How’s Your Hop Game?
How is it?
Your hop game, that is. Is it 100 IBU strong or barely noticeable above the malt?
Look, not to get too frantic fresh out the gate but…it’s wet-hop season, people! September and October is when the cones come of age, so you best be ready to receive the many beers brought to market with the “Fresh” or “Wet” hopped prefix added to their name. So what does it mean, this wet-hopping process I’m alluding to? Well, I’m glad you asked-
Oh, you didn’t ask? You know all this already? Well suck it, Cicerone! This primer is for the lads and ladies that love beer but maybe don’t know all there is to know about what goes into it. And I include myself in this category, by the way. I ain’t no all-seeing, all-knowing Godhead, dispensing wisdom from on high; I’m just a guy. A beer guy, to be sure, but I digress. So let’s put our clothes back on and get into it.
How to make beer in a few ill-informed sentences:
Boil some grains (mostly malted barley but wheat and rye can play too) in water then add some hops and boil some more. Stop boiling, cool the liquid (wort) down then pitch in some yeast (magical microbes that eat sugar and shit booze) and let the little devils work their fermentational magic.
Why add hops?
Hops wear many hats in the costume ball that is brewing. Their primary function is to provide a bitter Ying to the sugary Yang of the grain bill. Grains contain sugars. When you add hops to the wort they impart bitter alpha acids to the bath and this balances out the sweetness. They also throw in an anti-bacterial component that staves off certain undesirables in the microbial mix but I won’t go into that as I simply don’t have the knowledge base to elucidate. Who am I kidding? I barely have the brains to BS about it! Please continue with rapt attention as though you were learning from a master…
If you add hops during fermentation (The Ballad of the Beastly Yeastly) you get little to none of the bittering alpha acids but much and many of the hops other attribute, their kick-ass smell! Adding the hops at this stage is referred to as dry-hopping.
When you pour a glass of craft and bring the vessel to your nose and lips, all those tropical, citric, floral, earthy notes you’re picking up are from dry-hopping during the fermentation process. These flavours, these smells, these sensory succubi are at the heart of what makes good beer great. I should qualify that with an in my opinion, but you know what? If you wanna disagree and argue that taste trumps smell you can fire up your own website and write all the words you want to that affect. In fact, proposition TEDtalks and get them on board with your debate. Hell, scream your shit from the rooftop for all I care! All I know is great smelling beer’s put wood in my shorts on many occasions. I’m talkin’ Beer-Boners, people!
Beer boners… Huh.
Just one sec… Yup, apparently it’s already a thing. I googled “beer boner” and came up with the Urban Dictionary definition. Thought I might’ve turned a phrase there, only to find that boners from beers are universal and not restricted to the aromatic awesomeness of dry-hopping. Let’s continue on and try to ignore my massive beerection.
One sec… Dammit that one’s in there too! Stupid Urban Dictionary and your stupid sayings. By the way, that level of excitement isn’t limited to the male of the species, I just don’t know what the female equivalent is.
One sec…Lady boner? I guess so. If you google “lady boner images” a beautiful cartoon of one of the fairer sex surfaces with a radiant rainbow heart emanating from her… uh… nether regions.
Christ on a crumpet, it’s almost as if I’ve forgotten the “Delete” button exists! Okay, Beer Guy, get back on track and finish up the hop talk. Let me just say that if you’re coming to this post for purely educational purposes, I apologize profusely.
Okay, so you got dry-hopping, right? So brewers are brewing all year long and always always always need hops. And as they’re a gift grown from the earth, hops need to be stored and stabilized for year-round utilization. Generally speaking, once the hop cones are harvested, they’re kiln-dried to prevent decomposition then pelletized or vacuum-sealed to be sold to breweries for use throughout the year. But what if you were to put those fresh, funky cones in your brew just as soon as they were removed from the vine? I’m talking literally within twenty-four hours, would that be cool? Yes, yes it would. Kiln-drying is necessary for the overall packaging process but if you use freshly picked hops in your brew this maximizes the amount of lupulin that transfers from the hop into the beer.
Lupulin is the active ingredient in hops, and this essential oil oozes from glands at their heart, imparting flavours and smells that drive beer imbibers crazy! So if you dry-hop beer with freshly picked (within 24 hours) hops, what you are now doing is called wet-hopping. Or fresh-hopping. Or dry-wet-fresh-hopping. The nomenclature can bet a bit cluttered, so let’s just say…
Welcome to the wonderfully chaotic world of wet-hopping!
I say “Chaotic” because…it just must be! Hop harvesting is the farmer’s busiest time of year. Add to the mix various breweries chomping at the bit to grab bags of fresh bounty and you’re bound to have a little calamity. But chaos is exciting and so is the end result so the madness is justified. And that’s only on the production side of things.
Now let’s take a long, hard look at you and me: the consumer. EVERY brewery is putting out a fresh-hopped beer of one style or another and it’s up to US to try them all. It’s a daunting, some might say impossible task, but nobody said the craft beer lifestyle would be easy.
Powell, you magnificent bastard! Well played.
Category 12 punted outta the park with this one.
As you can see from my last two pictures, so excited was I to sample these beauties that I had to drink deeply even before the camera came out. One might say I’m impatient but dammit, Carl! I’ve been waiting all year!
These three examples of fresh-hopped beer are just begging to be busted open! You’ve got a sour from Strathcona and an Ale from Deep Cove and sitting centre stage is Driftwood Brewery’s Sartori Harvest IPA. All three of these breweries make amazing beers, but the Sartori has a mythos and reverence attached to it that I’m keen to sample for myself.
Any bottle shop worth their salt will have some fresh-hopped beer for you to buy and try and you should go do that almost immediately. There is, of course, a more direct method of mainlining fresh hops and that’s going to your local brewery. I’m doing the work on my end, hitting up A-Frame and taking down their super refreshing fresh-hopped pilsner, then beating down Backcountry’s door to get my hands on their Fresh Hop of Bel Air IPA. Tomorrow I’m heading up to Whistler to Coast Mountain to fill a growler (or two) full of the Sea to Sky Collaboration Fresh-Hopped Hazy IPA. That last one was a mouthful and I’ll say no more on the subject due to the fact I’m probably gonna write a BFF about it next week.
In closing, if you like beer you should seek out a fresh-hopped one to see what all the fuss is about. And listen, if you try one or three and come to the conclusion that they’re not your batch of brew, that’s okay too. You don’t have to hop on the Fresh-Hop train, there are many other engines in the station that get you to your destination. The thing is, this train only comes once a year and it’s departing soon.
Happy Train-Hopping, Hobos!