The Hunt for Hops By: Ben Bakelaar

Apparently, I brew with a lot of East Kent Goldings (EKG). Only recently did this come to my attention as I organized a flight of every homebrew I still had bottled for one of my friends, and reviewed my recipes. Stouts, EKG. Saisons, EKG. Porters, EKG. I had a few Fuggles thrown in there, but it seems EKG is my hop of choice. At the same time, I also recently had trouble finding EKG hops. Love2Brew of course sells “Kent Goldings” hops, and actually with the latest shipment from HopUnion, if you look on the label they are labeled “UK Kent Goldings”. Was this the same hop as Kent Goldings? I started poking around on all the major sites.

With a search for “Golding”, one homebrew site returns “UK Whitbread Goldings”, “UK Kent Goldings”, “US Goldings”, “East Kent Goldings” (leaf only), and “Styrian Goldings”. Wow, so there are 5 varieties? How different are they? Another site returns “Kent Goldings (UK)” and “Styrian Goldings”. A third returns “US Goldings”, “Kent Goldings”, and “Styrian Goldings”. A final site only returns “Kent Goldings”.

So where exactly did I get the idea to use East Kent Goldings in most of my brews? Well, as it turns out, this is one popular hop in the brewing world. Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewingmakes frequent reference to it. Samuel Adams released a Latitude 48 Deconstructed IPA that was single hopped with East Kent Goldings, and their website lists it as an ingredient in many of their flagship beers.  And Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski, the definitive guide to saisons and biere de gardes, almost exclusively mentions East Kent Goldings. So why is it that there are so many varieties, and seemingly such a limited supply of East Kent Goldings, mainly in leaf not pellet form?

Wikipediaoffers a few clues.

Goldings

This is a group of traditional and very popular English aroma hops grown prior to 1790. Widely cultivated also in the U.S.A. They are called East Kent Goldings if grown in East Kent, Kent Goldings if grown in mid-Kent, and Goldings if grown elsewhere in the U.K. There are many different named cultivars such as Amon's Early Bird, Cobbs, Bramling,Canterbury, Petham Rodmersham and in Worcestershire - Mathon. They tend to have a smooth, sweet flavor. Most types of Goldings will work in place of another (Whitbread Golding Variety for East Kent Goldings, e.g.). Note that Styrian Goldings are not of this family, they rather are identical to Fuggles.”

So, these hops have some terroir! Generally speaking, whatever proceeds “Goldings” is where it is grown. Styrian Goldings is an exception, being identical to Fuggles hops. So can Fuggles be substituted for Goldings? It all depends on your perspective. If you are a purist, absolutely not. If you tend to think of Europe as one big glob, then absolutely, it’s a European noble hop, and if you’ve had one noble hop, you’ve had them all. They are generally muted and low-alpha anyway. Me, I’m somewhere in the middle, but tending towards the anal-retentive purist. And I still have to wonder, why is it that “East Kent Goldings” specifically gets mentioned in so many places, as opposed to the other varieties.

If you Google around, you will find one word frequently associated with East Kent Goldings: spicy. And I think that is the key. I’d have to do a split-batch comparison to confirm, but my guess is that the terroir of East Kent has something a little bit special about it, compared to plain old mid-Kent, Whitbread, and other places in the UK. So the real question is, does that spiciness matter to you? And, if so, how hard are you going to work to find those EKG’s? I plan to continue this article with a follow-up where I call up some hop producers and sellers to try to get to the bottom of the variety, the terroir, the supply, the form (leaf vs. pellet), and the history of this elusive hop.