From all the iterations of Fuller’s Vintage Ale produced so far, my favourite is still the 2002. The only hops used were Goldings: coincidence? I don’t think so. Actually, I’m drinking one as I write this, and it’s still marvellous, at six years old: musky, biscuity, honeyed, marmalade and toffee, perhaps the faintest lick of lavender – yum! Goldings is one of my favourite hops: I love the apricot aromas Meantime in Greenwich gets out of the variety in its bottle-conditioned IPA.
There are surprisingly few “pure” Goldings beer on the market: Shepherd Neame’s Bishop’s Finger and Hop Back’s Summer Lightning being two. But the “classic” English combination of Goldings and Fuggles hops is used in a swath of bitter ales of high repute: Brakspear’s Special, St Austell HSD, Young’s ordinary, Wadworth’s 6X, Adnam’s bitter, Brain’s SA and Marston’s Pedigree. I wouldn’t rush past any pub selling those.
One remarkable aspect of the hop Mr Golding found more than 220 years ago is the degree to which its genes have contributed to other popular varieties of hops. Even in the 19th century different types of Goldings began to be recognised. One of the most important was Bramling, an early-ripening variety (about 10 days before “main crop” Goldings) selected, according to George Clinch, writing in 1919, by a farm bailiff called Smith on a farm run by a man called Musgrave Hilton at Bramling, a hamlet in the parish of Ickham, near Canterbury.
The Bramling became popular around 1865, and, with other Golding varieties, took a large share of the hop farm acreage in East Kent between 1880 and 1890. Bramling itself gave rise to another variety, Amos’s Early Bird, discovered by Alfred Amos of the village of Wye in Kent in 1887 and described by Clinch as “an excellent variety of early crop [which] thrives in good districts.”
Main-crop Golding varieties included Canterbury Goldings, Rodmersham, or Mercer’s, selected by Robert M Mercer of Rodmersham House, Sittingbourne from hops growing in a garden at Malling in Kent; Petham Goldings, presumably from the village of the same name near Canterbury, which has side arms that, unlike older Goldings varieties, point stiffly upwards; Eastwell Goldings, which were being grown at Eastwell Park, near Ashford in Kent, before 1889; and Bates’s Brewer, selected by John Bates of Brenchley around 1879/80 from a hop garden in the Sevenoaks Weald district. The six cuttings from the original plant selected by Mr Bates are said to have been sold for a bottle of whisky each.
One Golding variety, as classified by the old Hop Marketing Board, which was not originally from Kent is Mathon, a main-crop hop named after a hamlet near Malvern on the Worcestershire/Herefordshire border. George Clinch in 1919 describes it as closely resembling the Bramling, and “principally” grown in the counties of Worcester and Hereford, being “certainly suited to their soils”.
Its origin, as far as I have been able to dig out, is a puzzle: One source says “drawings of this variety were used in porcelain factories in Worcestershire in the 1790s,” and claims a plate showing the Mathon hop survives dated 1794. If Mathons are a variety of Golding, 1794 seems early for them to have developed from Mr Golding’s original find as a separate variety. The Reverend Luke Booker, a poet and clergyman who had charge of parishes in both Herefordshire and Worcestershire at various times, wrote in The Hop Garden, published in 1799, that
thy preference demand/The Mathon-White, and far-fam’d Golding-Bine
suggesting he was familiar with seeing both types growing locally. Both “the Golding vine” and “Mathon-White” are named in A General View of the Agriculture of the County of Worcester, published in 1810, as growing locally. In 1826 the “Mathon white” was described as “superior to any other. It not only affords a more pleasant and mild bitter, but a much more pleasant aroma than the Kent or any other Worcestershire hop.” My personal suspicion is that the Mathon white was, like the Golding, descended from the Canterbury White-bine, and that accounts for the Mathon being put later in the Goldings family.
In 1894 Wye Agricultural College was founded near Ashford in Kent as part of the University of London, and after the arrival of Professor Ernest S Salmon in 1906 (who was to remain there for 50 years, until he was 85) it became a centre for developing new varieties of hops, many based on Goldings crossed with. American hops.
Perhaps the most important hop developed by Professor Salmon was Brewer’s Gold, sprung in 1919 from a wild female hop collected as a cutting in Morden, southern Manitoba and “open pollinated” in the hop gardens at Wye. Mummy contributed both disease resistance the high alpha acid content brewers were (and are) looking for, and also a slightly “catty” and “blackcurranty” touch to the aroma; Daddy, whoever he was (and with Goldings and Fuggles the most common hops in Kent at that time, one of those two must be the most likely) brought a more “English” flavour to the union.
Brewer’s Gold, which was released in the 1930s, was grown in both Belgium and Germany because of its disease-resistant properties and high alpha acid content, but its greater significance has been as the ancestor of other high alpha-acid hops. Of these the most important is Northern Brewer, a cross between a Canterbury Goldings female hop and a seedling raised in 1934 by Professor Salmon at Wye College which itself was a cross between Brewer’s Gold and an American male. Named, apparently, because a North of England brewer (perhaps Newcastle Breweries) was looking for a hop with a combination of good aroma and high alpha acid content. It became widely grown in Germany because of its resistance to several of the ills that hops are heir to. (There is, incidentally, an “ornamental” variety of Northern Brewer, with dark, purple-ish leaves and stems.)
Northern Brewer itself became the parent or ancestor of more than a dozen different hop varieties. It was crossed at Wye College with a Downy Mildew-resistant male hop descended from a plant supplied by a hop researcher in Germany called Zattler to produce Northdown, a popular hop for dry-hopping English ales introduced in the early 1970s and found in, for example, Holt’s bitter from Manchester (alongside Goldings itself) and Batham’s dark mild (again alongside Goldings).
Meanwhile an Eastwell Goldings female had been crossed with a male descended from a powdery mildew and verticillium wilt-resistant open-pollinated wild American seedling: their (male) offspring was then crossed at Wye with another female offspring of Northern Brewer and a downy mildew-resistant male hop to give Target, released in 1972, which thus has two different types of Goldings among its ancestors. Target is also very popular with English brewers: the very different Fuller’s London Pride and Theakston’s Best use the hop, for example, and it appears in Mann’s Brown Ale.
Dr Ray Neve at Wye developed a “cousin” of Target, Challenger, again released in 1972, some nine years after it was first grown, which has Northern Brewer as a grandparent and Goldings in its family tree: the “mummy” of Challenger was the offspring of another hop from Herr Zattler “open-pollinated” in the fields at Wye, the “daddy” another cross between Northern Brewer and an open-pollinated Zattler-supplied offspring. Despite its limited Goldings parentage, Challenger appears in many top English ales: it’s the only variety in the award-winning Coniston Bluebird Bitter, and it also appears in Black Sheep Best, Bateman’s XXXB and Greene King Abbot Ale.
Professor Salmon also crossed a Manitoban wild hop with the Bramling variety of Goldings in 1927 to produce Bramling Cross, a hop with a distinct blackcurrant aroma that is not as widely used as it probably ought to be: it turns up in the recipe of both Harvey’s Best from Sussex and Theakston’s Best from Yorkshire, and it would seem ideal for stouts and dark beers as well.
One hop Salmon did not have a hand in was Whitbread’s Golding Variety or WGV, which was developed in 1911 from Bates’s Brewer at the hop farm in Beltring, Kent later owned by the London brewer Whitbread, and which proved to be highly resistant to the verticillium wilt that devastated hop farms in Kent in the 1930s. WGV is used today in McMullen’s AK.
However, Salmon took WGV and crossed it at Wye in 1951 with the offspring of an open-pollinated wild American hop to create the Progress variety, another of the hops used in Theakston’s Best, Harvey’s Best and Black Sheep Best, and also Highgate Dark Mild.
WGV is the parent of First Gold, a “dwarf” hop (all things being relative, this means it only grows eight feet or so high) bred at Wye and introduced with a fanfare in the 1990s as a way of cutting growers’ costs, since they would not have to use as much wiring, or buy mechanised hop pickers with as great a reach, as with traditional varieties.
Varieties or descendants of Golding also appear in the ancestry of several American hop types. Chinook, popular with brewers of American IPAs, and developed as a “super-alpha” hop in Washington State in 1974, is a cross between Petham Goldings and Brewer’s Gold. Nugget, another high alpha acid hop, has one-sixteenth East Kent Goldings in its ancestry, along with five-eighths Brewer’s Gold, some Bavarian and some unknown. Perle, which became popular in Germany for its disease resistance, is a cross between Northern Brewer and a German male hop.
In all, there can’t be a drinker of English ales who hasn’t tried something flavoured with one or more of Mr Golding’s descendants. I’d love to see a Goldings beer festival, featuring only beers brewed with at least one hop variety descended from the original plants found in Malling when George III was still king.