Secrets of the National Trust at Scotney Castle

Secrets of the National Trust actor Louis Emerick discovers how hops are harvested at the National Trust’s only working hop farm at Scotney Castle.

Episode 8, which features our unique farm and very own volunteer estate guide Austin, airs on Wednesday 4 July at 9pm on Channel 5 and will be available to catch online if you miss it.

National Trust’s only working hop farm

Little Scotney farm is situated on the eastern side of the Scotney estate and concentrates on the rearing of sheep, a herd of Sussex cattle and the cultivation of hops. 

Oasts at Little Scotney farm
The Oasts used for drying hops
Oasts at Little Scotney farm

What are hops?

Hops are flowers which are added to beer during brewing. They give the beer its bitter taste and smell and are also used for the preservation of beer. 

They grow on tall stems known as bines and can grow to over 5 meters tall. The flowers appear in July and then mature until around September. Hop plants themselves can last for up to 20 years and grow fresh stems each spring. 

Hops started to be used widely in British brewing in about 1520 when techniques were brought in to Kent. It was decided to call the areas where hops are grown gardens, to avoid a tax imposed on farming land.

Processing hops 

In the past hops were handpicked from the bines and collected in baskets. This required a very large workforce and an annual migration of hop pickers came from London and the surrounding areas at harvest times. 

Now the bines are cut at the top and then brought back to the stripping shed, situated next to the oasts, where the hops are separated from the leaves, stem and string. 

They are stored in re-used hessian sacks known as 'pokes'. They are then emptied in to the conical drying tower within the oast. It takes 8 hours to reduce the moisture content from 80% to 10%.

Once dry they are compressed into a new large sack called a 'pocket'. Each filled pocket weighs approximately 85 kilograms and makes its way to Westerham Brewery to be used in ale and bitter. 

The hop gardens at Scotney Castle
Hop gardens at Little Scotney farm
The hop gardens at Scotney Castle

Get involved

During September we run a guided walks program where one of our estate guides will take you to visit the farm and allow you an opportunity to see inside the Oast, stripping shed and walk amongst the growing hops in the gardens. We will even finish it off with a taster of ale made with Scotney hops. Each tour takes approximately 1.5 hours and does including walking to the farm and back. The Oast does include going up and down stairs. Tours run from 1 to 30 September 2018, 11:30am and 2pm and costs £3 each.

Visiting over summer?

By downloading our estate map (PDF / 0.794921875MB) download you can lead your very own walk to see our hop pickers huts and hop gardens. Ask a member of the team for more information.