Kent is home to the beer hops where for almost 500 years the county was the centre of the hop industry. Hops are the female flowers of the hop plant, which since the Middle Ages have been brewed into beer, originally a safe alternative to untreated water. Most villages had a brewery for which you needed a barley field and a hop garden nearby. Hops were first grown in Kent in the 1520s near Canterbury where they were introduced by Dutch farmers. The oast houses for which Kent has become famous originate from the Dutch phrase eest huis, which means “drying house”. The hops would be taken to the oast house to dry, cool and pack the hops ready to be sold to the brewery. Working a little like a tumble dryer, the oast house featured a fire beneath the roundel to heat the hops. The characteristic white cowl, shaped like a cylinder, was rotated like a wind vane, allowing air to circulate. Harvest time saw an influx of labourers, with tens of thousands of Londoners taking a break from the city with a “working holiday” in the hop fields for between four and six weeks in September. Machines eventually replaced hop pickers and lager – which requires fewer hops - replaced beer in popularity by the end of the twentieth century. However, recent years have seen a renaissance of micro breweries, particularly in the Kent, giving rise in 2014 to the inaugural Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight at the Canterbury Food & Drink Festival, which brought together around 30 local brewers. Producing unique ales with a truly local flavour, these beers are sold at many of the delis and farm shops in Kent and are ideal for a party or barbecue.
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