Hogs Back Brewery welcomed 150 guests to the annual hop blessing at its brewery in Tongham, this year adding a shortened version of the ancient ‘beating the bounds’ tradition to the event.

The hop blessing took place on Ascension Day, the day on which crop blessings traditionally took place for centuries. Officiating was Revd Claire Holt, of St Paul’s Church in Tongham, who blessed the crops and, with Hogs Back Brewery managing director Rupert Thompson, led the ‘beating the bounds’ walk around the 8.5-acre hop garden.

Blessing of crops was historically observed in rural communities as a way of encouraging a plentiful harvest. Currently, the 6,000 hop plants in the Hogs Back garden are climbing up strings, spurred by May's rainfall and the following warm weather, and the brewery is hoping for an ample crop to harvest in late August. 

Beating the bounds similarly took place around Ascension Day, when a group of villagers led by the priest would walk round the parish boundaries, as a way of instilling this vital information in an era before formal record-keeping: your parish dictated how much tax you paid, and where you could be buried, for example.

The story goes that children on the walk would have their heads banged on the boundary stones to reinforce the knowledge – a part of the custom that Hogs Back has not revived!

Revd 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.”

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

Mr Thompson said: "We were delighted to welcome Claire back to bless our hops and to see so many local people for our first ‘beating the bounds'; guests enjoyed walking with friends, family and dogs round the hop garden, and working up a thirst for a pint of beer back at the brewery!

"Clearly there's no imperative today for most people to know their parish boundaries, but there is still a need to connect with the local community and a large part of what we're doing at Hogs Back is about creating those connections, which is shown by the many local residents who are volunteering to ‘twiddle' our hop plants up the strings now, or helping to bring in the harvest later in the year."

He added: "When we planted our first hop garden back in 2014, we wanted to help revive hop farming in Farnham, and to brew in a more sustainable way: the hops travel just yards from the hop garden to the brewery, resulting in a miniscule carbon footprint for this part of the brewing process.

"We are constantly looking for ways to become a more sustainable brewer, for example we have taken plastic out of much of our packaging. We are aiming to reach net carbon zero by 2030."

With the hops duly blessed, the Hogs Back team led by estate manager Matthew King will now be tending the bines carefully until harvest. Three varieties are being grown: Fuggles – used in the brewer's flagship Tongham TEA ale; Cascade – used in its Hogstar lager; and Farnham White Bine – a local variety that Hogs Back revived from near-extinction and used in Farnham White, a beer they have just brewed again to celebrate the Hop Blessing.

Hogs Back's Hop Harvest celebrations are taking place on September 16 and 17: a music-led, festival style event on the Saturday and a more family-friendly TEA Party on the Sunday. Tickets are available on the Hogs Back website.