Here is a story of globalisation: if you have ever travelled through the countryside of Kent, the area of England nearest to here, a rather distinctive view may have caught your eye several times - rows of plants hanging from 6-metre high poles, next to which are buildings with curious conical roofs lying at a jauntily off-centre angle. However, just how many of these characteristic scenes you saw will depend on how long ago your journey took place. For there are fewer and fewer of them left.
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Here is a story of globalisation: if you have ever travelled through the countryside of Kent, the area of England nearest to here, a rather distinctive view may have caught your eye several times - rows of plants hanging from 6-metre high poles, next to which are buildings with curious conical roofs lying at a jauntily off-centre angle. However, just how many of these characteristic scenes you saw will depend on how long ago your journey took place. For there are fewer and fewer of them left. The plants are hops and the buildings are the oast houses traditionally used to dry them. I say 'traditionally, because these days it is more than likely that the oast house you see has been converted into a bijou residence for a rich townie. The hops are the ingredient which gives British beer its distinctive taste and Kent is the centre of British hop-growing. A century ago, there were hundreds of hop farms in the area and picking the hops at harvest time used to provide a working holiday in the country for tens of thousands of poor families from the east End of London - so many, in fact, that railway branch lines were built solely for the purpose of transporting them there. But the British hop industry has fallen upon hard times. The land area devoted to hops and the numbers of people needed to bring in the harvest have both shrunk to a tiny fraction of what they once were. One reason for the decline is the invention of hop varieties which are three times stronger than traditional ones, so that only a third of the previous quantity is needed. Another is competition from farms in Eastern Europe and China, so that the price of hops has been falling continuously for the last 30 years. But perhaps the most important reason is changed tastes in drinking, with respect to both type of beer and amount. As regards the former, lager has become increasingly popular in Britain, and this kind of beer requires a much lower hop component in the brewing process. The latter is a matter of changed employment patterns - only a very few men still do hard manual labour all day, and so far fewer of them want to knock back eight pints of bitter on their way home from work. But there is still hope. Wye College in Kent, which is at the forefront of hop research, has pioneered new dwarf breeds of hop which are cheaper to harvest and require fewer chemicals. In addition, small British brewers have had some success with the marketing of traditional, strongly hop-flavoured beers. At the very least, it seems possible that a niche market will remain for the hop-growers of Kent. jauntily: zwierig. lager: pils. oast house: eest, inrichting voor het drogen van hop. pole: stok. with respect to: wat betreft. to fall on hard times: moeilijke tijden beleven.