The hops have been harvested, put straight into the chiller and rushed to the brewery. Now it’s time to taste the results.
Fresh hop beer season only happens once a year. For the rest of the year brewers use dried hops or hop pellets – the safe, predictable, reliable option.
Fresh hops are the brewers’ bit of rough. A bit unpredictable, pungent, mysterious.
That’s why brewing with them is a bit of a gamble. Their alpha acid content is unknown, so determining the right amount to use is a bit of a guess. And they are unstable, constantly changing and quickly going off.
When Mac’s Brewjolais hit the taps ten years ago, no one really knew what to expect. No one had brewed a fresh hop beer in New Zealand before, so it was a learning experience for brewers and drinkers alike. Now brewers know more about handling fresh hops, and several make the same fresh hop beer each year. And perhaps that’s making fresh hop beers more predictable.
I hit the bars last night courtesy of Hopstock, trying nine fresh hop beers at different venues around Wellington. My initial impression – and I’ve tried but a fraction of the Hopstock range – is that this year brewers have been conservative. All but one of the beers I’ve tried so far have been up-front hoppy, but I didn’t recognise distinctly fresh hop characteristics that set these beers aside from what’s available year round.
The exception was Bayland’s Waifly III. It’s big, fresh, distinct. This is my favourite (so far!) and a favourite with several of the brewers on last night’s junket.
Wellington’s Hopstock started yesterday. This year is the biggest yet – 23 beers and a cider; 21 breweries; 21 venues. Most of the venues are within walking distance of the CBD, and organised tours and bus trips still have vacancies if you’re quick. It officially ends next Monday, but fresh hop beers only remain on tap until they’re gone.
Hopstock organiser Pete Moran says the increased interest from brewers and beer fans means this year’s event is spread out over a longer period than before. “We want people to enjoy it and take their time.”
Auckland Fresh Hop 2016 starts this Saturday at high noon. Four venues are participating – Brothers Beer, Brewers Co-operative and Vultures Lane in the CBD, and Lumsden Freehouse in Newmarket. Beertique is providing a free bus linking the venues. There will be 26 different fresh hop beers pouring – that’s why there’s a bus.
Christchurch gets into the act next week, with Freshtopia at Volstead from Wednesday 20th April. It features 13 freshies and lasts as long as the beers do.
Now get exploring!