Brews News: Tavistock’s Heritage hops brings past to life

By Staff

If you like your beer with a backstory, it starts southeast of Stratford.

Article content

If you like your beer with a backstory, it starts southeast of Stratford.

Not with a brewery, but a hop yard, one of the most prominent in Ontario craft beer circles.

Article content

The Tavistock Hop Co. has been growing varietals such as Cascade, Centennial and Chinook since 2014, but it’s the mysterious Heritage used by breweries from Sleeman’s to Something in the Water that’s an intriguing century-old family tale.

Advertisement 2

Article content

It starts with a meet-up with a local historian in Preston, now part of Cambridge, and a search of the area that used to be the Preston hop yard. They found hop plants growing wild near the Speed River where the hop yard once stood.

“The yards were ripped out around 1906 and I actually grew up on the lands where the hop yards once stood,” said Kyle Wynette, owner of The Tavistock Hop Co.. “We were able to find some of the remaining female plants at the edge of the housing that now occupies the area. We had them propagated and now have one acre committed to this varietal.”

The mystery is that no one knows for sure exactly what varietal it is. Wynette said some suspect it is Canadian Red Vine because of the vine colour.

The Preston hop yard grew and sold hops in the 19th century to local brewers such as Kuntz in Waterloo and those further afield in New Brunswick, according to Mary Ellen Stories, a Cambridge neighbourhood blog.

Today, Wynette said most brewers use Heritage in pale ales, kolsch, lagers and pilsners, styles low in bitterness.

“Its flavour-aroma profile is unique to the varietal,” Wynette told me in an email. “I would describe it as earthy and spicy. When John Sleeman visited a few years back, he took interest in its origins as it was likely his great-grandfather would have used these hops when they opened their first brewery. His brewing team came up with a recipe and paid tribute to it this past year with the release of their Century Pale Ale.”

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

“It is without a doubt the coolest hop backstory in the business,” said Rick Tanton of Something in the Water Brewing of Toronto and Kingston. “To us, it feels like we’re bringing a flavour to the province that hasn’t existed since the 1800s. I’m not sure there’s a hopyard in the world that can tell a similar story to Kyle’s.”

Recommended from Editorial

Something in the Water uses Heritage in Farm to Glass Pilsner, now available at the LCBO after starting as a taproom exclusive at the brewery’s Liberty Village location in Toronto.

The mystery surrounding Heritage made it a bit of a leap as Something in the Water was developing the Czech-inspired recipe for Farm to Glass. Czech pilsners usually use Saaz hops.

“We got some samples and did a hop rub, but even then, we remained a bit nervous about its impact in the final beer,” said Rick Tanton, one of the three co-founders of Something in the Water. Ultimately we just decided to go for it, and the result was just what we wanted.”

Advertisement 4

Article content

Heritage hops  also are used by smaller breweries such as Turkey Shoot in the Lake Simcoe community of Keswick for its Lake Simcoe Lagered Ale and by Rural Roots of Elmira for its seasonal Plotting and Planning IPA. The new Madmash Brewery in Tavistock has a beer with Heritage hops.

Growing eight different varietals, The Tavistock Hop Co. is a key supplier to craft breweries creating all-Ontario beers.

“We love Tavistock hops, and use them whenever we can,” Tanton said. “We won a silver medal with them at the OnHops Brewoff for our Kicking Horse West Coast IPA, we used their hop hash in our The Oise Summer Ale, their hops for thiols in our Spray Bow Thiol-enhanced DIPA, and we used their fresh hops less than 24 hours from when they were plucked in our Grand River Oktoberfestbier. And we are not done working with them by any means.”

Cheers to 10 years of growing great hops.


In time for St. Patrick’s Day, Railway City in St. Thomas has the return of Fehr Game, an Irish red ale with bourbon named in honour of head brewer Amanda Fehr. The malty beer with a complex taste has aromas of vanilla and bourbon.

Advertisement 5

Article content

Fehr Game
Fehr Game, an Irish red beer with bourbon, has returned to Railway City in St. Thomas in time for St. Patrick’s Day. (RAILWAY CITY photo)

Back for a spring spin is Sparton Press Dry Hopped Pilsner by Forked River. London’s oldest operating craft brewery partnered with Speed City Records to pay homage to a defunct local company that pressed vinyl LPs for the likes of Merle Haggard and Paul Anka. The pilsner is a patio-strength 4.7 per cent alcohol made clean and crispy with Cascade, Amarillo and Mosaic hops.

Sparton Press
Sparton Press, a dry-hopped pilsner, is back for another spin at Forked River in London. A collaboration between the brewery and Spin City Records, the beer’s name is a homage to a late, great local record company. (FORKED RIVER photo)

Spring brings a new IPA and lager downtown at Beerlab London. Wrapped Up IPA loads up on tropical flavours thanks to Ekuanot Cryo and Mosaic hops. Available in cans to go, Wrapped Up is unfined and unfiltered to maximize its flavours of berry, tangerine and papaya. Fine Print is a single decoction lager brewed with Saaz and Saaz Shine hops.

Beerlab London
Two new small-batch beers are ready at Beerlab London. Wrapped Up is an IPA with tropical flavours from Ekuanot Cryo and Mosaic hops. Fine Print is a single decoction lager. (BEERLAB LONDON photo)

At Anderson Craft Ales in London, the spring drop is an English pale ale, mostly malty but with a mild bitterness from its English hops.

Wayne Newton is a freelance journalist based in London.

[email protected]

Article content

Share This Article
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *