When Hops Prevail – Brewing with Fresh Hops

Fresh Hop Season is upon us and we can once again embrace the range of novel beer treats that tickle our palates and satiate our hop cravings. After all this is a once a year opportunity for brewers and beer aficionados alike. The season is both a license for brewers to experiment and a ticket for beer drinkers to delight.

How does it all come about? Well, here in New Zealand the hops are generally harvested through March and into April depending on the seasonal growing conditions and the hop variety. The vast majority are sent directly to processing where the cones are cleaned, dried and pelletized. Some cones are not pelletized and are held back for packaging to be sold throughout the year as “whole cone hops”. These are not the same as fresh hops, the ones we are interested in for the purpose of fresh hop beers. The fresh hop cones are exactly that. They are not dried are processed in any way, in fact they are rushed from harvest to the breweries to be used as quickly as possible. This maintains the freshness of the hop oils that we the breweries and brewers are so keen to incorporate into our concoctions. The essential element that only fresh hop beers can deliver.

At the breweries we brewers incorporate a variety of techniques to coax the most out of these special little treats. We may steep them in the kettle or perhaps in a cooler whirlpool setting. Another technique is to use the mashtun to soak the hops in wort to release the oils prior to moving the hop oil rich wort back to the kettle and then through the heat exchanger to cool the wort and lock in the hop oil goodness. Still another technique is to use a good old fashioned hopback, a device that can be stuffed full of the fresh hop cones. The hot wort is then passed over them to extract the hop oils immediately before cool down in the heat exchanger. This technique provides the shortest time from oil extraction to cool down protecting the hop oil integrity strait into the fermenter. Finally, let’s not forget the well-practised technique of dry hopping in the fermenter. There are most probably many other ingenious ways to optimize fresh hop brewing. Brewers’ minds know no limits to inventing creative techniques. Now here’s the magic of it…several or all of these techniques can be applied to a single brew! BAM! Once concocted the beers must go through normal brewing processes, so in essence breweries will be pumping them out the door sometime around mid to late April.

At Laughing Bones Brewing this year we have been lucky enough to brew two separate fresh hop beers. The first was brewed earlier in the season with local “hops from the hood” harvested right up the road from our brewery. The hop variety was Cascade and we used it to brew our Fresh Hop Haze. It has been one of the fastest selling beers we have ever released. Our second fresh hop beer is still in the tank undergoing another week or two of lagering since it is an India Pale Lager (IPL). IPL’s are essentially the lager equivalent of an IPA and this brew is saddled on the back of Motueka and Taiheki hops to unveil new character from the hidden secrets of a fresh hop nudge.

Excited? We are and you should be given that fresh hop season is upon us. Keep your eyes and ears open for the special tasty opportunity that these new arrivals will bring. After all, it only happens once a year in each hemisphere. Go for it!

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