It's the most wonderful time of the year for hop-heads! It's hop harvest time, and to beer geeks that can mean only one thing: fresh-hopped beers.
Fresh-hopping, also referred to as wet-hopping, is the process of using fresh hops to bitter the beer. Hops are ready for harvest at the end of August or the beginning of September in this part of the world. Growers know they are ready when the cone is plump and the lupulin is at a maximum. If you look at a hop flower, the lupulin is the yellow stuff between the green bits. This is where the oils come from that impart the bitterness and flavour to beer. Despite looking hardy, hops are actually quite delicate. They don't survive long after being cut. To preserve the oils and resins they need to be dried right away.. Most of the hops harvested are dried right after picking and then frozen, or ground into pellets. These are then sold to brewers and used all year long. Fresh hops follow a different process. They are harvested and then immediately scooped up by brewers and put into a brew within hours of being picked. Hence the namesfresh-hop.
You can only get fresh-hopped beers at harvest time, so they're rare commodities. You also get a slightly different hop flavour in a fresh-hopped beer. A little green or herbal perhaps. The base notes are the same, floral, bitter, tangy, but there's less intensity - instead they are delicate, bright and vibrant. Its hard to describe really, so you should definitely try a fresh-hopped beer this season! Keep in mind, these are beers that will not cellar, the oils break down over time and the flavour changes. You have to drink a fresh-hopped beer right away. And that is a large part of the hype around fresh-hopped beers. They represent a moment in time in your local terroir.
Let's look at how Driftwood brews its Sartori Harvest IPA - probably the most well-known fresh-hopped beer in BC. It is comparable to a pilgrimage to make this beer. The brewers travel from Victoria to the Sartori Cedar Ranch in Chilliwack, load their truck with fresh hops and then drive back to Victoria the same day. The batch gets brewed first thing the next morning, with additions of fresh Centennial hops at multiple points during the brewing process to highlight the bittering and the flavouring elements of the hops, and then the final product goes out to stores a few weeks later. That's when the fun for the consumer starts - this is a very sought after beer, so if you don't get your hands on some the day it is released, you may be out of luck to try it at all. People use social media to announce where they got theirs - and to beg others to share the wealth.
The good news is that Driftwood Brewing finally has enough tank space to brew a double batch of the Sartori this year - which should make it a little easier to come by than past years. But if you get a bottle, make sure to drink it right away. No storing a fresh-hopped beer, not even for a month! It really does need to be drunk right away. Driftwood Sartori Harvest IPA will be in stores next Monday - that's September 23rd.
For this list of fresh-hopped beers in BC I need to give a shout-out to Joe Wiebe who wrote an article for the current edition of the BC Craft Beer News all about fresh-hopping and which beers to be on the look-out for.
Vern Lambourne of Granville Island Brewing is making a fresh-hopped ESB (extra special bitter). This year's concoction will be called Mad Dash, and will also use hops from the Sartori ranch.
Tin Whistle Brewing in Penticton will have a fresh-hopped Harvest Honey Pale Ale made from fresh hops from a farm in Grand Forks and honey from Cawston. This will weigh in at around 30 ibus and use mostly Cascade hops.
Salt Spring Island Ales has a hop farm located quite close to the brewery, which will make it quite easy for them to brew a fresh-hop version of one of their regular styles. From bine to boil is so much easier when the hops are local.
Hoyne Brewing plans to crowd-source hops from backyard growers in the Victoria area for its fresh-hopped brew.
Lighthouse Brewing is brewing its first fresh-hopped batch this year. Their brewer, Dean McLeod says it is an American brown ale with Chinook and Zeus hops from a farm in Cedar on Vancouver Island. The brewery shut down for a day, the staff all travelled to Cedar to pick the hops.
Townsite Brewing will have their Time Warp Pale Ale with hops from Powell River and Texada Island.
Parallel 49 is brewing a Bohemian Pilsner with Sartori hops.
I suggest you follow social media and the CAMRA website for announcements of when these beers have hit store shelves, and also for cask nights featuring fresh-hopped beers.