Hogs Back Brewery is carrying out the traditional, and essential, task of ‘twiddling’ the newly-emerging hop plants in its hop garden, while complying with social distancing rules.

Hop twiddling involves winding the hop plants round the strings that are pegged into the ground, and up the poles. It is a vital part of hop maintenance which is both time-sensitive and labour-intensive, so extra pairs of hands have been recruited from the brewer’s Tongham TEA Club of loyal local drinkers.

Volunteer hop twiddlers are being strictly limited in number – just four per session – and they are each given a section of the garden to work in, far apart from others. Instruction is given from a social distance by hop garden manager Matthew King and two brewery tour guides, Bruce Cornford and Denise Gauntlet. Each volunteer completes a four-hour session and takes away a container of brewery-fresh TEA as a reward for their labours.

Hogs Back Brewery owner Rupert Thompson said: “Thankfully, our hops have not gone into lockdown, in fact they have put on a growth spurt during the recent warm weather. Hop twiddling helps the new plants to grow upwards to create a healthy crop for us to harvest later in the year and use in brewing our beers.

“Implementing social distancing for seven people in an 8.5-acre hop field hasn’t proved too difficult, and we know our volunteer twiddlers have enjoyed the opportunity to help maintain this year’s hops, while enjoying fresh air and physical exercise in our sunny hop garden.

“We face bigger challenges with some of the other events in our hop garden, including our Hop Blessing, which attracted 200 people last May, and our Hop Harvest Party, enjoyed by 2,000 guests last September. Although there’s no real substitute for raising a glass of TEA in the company of friends, we’re looking at the potential for some virtual events, so that the local community can stay involved in the hop garden through lockdown.”

Volunteer hop twiddler Nigel Blake, from Send, said: “I really enjoyed my session in the Hogs Back hop garden. It was great to be out in the sunshine, and to be doing something useful to help a local business.”

Hogs Back has been quick to adapt to the Covid-19 lockdown. The brewer opened a Drive Through service at the brewery the day after social distancing measures were announced, allowing customers to buy beer without leaving their car. They are also offering a home delivery service on brewery-fresh draught beer, as well as bottles and cans.

Pictured: Hogs Back Brewery hop garden manager Matthew King (front), with volunteers carrying out essential hop ‘twiddling’ in the brewery’s hop garden