It’s all over the Twitterverse – videos of hops being scooped up by the bulldozer-load, and excited brewers fondling sticky fresh hop cones, diving in like Scrooge McDuck.
The hop harvest is underway and brewers are rushing to get the freshest hops of the vintage in a race to make the freshest beers you will ever taste.
For the rest of the year brewers use dried hops – they more stable, and brewers know what to expect from the finished beer. But fresh-hopped beers take the hops straight from the hop farm to the kettle. The beer gets the most volatile hop compounds that are otherwise lost in the drying process. It also mean brewers are flying blind and the outcome can be unpredictable.
This is the tenth anniversary of fresh hop brewing in New Zealand. Mac’s brewer Colin Paige introduced the process here in 2006 with the first Mac’s Brewjolais. Colin’s idea was to replicate the freshness and excitement of Beaujolais Nouveau, the first wine released after each year’s harvest.
Brewjolais had the fresh hop scene to itself for several years, and after Colin left Mac’s it was quietly dropped from the range. But by then independent brewers had adopted the technique. While Brewjolais were sessionable pale ales, the next wave of fresh hop brews were hoppier variations on brewers’ hoppiest IPA – 8 Wired’s Fresh Hopwired is a good example.
New Zealand Hops hop wrangler George Tunstall estimates five tonnes of fresh hops will be distributed to brewers this year. “We have been supplying Cascade, Motueka and Nelson Sauvin, along with the growers who have been supplying other varieties. This year over 40 breweries are taking part.
“It’s hard to estimate the full scale of the programme at this point in the season since the supply of green hops is ongoing in a few varieties that are managed directly by the growers. It is quite a bit larger this year following on from our success last season so quite a few breweries are throwing in their hats and accepting the challenge.”
New Zealand Hops has sent fresh hops directly to Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland, and the fresh hop beers will be ready in four to six weeks. Keep an eye out and taste them as soon as you see ‘em – very little gets bottled and they are made in small batches.
Fresh hop beers will be popping up all over the country, but the best place to find them will be at Wellington’s Hopstock festival running from 13 to 18 April.
Twenty-one bars are stocking fresh hopped beers made by brewers from Wellington, Christchurch, Nelson, Marlborough, Waikato and Auckland. You can navigate your way around the venues or join an official tour organised with the Craft Beer College.
Last year saw a wide variety, including lagers, reds, a schwarzbier, one sour and a “distressed fresh hop, brett barrel fermented, smokey IPA”. This year’s entries also cover a range of styles. But the best thing about working with volatile, untested fresh hops is that no one really knows what it will taste like until they try it.