Last of the fresh hoppy ale

02:10, May 23 2014

The bines have been harvested, the beer has been made, the kegs are running dry and bottles are vanishing from the shelves.

Yes, the mad flurry that is the fresh-hopped beer season is coming to a close.

And while I've written before about how hop heads need to remember how important malt is, I genuinely do like fresh-hopped beers. 

Their resinous texture and unique bitterness - slowly building rather than an instant firebombing of your tastebuds like some highly-hopped beers - always make them interesting.

With Palmerston North still being a bit of a tap beer wasteland - New Zealand draught leering at you from almost every bartop - with only Tuatara's Conehead readily available by the pint.

But I have managed to try four that were bottled - Conehead, Renassiance Grandmaster, and the Townshend/Liberty Brewing collaborations Last of the Summer Ale and Oldham's Tap.


While the first two are classic hoppy pale ales, the two collaborations are an English special bitter and a pilsner.

Most fresh hop beers end up being either a pale ale, India pale ale, Amercian pale ale, double India pale get the idea, they're all hop-forward ales.

But this fresh hop season has shown me how the key ingredient can work in other types of beer.

Last of the Summer Ale shows all the typical signs of a great ESB, with a lush, sweet flavour from the English malts followed up with a smooth thirst-inducing bitterness.

But the fresh Green Bullet and Nelson Sauvin add another dimension, with the passionfruit and citrus peel aroma good enough to stop you drinking the beer due to you having your nose buried in the glass.

Oldham's Tap won the trophy for International Lager Styles at last year's New Zealand Beer Awards, and it is easy to see why.

Golden and clear, like all good lagers should, Oldham's is hopped solely with Riwaka.  

Just like Nelson Sauvin, Riwaka is floral and fruity, which goes gangbusters on a light pilsner malt base.

The use of fresh hops in Oldham's only accentuates the powerful aroma Riwaka gives, and the hop resins do not get in the way of the rounded body typical of pilsners.

I was not lucky enough to attend any of the fresh hop extravaganzas in Auckland or Wellington, but I heard great things about Cassles & Sons' golden fresh hop ale and mike's hoppy wheat beer Hopwit.

While mike's sounds like it may have picked up a sour bug along the way (or it was put in there on purpose), both beers were about as far from a traditional hop bomb you could get.

Sure, Conehead and Grandmaster were excellent - Renaissance's beer especially so - but fresh hops can be used to make other beer styles shine.

Now, who is going to be brave enough to dry a fresh hop stout next year?

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