In Spring 2013 Hook Norton contacted me to commission a soap for their Visitor Centre at the Brewery.
I knew little of the historical properties of Hops so I did some research and was surprised by its therapeutic uses – as an oil it can be used as a sedative, in Herbal Bitters it is added to improve appetite and calm nerves, as a poultice it is said to promote healing, ease neuralgias, reduce swellings and ‘gatherings’. A potent herb indeed!
Brewer’s yeast, a well known by-product of brewing beer and may be used for the common cold, other upper respiratory tract infections acne and taken as a nutritional supplement due to its rich supply of protein, B-complex vitamins and minerals, most notably chromium and selenium.
So armed with my research off I went on an adventure to find the Brewery nestled in the Cotswolds – I was blown away by the building itself, a true Victorian edifice of half timbered and brick joy. I had read about the Tower Brewery where the 25 horsepower steam engine was installed and is believed to be one of the last steam engines in the country still in use for its original purpose, but the surprise from going past the honey coloured stone cottages and undulating winding lanes to this huge timeless building took my breath away.
As I talked to the people who worked with the Brewery, I realised what they had in common; it was pride in the quality of their work, a belief in producing excellent beer in the time honoured way and enjoyment of the beer they produced. They held their brewing history lightly and were open to new ideas – it is not a company to live through their past history but to take new ideas and shape them into their history making.
Looking round the welcoming Visitor’s Centre I was able to hear the end of a Tour; a group of men and women ranging from late teens to later grandparents were listening rapt in fascination as the guide described each beer in loving detail, the tastes, textures, attaching a description to their perception of the beers and which food the beers compliments.
The Visitor Centre is the warming hub of the Brewery, selling all the beers they make along with an array of beer related products – all made for Hook Norton, from pies, cheeses, mustard’s, pickles and preserves – but what makes it special is the welcome – there are fresh flowers at the tables, the chairs are comfortable, the tablecloths are traditional pub checked and there are books to delve into if you choose to have a coffee and cake whilst you wait for the tours to begin.
My brief was to produce two soaps using ingredients from the production of Hook Norton beers; the rest was up to me. I was trusted with the heritage of the brewery.
I was given to all the hops that the brewery brewed from to experiment with. They had such amazing names – Bramling Cross, Fuggles, Goldings ,Challenger, First Gold and Styrian Goldings – such names that evoke timeless images of beers.
I kept the hops whole and macerated them in virgin olive oil for the summer on my sunny windowsill so the hops gently shared their scent and goodness. The virgin olive oil turned an amazing deep seaweed green and hummed with the scent of fresh hops.
I decanted the oil and hops and double strained it through muslin, then filter papers to bring out the pure hopinfused oil.
I used each of the hops to make a Hydrosols or Flower Waters as a basis for the soaps. They each had a completely different scent, from citrus top notes to earthy base notes that hung in your nose.
I experimented with the Wort (Crushed malt mixed with hot liquor converting starch to fermentable sugars; a process at Hook Norton Brewery that has not changed in 100 years) and subsumed myself into the wonderful process of scented alchemy!