote to the Dublin Society in 1786 saying he had a 'small plantation' of two acres of hops laid out 40 years previously by 'an Englishman' from which he gets two hundred-weight of hops. He goes on to say, 'If planting hops were carried on to proper effect, Ireland might well supply itself, and I experimentally know, that, when well cured, we may have as good as England produces. I yearly have brewed for my house upwards of forty barrels of malt, with my own hops, and my beer keeps as well, and is as well flavoured, as it would be with English hops.' - via Transactions of the Dublin Society, Volume 2, Part 1- 1801

1748 - A snippet mention in The Scots Magazine about a person needing to buy a great quantity of 'Irish hops' - not less than 4 ton.

1748 - Again the Dublin Society offered a premium ‘to the person who shall produce the best parcel of hops, not less than 200 weight, of the growth of 1748’ and also ‘to the person who shall buy up for sale, the greatest quantity of Irish hops of the growth of 1748, before May 15, 1749, not less than 4 tun. [sic] and finally ‘To the person who shall make use of the greatest quantity of ditto in brewing before June 1st 1749, not less than 3 tun, but no one person shall get both said premiums.’ – The Scots Magazine

1749 - A newspaper report states that Darius Drake of Camlin in Wexford won a reward from the Dublin Society for planting in 1747 'seven plantation acres and tree perches' with hops 'four to a hill, and 7538 hills at 8 feet distance from one another, and that they are in a thriving condition.' At the time this was alleged to be the greatest quantity of land given over to hop production by one person in the country. Mr. Drake produced poles for other growers in the country before deciding to grow his own hops - his own plantation required between '20 and 30,000' poles. It is claimed that many of his neighbours had large plantations also, just not large enough to win this 'premium' from the Dublin Society. I certainly feel that Mr. Drake deserves separate research to investigate both his hop and hop-pole growing.

1749 - The premiums for the three best parcels of hops were awarded this year to Humphrey Jones yet again, William Hamond from Ross in Wexford and Thomas Sutton from Wexford. They had 'good colour, flavour and strength.’ It was mentioned that Mr. Sutton dried his hops with both Kilkenny (Surely Castlecomer so?) coal and with charcoal, and those dried with charcoal had much better flavour!

1756 - Newspaper announcement for the reward for the best 3 parcels of hops not less than 200 weight and grown in that year.

1757 - Three bags of hops produced for a competition by the Dublin Society, each weighing two hundred-weight. The best was judged to be from a Mr. Nicholas Lanigan of Co. Kilkenny, second place went to a Mr. Christopher Antisel(?) of Tipperary, and the last parcel was unclaimed. The judges declared the first two parcels of hops equal to those imported from England.

1786 - There is a brief mention in an English newspaper of the bill to regulate the importation of hops from Ireland. This might not mean Irish grown hops of course - maybe just those passing through?!

1786 - Person named Bonner had a 4-acre hop yard in Naas according to an article called 'Ancient Naas and Neighbourhood’ by T.J. de Burgh written in 1893 and published in a Kildare newspaper that year.

1789 – An advertisement appears in Saunder’s News-Letter stating that a Mr. Simpson, a seed merchant on College Green in Dublin can supply plants for ‘two acres and upwards’ and that the Dublin Society will pay a premium for planting two acres of hops – twenty pounds in the first year and ten pounds in the next.

1789 -  A Dublin newspaper carries a statement that in 'some parts of this kingdom, hops grow to great perfection, and yet, if known to be Irish produce, not much above half that price will be given for them which those brought from Kent and other counties in England bring.' The writer goes on to say that they should thrive here and be used for home consumption as well as being exported. They also give a dig at the Americans, saying that even they are growing hops and establishing breweries although they 'formerly made no other drink but spruce beer and beverage expresses from the wild grape.'

1797 - The Dublin Society would be offering a premium for ‘beer brewed with Irish hops of the growth of the years 1796 and 1797, for private use or sale. The claims to be made by oath before 25th March 1797’ according to Walker's Hibernian Magazine or Compendium of the previous year.

So that finishes the 17th and 18th centuries, and we can see from all of these reports and mentions, and specifically those from the Dublin Society, that there was quite a decent quantity of hops being grown in this country, particularly in the middle of the 18th century. The figures were more than likely dwarfed by the imports from England and elsewhere, but there were still some notable quantities and acreage. Also, I think it is safe to assume given some of the comments above that much of it was used in commercial Irish brewing.

Why mentions of hop growing in this country appear to have become rare towards the end of the century I am not sure – it is quite possible that I just have not come across the Dublin Society reports. It is also possible - or perhaps probable - that it was either not commercially viable to grow them here year-on-year or that there were a number of poor seasons that affected the crop and disillusioned the farmers. It is certainly something I will revisit in the future but for now we will see what changes there are in reports and actually growing of hops in the 19th century Ireland.

1801 - There is a mention of duty to be paid on importation of hops from Ireland into Great Britain in Steel's Tables of the British Custom and Excise Duties published in that year and also in a Parliamentary register the previous year which would lead us to believe there was still some hop growing in the country, or at least the potential to do so.

1801 - A Mr. R. Smyth wrote to the Dublin Society regarding his espalier-trained hops that he was growing on half a rood (one eight of an acre) of his father's land in Kells Co. Meath, which he used in his own ale - via Transactions of the Dublin Society, Volume 2, Part 1 1801

1806 - A London newspaper reports that a duty of two-pence halfpenny per pound weight was resolved to be imposed on Irish hops by a committee in the House of Commons in England, it was passed a couple of weeks later. There are many other mentions of this bill too which again would make you think there was some trade between Ireland and Britain in hops, unless they were just covering themselves in case there was a resurgence in the growing of same on this island.

1816 - The Dublin Society were offering a premium of 1 shilling per barrel for beer brewed with Irish hops for private use or sale.

1833 - A John Pendergast from Inistioge in Kilkenny wrote to an English paper putting forth the idea of the landed gentry starting hop farms in Ireland to give more work to those living on their estates and to free said gentry 'from the enormous dead weight the heretofore has existed upon their well-known beneficence.' (!) It was reprinted a Dublin newspaper where the editor poured scorn on the idea that the gentry of Ireland would be interested in such a plan. Mr. Pendergast also suggested that an Irish acre would produce 26 hundred-weight of hops at 7 pound 12 shillings per hundred-weight. In response to the above letter, 'a Kent Radical' responded to say that there is an act of parliament which prohibits any one in Ireland from owning a hop farm larger than a quarter or perhaps half an acre. I cannot find any such legislation but maybe it is hidden somewhere I cannot access, or is combined into some much older act I am unaware of that prevented Catholics from owning any more land for crops that was necessary to feed themselves?

1835 - Under the headline ‘Irish Hops’ a Belfast newspaper states that The Commission of Revenue Inquiry recommended that Irish grown hops should pay a similar rate of duty as those grown in England. (There are also mentions of duties on ‘Irish hops’ in 1843, 1845 and 1846 in various parliamentary records.) Once again this would indicate that hops were possibly still being grown somewhere on the island, and in enough quantities to warrant discussion in parliament.

1835 - A Martin Doyle writing in The Roscommon & Leitrim Gazette, and other publications, on hop growing and the use of iron rods 'to attract the electric fluid' from passing thunderclouds as a way of combatting pests and diseases states that 'Hops grow freely in most of the southern counties in Ireland, are tithe-free, and exempt from duty.'

1849 - A report in an Irish newspaper in April via The Globe of the vessel ‘Erin's Queen’ arriving in London from Belfast with 18 packets of hops. Is this the first export of Irish hops to England? Probably not but it is the first record I can find. It would certainly have been going against the flow of hops coming the opposite direction so it would seem to be a noteworthy occurrence.

1849 - An English newspaper report of ‘The Citizen’ arrived in the Thames in May from Dublin with 27 (20 quoted elsewhere) pockets of hops from Ireland, which it appears was – unsurprisingly - not a common occurrence.

1849 - A Mr. Samuel Burke of Thomastown, Kilrush in Co. Clare sowed and acre and a half of hops. It was said to be a novelty 'in that part of the country.’

1849 - An English newspaper carries a mention under the title 'Irish Hops' of a vessel arriving in the Thames from Belfast in October carrying 5 pockets of hops that states that they are 'the produce of Ireland' and that 'this is the first arrival of this article from the sister country' - but as we saw above there were slightly earlier shipments.

1849 - A mention in a London newspaper in December of bales of hops arriving into England 'some time since' from an Irish port and that this was 'of some interest' and that there had been a further arrival of several bales on a ship called the ‘Cannaught[sic] Ranger’ from Sligo and Derry, and this was the 'second importation of the kind from the sister country' which again may be a little off the mark.

1850 - The vessel ‘Ranger’ arrived in London from Belfast, Dublin and Waterford in February and 'brought some packages of hops, as a portion of her cargo from the Irish metropolis, the produce of that country.’

1850 - A small note in an English newspaper in March that states - 'Irish Hops. Several additional importations of hops from Ireland have recently been noted. Hitherto the largest import has been eleven bales' so again we can see errors in reporting based on what was mentioned above. A sign that we need to be wary of what is reported in newspapers ...

1850 - Under the title 'Irish Hops' in an English newspaper in August, 17 packages arrived in London from Ireland.

Just a note on all these shipments. Although there are numerous mentions of these being Irish produced hops the doubting part of my brain thinks that maybe there were imported from elsewhere and passed off as Irish hops for financial reasons? I have no proof of this of course, but I think it may be worth considering, however unlikely it may be. For now, I am taking it at face value that hops were being grown in Ireland and exported to England for use by breweries in that country – an interesting and I would image surprising turn of event to many readers.

1852 - A reference in the proceedings of the now ‘Royal’ Dublin Society regarding an exhibition mentions a donation of a ‘specimen of Irish-grown hops’ donated by a John L. Tute of Blackrock amongst other agricultural specimens.

1855 - A newspaper mention that an experiment to grow hops in Ballyteigue, Wexford by a John Stafford was successful - the reporter sounded quite surprised!

1855 - The Irish Farmers’ Gazette states that ‘Hops in favourable seasons and favourable sites, dry and rich, come to much perfection in Ireland and may be gathered and cured tolerably well,’ but goes on to say that growing them on a commercial scale has been rare here.

1865 - 'Hop Growing at Kingstown [Dún Laoghaire] - A fine specimen of this useful creeper may now be seen in front of the residence of Captain Wilcox, Royal Terrace. It is very strange that hops are not more generally nurtured in Ireland' according to the Catholic Telegraph newspaper.

1867 - Thomas Bromwich a hop grower at Temple Farm near Alton in Hampshire was advertising hop plants for sale in an Irish paper under the headline, 'Hops, Hops, for Ireland.'

1867 - A newspaper mentions a successful attempt was made to grow hops in Ireland with the hope that there might be a larger scale experiment in the near future. No further information is given.

1872-1873 - A chart published in Thom's Directory of Ireland shows no acreage for hops in these years. Similar charts towards the end of the 19th century show similar results, although there is no way of being 100% positive that the information was being recorded correctly. It also possible, and probable, that it was on such a small scale - perhaps just for a breweries own use - that it would be unregistered.

Pre 1900? - There is a reference to hops being grown extensively on Whiddy Island in Cork in the schools' collection on the Dúchas website but no dates unfortunately so I am assuming the period to be in the 19th century given the tone of the mention.

So this was perhaps an unexciting century for Irish hops, and towards the end it appears that we had forgotten that we grew them here at all! Once again the middle part of the century is the most interesting, as attested to by those shipments of Irish hops to England. It would be nice to think that those were used in English ales – and I presume they probably were. I wonder is there any records in London or elsewhere of ale brewed with Irish hops? Somehow I doubt it…

As you can see there is quite a bit of conjecture and assumption based on the various newspaper reports, so as ever we need to be wary regarding what we read into those articles. Having said that there are certainly enough mentions to suggest a continuity of hop growing in the country even if it appears to dwindle at times to just sparse comments.

Still, at least we appear to have been a hop exporting country – however briefly – at one time. 

Next, we will look at the 20th century with a nod to the current one too. We will see plans – both big and small - to set up hop farms either side of this country’s independence before we hit the most productive decades of commercial hop-growing in Ireland – or at least recorded hop-growing – where I can quote varieties grown, acreage, yield and even alpha acid content with a certain degree of accuracy from the hop-growing co-op of a sort that existed in Kilkenny for almost 40th years.

But first let us go back to the start of the 1900s and some reported endeavours to start a hop industry in the country, or at the very least a hop-garden or two...

1906 - A reader called 'Fidelis' from Graiguenamanagh wrote to the editor of The New Ross Standard, intent on trying to start a hop garden and looking for advice. He also felt that any farmers living near a country town should plant a hop field as 'there are plenty of poor people who would find the work of picking the hops a pleasant change in their yearly life' - I am unsure if he received any replies or whether any ‘poor people’ took up his offer…

However, a follow-up letter appeared the next month in which Fidelis talks about a trip to England to his cousin’s farm and a discussion with hop brokers in London, where they tell him that soil is not the issue when growing hops but 'the atmosphere in which they are grown.' He says that they have not yet been tried in Ireland, which we now know is not true of course. But he then mentions that his cousin has 'grubbed up all the hops on his farm' as they were too labour intensive, and the price varied too much - but even knowing this the author still wants to pursue the idea of Irish hops further. (He also mentions, as an aside, that the 'Irish Militia regiments prefer the beer they are accustomed to, and there is now a large trade in Waterford and Kilkenny beer with Plymouth and Portsmouth.')

1908 - In an article in a Kilkenny newspaper the following sentence appears, which I am sure many would agree with over all of the centuries of hop growing. 'Hops can, no doubt, be grown in Ireland, but the enthusiast who should endeavour to make hop-growing a staple Irish industry would not be long in finding his way to the nearest lunatic asylum.' This is a reaction to a report that they were unprofitable even in England at this time and that imports into that country were affecting the price of the crop, although there is also a comment about the lack of much-needed sunshine in Ireland.

1909 - An article ran in The Dublin Evening Telegraph wondering why hops were not being grown in Ireland and interviewed a Mr. R. Grant of 46 Bessborough Avenue, North Strand, Dublin who was growing hops, but not it seems on a commercial scale. He comments on their history and requirements but does say they are 'profitable but at the same time a troublesome crop. No crop is more affected by the weather, nor more subject to destruction from blight, or attacks of insects. The profits on the other hand, in some cases have amounted to £100 per acre, and the average value of hop lands has been estimated at about £10 per acre.’

1911 - Taken from The London Standard, an article in the Donegal Independent about a 'novel German invasion' of Ireland where a German-American 'nobleman' called Baron von Horst - a 'well known Californian magnate' who was allegedly one of the biggest hop growers in America, had purchased 200 acres of land in Ireland - near Limerick seemingly - with the intention of starting a large hop farm here, and had contracted 1,100 German workman to assist him in his endeavour! He proposed that the Germans would teach the locals how to grow hops and that he had even selected three varieties he deemed suitable for the climate - sadly they are not listed by name but an additional part to the vision of Baron von Horst printed in a different newspaper says of the varieties selected, 'These are male grafts from the vines in Northern New York State in America and from the famous hop-fields of Bohemia joined with female roots specially selected form his fields in California. This combination the baron is convinced will ultimately produce superior vines and a characteristic product which will be known, in spite of the alien nature of its introduction, as "Irish hops"'. So, it sounds like he had already bred a hop variety from this parentage, which he assumed would grow well here.

1913 - The Limerick Industrial Association announced in The Freeman’s Journal that they were getting a free consignment of hop roots from Baron von Horst for farmers to trial. This whole endeavour warrants separate research and investigation.

1914 - A slightly bizarre advertisement appears in an English newspaper for 'A man capable of growing hops, to undertake growing hops in Ireland. Must be an Irishman.'

1914 - Back in Ireland the farming section of The Weekly Freeman's Journal raises doubt on the ability to ripen hop cones successfully in this climate and states that it is quite a technical crop regarding setting poles and pest control, and that it would require special training. It then states that there is no market for home-grown hops, as brewers will only place orders where they can be sure of a certain quantity and quality – a fair comment I would say. The writer of the article states that they 'do not recommend you to attempt hop growing on a business scale.’

1932 - An amateur hop grower with 30 years’ experience named Robert Ginn from Castlelyons in east Cork wrote into The Cork Examiner suggesting that we should start (or restart as we have seen) a hop industry here. He claims that his hops are as good or better than those grown in Kent and he had always had abundant crops.

1933 - An article in The Irish Press states that the Department of Agriculture were looking at the possibility of growing hops in 'suitable locations' such as Cork, Killarney, and Dublin. There were hops growing in the garden of a Mr. T. J. Geary in Sutton, Dublin and at the Botanic Gardens where the Keeper stated they 'grew splendidly' and he knew of no reason they could not be grown commercially here.

1930s - An experimental but unsuccessful attempt was made to grow hops in Ireland according to a 1963 newspaper article with no references – this may be related to the above mention in 1933.

1955 – It is reported in The Portadown Times that wild hops are growing wild in county Armagh and that a plant was found growing a few years previously in Drumnakelly and other areas.

1962 - Experiment carried out by An Foras Talúntais (the then agricultural development authority) into hop growing in Ireland at Dungarvan yielded 84 hundred-weight of dried hops - which is roughly 4,200 kg - worth £29 per hundred-weight. Yields grossed £580 per acre and expenses were heavy. It cost £600 per acre to establish the crop and it was susceptible to bad weather, pests, virus, and mildew - the 1961 crop was a total loss - but they were committed to assessing where might be suitable or better suited in the country.

1963 - Three experimental hop plots totalling 38 acres were planted in the spring of this year according to a 1966 report in The Irish Press. The variety chosen as seedless Fuggles as this was the variety that the previous year’s experiment showed most likely to succeed in this climate. Guinness paid more than they did for English hops because they were seedless but even paying that premium price they were still better value because of their higher humulone content.*

1964 - A notice appears in the Kilkenny People from the Chief Agricultural Officer that 'the first commercial hop gardens in Ireland have now been planted in Co. Kilkenny' and asking members of the public to let them know of any wild hop plants, which were known to be growing in the area, as they may carry pests or diseases.

1965 - According to the Kilkenny People, Edgar Calder-Potts of Highbank Farm in Cuffesgrange in Kilkenny was harvesting 22 acres of hops and hoped to increase it to 37 acres the following year. Harvesting took two weeks, and 11 women and 16 men were engaged in the work, although the hops were harvested by machine. There were also three other growers in the county. Cousins Stanley and Pat Mosse, and Captain A. Tupper of Lyrath, all growing for the Guinness brewery. Mr Calder Potts was expecting to pack 100 bags of one and a half hundredweight each. The first crop was in 1964 and both years’ harvests were of good quality according to the horticultural instructor Michael Power, who helped greatly with the project.

1966 - There was a total of 58 acres of hops between the four Kilkenny growers with a further 30 to be added in 1967 - initial expenditure was in the region of £1,500 per acre according to an article by Maurice Liston in The Irish Press. The poles were being supplied by the Forestry Department and the wire, anchor rods and other items apart from the machinery were being produced in this country. Quantity and quality compared favourably with English grown hops. Yield is reported here at 15 hundred-weight per acre and the return was £35 per hundred-weight. The varieties grown are still predominantly Fuggles with Northern Brewer only being introduced in this year. The Mosses had a new drying unit for the hops containing 20ft by 30ft kilns and a lot of investment had taken place into the industry in this area. A survey carried out by the Agricultural Institute had found more suitable sites in northern Kilkenny and there were indications - according to the article - that the project would further expand. This all appeared incredibly positive at this point and there was a huge amount of enthusiasm, work and commitment coming out of this newspaper report.

But in March of this year the head brewer in Guinness in Dublin decided that they should not use Fuggles in the brewery there after 1969 (they had actually stopped by 1967) saying ‘now that we hop on isohumulone the use of Fuggles is totally uneconomic’ which meant that the crop was instead being used by Irish Ale Breweries instead or sold to English breweries.* That would explain why there were 426 hundred-weight imported into England from Ireland – the first mention in the Barth report for Irish hops that I can find - some were perhaps used in Guinness’s Park Royal brewery.

Just a quick note here on the Barth reports that chronicle hop growing in Germany and around the world for over a hundred years. The finding of these, many of which are published in English, were a huge help with most of the facts and figures that follow here. You can take it that this is the source I use for the rest of this post unless I state otherwise.

1967 - It is reported that 794 hundred-weight of hops were imported into England from Ireland.

1968 - It is reported that this year 162 hundred-weight of hops were imported into England from Ireland

1969 - The Co. Wexford Federation of Rural Organisations discussed the concept of hop growing in the county but ‘investigation revealed that no future prospects in this field were envisaged, especially as trials were being conducted presently in Co. Kilkenny’ according to a local paper. There was no mention of the crop itself in the Barth report but 99 hundred-weight of hops were imported into England. 

1970 - The Barth report states that 119 acres of land were in hop production this year in Kilkenny, that strong winds damaged the crop, and that picking went from September the 4th to the 23rd, with the harvest being brought in by 3 machines. The quality was not as good as the previous year with 60% being Class I and 40% Class II and 988 hundred-weight were harvested. England imported 122 hundred-weight of Irish hops this year. (For reference 1 hundred-weight is approximately 50 kilograms.)

1971 - The Farmer’s Journal reports on the hop harvest under way in Kilkenny where Anthony Tupper grows 39 acres of hops in Lyrath. The article goes into some detail regarding the cost of setting up the hop production and ongoing expenses and points out that margins are very tight but at least expenses can be shared to a degree by adopting a co-operative system with like-minded individuals, which is what appear to have happened in Kilkenny.

The good weather that year had a favourable effect on the crop, especially the lack of strong winds. the harvest was 1,593 hundred-weight [I am not positive about this figure.] and the acreage increased slightly to 28 acres of Fuggles and 30 acres of WFB 135 (Northern Brewer), with Fuggles being gradually replaced. 43 hundred-weight of the crop was exported to England this year.

1972 - Poor weather and a lack of hop pickers hampered the harvest this year, but 55.7 tonnes (1,096 hundred-weight) of hops were brought in from a slight reduction of acreage to 138 acres, of which 62 acres were Fuggles and 76 acres were Northern Brewer as Fuggles was being replaced by ‘a better bittering hop.’ This ongoing change-out of variety was probably due to Guinness no long using Fuggles.

This year 23 hundred-weight were exported to England, and just for context 7,279 hundred-weight were exported from England to Ireland.

1973 - This was a good growing year with hardly any problems with pests or disease, but the crop was smaller than expected given the increased acreage. there were 67 acres of Fuggles and 77 acres of Northern Brewer – Bullion is also being introduced. No hops were exported to England this year. (A separate report states the areas as 60 acres for ‘Kilkenny Seedless Fuggle’, 91 acres for Northern Brewer and a half acre of Bullion.)**

1974 - A wet, windy and cold year meant that the crop was not as good as normal. The breakdown was 46 acres of Fuggles, 91 acres of Northern Brewer and 1 acre of Bullion – 61 tonnes were harvested. (The mention of any imports into England whatsoever finished up around this time, also the report changed to tonnes from this year onwards, so I have used that figure, but I have converted the areas to acres instead of the published hectares.) According to the Regional Horticultural Officer’s report for this year, that wind flattened a 13 acre garden at Mosse’s but the quality of hops was exceptionally good despite the weather issues, although curiously the alpha acids this year were 4.4 for Fuggles, the lowest since measurement began in 1966 with the highest being 6.3 in 1973, and 7.2 for Northern Brewer which recorded 10.3 in 1969.**

The 1974 crop report states that aphids, powdery mildew, and downy mildew were an issue this year along with the inclement weather. Northern Brewer is proving difficult and expensive to grow due to its susceptibility to wind damage, pests and diseases, but the trials of Bullion were proving satisfactory so far as a replacement. Wye Northdown, Wye Challenger, Record and S1478 – a Danish variety - were also being trialed this year.**

1975 - A hot summer this year had a negative effect on the yield although the report also says that the harvest was 69.6 tonnes, which was more than what was reported the previous year so it is possible that some of these figures may be a little off. The alpha content was higher than the previous year. The area in production dropped to 128 acres – 38 acres for Fuggles, 89 acres for Northern Brewer and 1 acre for Bullion. Northdown hops were also being introduced this year.

A report in the Irish Press says that Ireland’s hop farmers could get grants of £10,000 from the E.E.C. and that ‘they have now been invited by the Department of Agriculture to make their applications for this unexpected aid.’ Although according to the Barth report of this year, income supplements were paid in 1973 and 1974 too.

1976 - Another dry summer had a detrimental effect on the crop and the yield was down 13% to 61 tonnes although the alpha content was above average. Hops are still only being grown in Kilkenny according to the Barth report, on 156 acres – 39 ½ acres of Fuggles, 114 acres Northern Brewer, ½ acre of Bullion and 2 acres Northdown.

1977 - A relatively good year weather-wise saw the crop increase by 30% on the previous year, although the lack of sunshine meant the alpha acids were a little low, particularly in Bullion and Fuggles. 7 extra acres of Northern Brewer were planted increasing the total are to 163 acres which yielded 84 tonnes.

1978 - An outstanding year for the quality of the hops although the yield was down 13.5% to 72.5 tonnes. With the alpha on Bullion and Northdown matching the English ones and Fuggles and Northern brewer substantially higher.

1979 - 146 acres were in cultivation, with the area given to Fuggles and Northern Brewer reduced slightly. Picking was delayed due to weather issues, but the yield was back up to 82 tonnes. Alpha acids were 10 % lower than the previous years, apart from Northdown. The entire crop is still being taken by Guinness, although presumably the Fuggles were still not being used in Guinness stout.

1980 - After a cool and wet summer picking had to be delayed by a week to help with ripening. 75 ½ tonnes were harvested and judged to be Class I. The alpha values were 12% above the previous year in all varieties apart from Bullion. The hop acreage was enlarged back to 163 acres with increases space for Northdown and Northern Brewer so that the Kilkenny growers now had 29 acres of Fuggles, 118 acres of Northern Brewer, 15 ½ acres of Northdown and a tiny ½ acre of Bullion.

1981 - 178 acres in cultivation yielding 76.9 tonnes. (The report also says that there was 185 acres yielding 76.5 tonnes in 1980, which contradicts the information in last year’s report.) From this point there are no reports on hop growing in Ireland in the Barth report apart from two figures for acreage and yield, this went on for more than a decade.

Here they are …

1982 - 185 acres and 75 tonnes.

1983 - 188 acres. and 109.7 tonnes

1984 - 188 acres 109.7 tonnes again – not likely to match exactly the previous year so I suspect it is an error

1985 - 178 acres and 86.5 tonnes

1986 - 84 acres and 17.2 tonnes

1987 - 84 acres and 43.3 tonnes

1988 - 54 acres and 28 tonnes

1989 - 54 acres and 25.6 tonnes

1990 - 42 acres and 34 tonnes

1991 - 30 acres and 17.9 tonnes

1992 - 30 acres and 20.8 tonnes

1993 - 32 acres and 19 tonnes

1994 - 30 acres and 16.5 tonnes, and this year we get a brief report to say that there is just one hop grower left in Ireland and just one variety – Northdown, and it was to get worse …

1995 - 15 acres and 10.3 tonnes

1996 - 15 acres and 8.3 tonnes. (Lett's of Enniscorthy claim in a local newspaper that the Wexford Cream ale they were brewing at Greene King in Norfolk was 'made with Irish hops and Irish malt.’ – if true this surely must be Kilkenny hops?)

1997 - 15 acres and 8.8 tonnes, the report now shows the alpha content for the Northdowns, this year it was 10%

1998 - 15 acres and 9.5 tonnes - alpha 10.6%

1999 - 15 acres and 8.4 tonnes - alpha 9.2%

2000 - 7.5 acres and 2.7 tonnes - 11% alpha. There was a note regarding subsidies available of €3,360 this year.

2001 - 7.5 acres and 2.4 tonnes - 11% alpha. Subsidies dropped to €1,104

2002 – In one last, almost poignant, footnote the Barth hop report tells us:

‘Hops were grown in Ireland until 2001, latterly on an area of only 3 ha. As of 2002 production has ceased.’

And that was it, the end of a great idea that appears to have been professionally executed and was doing relatively well for a time, and I would imagine those reported issues with yield, damage and varying quality were similar to other countries – and better than some. But from a peak of 188 acres, 4 hop varieties and 110 tonnes in 1984 the Kilkenny hop production - our Irish hop production - dropped like a stone in a little over a decade and a half to just 7 ½ acres and 2.4 tonnes of Northdown at its sad demise in 2001. To analyse what happened would take a separate post, some interviews and delving deeper than I have done here. It was likely to do with a number of factors - mostly financial viability of course - but you can hear Simon Mosse that last grower speaking here about that hop growing period in Kilkenny in an interview from 2011.

The Calder-Potts family at Highbank are still connected with drink with their cider range and distilling amongst other enterprises - here is their website, and it does mention their hop growing.

Lyrath estate changed hands and became a hotel - it has a bar called 'Tupper's'...

So what happened next?

Well, the new breed of microbrewers were next to start growing hops, led by White Gypsy who were the first of the new batch of hop farmers and were followed by others including Wicklow Wolf, Canvas, Farmageddon and Ballykilcavan, and at one point Hop Social were using their community grown hops at Rascals in Dublin. I am not sure if all of these hop initiatives have survived the last couple of strange years, but perhaps this smaller more manageable way of doing things is the future of hop growing in Ireland on anything resembling a commercial scale?

Regardless of where we go from here, I have shown that we can – and did – grow hops in this country, although question marks remain over the commercial viability of the crops. What is very evident in all of this is how much we have forgotten of our hop-growing history – even those relatively recent forays into the industry. This is partially because regardless of the large-sounding acreage mentioned at times in these posts we really were operating on a tiny scale compared to other countries, but we did do it, and that is worth recording.

The other reason we have forgotten so much is because we are poor curators of our edible and drinkable history. Perhaps too many history writers prefer to wallow in the endless tragedy of death, revolution and oppression than look behind those tall walls of woe into how we lived, what we ate or drank, and what we grew on our small island? I am not entirely sure, but I would argue we could and should do both …

So perhaps we peaked too early in our endeavours to be self-sufficient hop growers, or maybe we could not achieve the acreage needed for profitability, or the climate was unsuitable, or it could be that our timing was poor ... or were we just not good enough at growing this tricky crop? Although I do not believe that this was the case – we have growers in this country…

Regardless, I would love to be able to wander through acres and acres of tall hop fields on a warm, late summer evening, past pretty modern-takes on oast houses, sipping a beer and rolling nearly-ripe cones between my fingers, the delicate smell of hops in the air and the last of the summer swallows flitting between the hop bines…

But then again, in certain ways I am much more of a romantic than a realist …

Thanks for reading.

Liam K.

P.S. I have purposely omitted the actual sources of exact newspaper mentions as there are quite a few and it was pain-staking research, but if anyone needs them, please email or DM me and I will send you on the details.

The Barth reports are here, I could not find many of them in English without manipulating the address. Contact me if you have any problems finding what you need.

That Dublin Society book from 1733 can be found here, the first image in this article is from this publication.

* Guinness and Hops by J.F. Brown

** Various crop reports kindly shared with me by ShaneSmith on Twitter

(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and cannot be reproduced elsewhere without permission, full credit to its source and a link back to this post.)

Newspaper image © The British Library Board - All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk from whom I have received permission to display it here). The image below is from the hop fields in Highbank from the Irish Press from September 14th 1966 and is via my local library.

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