Fritz and Maria's Beer Column
The hop harvest is done and dusted, yet a final result has been finding its way into pubs and stores. Fresh-hopped (or wet-hopped) beers are brewed using the cones within 24 hours of picking. Wet hop beers are a celebration of flavours and aromas, but not particularly hop bitterness.
Fresh-hopped brews may use five times the hops as traditional beers to get the same characteristics. With the increased bulk of the wet hops taxing the brewing equipment, most brewers use dry hops for the bittering additions. A mix of varieties adds complexity, but requires multiple brew dates, since hops are harvested as they become ripe, one variety at a time.
This year more breweries than ever made a beer with freshly picked wet hops. Nelson breweries feature prominently in the list, with their close proximity to the farms. The usual kiln drying preserves the hops and concentrates the bitterness, but some of the more delicate aromas are lost in the process. By adding fresh hops, usually at the end or after the boil, brewers hope to impart a delicate hop aroma and flavour, and perhaps a bit of grassiness without having a stewed vegetal quality.
Since fresh hop beers are about the subtle nuances gained from the technique, one would expect brewers to use base beers that are hop centric, but not extreme. Pilsners and pale ales are a sure bet, and a local sampling finds them in abundance. Generally these beers have a limited release and are mostly available on tap.
The Sprig and Fern Harvest Pilsner is an annual release that won a silver medal at 2010 BrewNZ. Tracy Banner and her crew have experience with fresh hop techniques going back to Mac's Brewjolais, one of the first fresh hop beers in New Zealand.
The light body and clean malt profile highlight the assertive aromas of ripe fruit and oily spices, with a slightly sweet finish to support the flavours that follow on in similar fashion.
True to style for a pilsner, a lingering bitterness cleanses the palate and prepares it for the next sip.
The Townshend Last of Summer Ale was brewed with Joseph Wood of Liberty Brewing, and Dave Kurth of West Coast Brewing in attendance (both were in Nelson for Marchfest.)
Apparently they didn't prove too distracting, as the beer has proven quite popular in Nelson and beyond. We tried it on hand pump, and found an English style pale ale, with a subtle wet-hop character overlaid on a nutty toffee malt character. The effect is a refined and balanced brew with added floral aromas and hints of citrus flavour.
HopWired is 8 Wired's flagship beer, brewed in the tradition of an American IPA, but using local Nelson Sauvin and Motueka hops. This year Soren Eriksen has made a wet hop version called Fresh HopWired. At 7.2 per cent this is a big beer, full of flavours.
Thanks to the Nelson Sauvin hops, the nose is full of gooseberries and fresh white grapes, with hints of vanilla biscuit. It fills your mouth with grapefruit peel and earthy flavours that reminded us of figs. This is a strongly bitter beer that builds on your palate as you drink it. It will definitely satisfy the hop heads who rate HopWired among the best beers in Australasia.
Many more fresh-hop beers were made this year. Be on the lookout for examples from Totara, Tuatara, Golden Bear, McCashin's and Garage Project, as a start.
These beers signal the start of winter, and a celebration of a successful hop harvest.
Golden Bear is closed until early June. They will open with some new beers for winter.
May 11 marks the start of the Great Australian Beer Spectacular festival in Melbourne. The 16 participating Kiwi breweries will be showing how it's done, when 60 new beers are showcased.