Fresh hop season is a magical time for beer lovers, or anyone who has an appreciation for painstaking dedication to using ingredients at their absolute peak. While the use of fresh hops in beer has only been occurring in the U.S. since the mid-90’s, this Fall trend has built quite a following, and for very good reason.
Wet or fresh hops don’t go through the standard drying procedure. Instead, they are plucked from bines, packed up in breathable boxes and shipped immediately, arriving on the doorsteps of breweries, all their delicate and flavorful oils intact, within 24 hours of harvest. This fast turnaround means a couple things.
For starters, it’s yet another reason to appreciate our hometown of Portland, Oregon. The Pacific Northwest produces roughly 75% of the country's hops, and one-day farm to ferment cycles are easier to manage when the hop-rich Yakima Valley is just a stone’s throw away. That gives the area an advantage over logistically challenged parts of the country, resulting in a bounty of fresh hop beers in Oregon and Washington.
It also means that the beers that are created with fresh hops are unlike those made any other time of the year. Most hops are kiln-dried, packaged, and labeled with key information like alpha acid percentage. This lets brewers carefully calculate their hop additions and schedules so they can anticipate and more closely control the finished product. This information is absent with fresh hops, so the nuances of the hops that change from year to year are a mystery. Flying somewhat blind, precise measuring in the brewing process gets replaced with experimentation, and maybe even a bit of luck.
There’s an interesting interview with the owners of Baerlic Brewing about making their well-received fresh hop Helles. Their quest to balance the flavors of the beer meant also balancing the instinct and art of fresh hop brewing with a steady dose of OCD. By all accounts, the results were fantastic.
Yet, the evolution of hop flavor during production is only half the story. Once tapped, the beer continues to change and the fresh hop qualities diminish. Meaning, the hop flavor could be noticeably different from one day to the next. For this reason, fresh hop beers should be enjoyed within a couple months of brewing. But that’s not usually a problem, since these beers disappear from bottle shops and tap lists like candy corns at a day-after-Halloween sale.
Since brewers work so hard to deliver a supremely unique beer experience, it’s our duty to honor that effort and intent. So, grab your uKeg and fill up on freshies while you can!