It’s “wet hops” time, a craft beer version of pumpkin-spice season at the coffee shop, in that IPA-lovers look forward to it every year, and breweries start posting selfies at hop farms to stoke the fires of our beer-loving desires.
Most beer is produced using dried hops. The hop cones are picked from the vine, left to air dry, and then dried again in a kiln before being shaped into a small hop pellet.
This process helps create consistency in flavor, decreases the space required to store, and increases the amount of time a hop can be preserved–sometimes for several years–before being used.
Many of the aromas and oils that create bitterness and flavor are frozen in place, but not all. The most delicate and sometimes most distinct oils are lost. The oversized sacks of dried hops get shipped all over the world and stored in breweries until they are ready to be used in a brew.
Dried hops are also easier to share in smaller batches for a brewery in the research phase of their beer recipe process.
Wet-hop beers (also known as fresh hop beers) are beers produced using only freshly picked hops that are still wet and sticky with hop oils from the lupulin glands. The fresh hops will degrade quickly. Think spinach bought from the farmers market, rinsed, and left on a sunlit countertop.
This quick timeline demands that the best fresh hop beers are brewed with 24 hours of picking, and because they haven’t been concentrated into a pellet, a lot of them are needed.
This creates a logistical nightmare. How do you get a bulk batch of freshly picked hop cones from the farm to a brewery and into the brew in just 24 hours? Why go through the headache?
In short, it takes a lot of collaboration between a brewery and a hops farm. Brewers meet with farmers to see, touch, and smell hops in various stages of growth before striking a deal to purchase.
The day and time of picking are planned, and a shipping method is chosen. If the brewery is close enough to the hop farm they may send a team to pick up and transport hops to the brew team who have timed their entire brewing schedule to the arrival of the hops.
Why do it? Because those flavorful oils and aromatics that are lost during the drying process are available for this one time only at the end of the growing season. This is the most accurate representation of the hops’ flavor profile available for us to drink, and it will showcase the nuance of flavors available that are lost during the drying process. They are usually spectacular.
Some local brands have been creating wet hop beers for the long haul. Mother Earth Brewing Company annually releases a wet hop beer. Having their second location in Nampa, ID puts them right near America’s hop farming center in the Pacific North West.
This year, they used Sabro hops to create Wet Hop Dreams IPA, which they describe as “…imparting distinct tangerine, coconut, tropical fruit, and stone fruit aromas, with hints of cedar, mint, and cream…”
“We’ve been experimenting with this varietal a bit in our Project X Series and were really impressed with the results. Some hops can be tricky to work with on their own but we felt that Sabro had a lot of unique flavor and aroma qualities that needed to be explored without the influence of other hops. Of course, when you have the opportunity to get them fresh, you can really capture the true essence of the hop.” – Chris Baker, Director of Brewing Operations – Mother Earth
Like pumpkin spice season, wet hops season comes on like a hurricane and disappears in a blink. Don’t miss it.
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