The bitter truth of rare hop freshness
Hop harvest comes but once a year. Generally we must hop our beers with dried hops, hop pellets or hop extracts. But there is one magical time of year where homebrewers and craft brewers get to brew with fresh hops, or wet hops. That time, my friends, is upon us.
From garden to brew pot
Welcome to late August. Between now and, oh, sometime in September, the Willamette Valley’s hop crop will be ready for harvest. Commercially speaking, the WV is home to many of the brewing industry’s aroma hops. Homebrewers with gardens small and big grow their own hops too, including me and Jodie.
Brewers around the state, from Bend’s Deschutes to Eugene’s Oakshire, are brewing once-a-year wet-hop beers. And this year, for the first time, I’m brewing one too.
What’s the difference?
When it comes to brewing with wet hops vs. dry hops, here are some key differences:
- Fresh hops are best used for aroma, not bitterness. According to The Homebrewer’s Garden, the full flavor and bitterness of hops develops during the drying process. Add your fresh hops near the end of the boil for aroma extraction. Many brewers don’t bother with fresh hops for dry hopping or Randall-izing, but YMMV. As for me, we’ll be using our fresh Sterlings for aroma, added probably during the last 10 minutes of boil
- Use more wet hops than dry hops. A good rule of thumb is to use 6 times more wet hops than dry hops (the main difference in volume and weight due to the moisture content of wet hops).
- Use wet hops as quickly as possible. Oregon breweries are known for loading up trucks in the fields, and hauling arse back to the brewery to get the brew going as quickly as possible. Do similar. Have your other brewing ingredients and equipment ready to go. You have a max of about 24 hours to brew with just-picked hops. If you can go from backyard to brewpot, harvest during the early stages of brewing, so the hops can go in as fresh as possible.
- Expect a different beer. Fresh hops are known for more grassy notes, and other typical characteristics of the hop variety will be different. Roll with it—that’s the whole fun of brewing a wet hop beer, after all.
On the vine, in the kettle
We planted our Sterling hops 3 years ago, and hops can take time to establish. Last year we got our first harvest… of about 12 cones. This year, well, all I know is there are so many cones on the vine that it broke our support teepee (going to have to redesign that next year).
But what to brew? Jodie and I are big fans of Vermont’s Magic Hat #9 Not Quite Pale Ale. So much so, I’ve brewed her a clone as a birthday beer. Come hop harvest, I’m going to brew a wet hop version of this same beer; #9 is known for its apricot notes, and I think the fresh hop aromas, dried hop bitterness and apricot hints will play nicely together.
Brewing with fresh hops is an adventure, and it’s fun to taste the various wet hop beers from breweries around the Northwest. If you aren’t brewing your own, Eugene breweries such as Oakshire and Ninkasi will be releasing fresh hop beers. And if you are brewing your own fresh hop beer, what are you planning?
More info about fresh hop/wet hop brewing
- The Homebrewer’s Garden(see page 142 for their Fresh Hop Ale recipe)
- Fresh Hop Brewing – Home Brew Forums
- Oakshire Brewing: Fresh Hop Beer? Wet Hop Beer? What is it?
- Brew Wizard – Forgot the Hops,Oven Mashing & Fresh Hops – Brew Your Own: The How-To Homebrew Beer Magazine
- Craft Brewers Get Fresh With Your Hops
Cheers, Kippis & Slainte!