Hop Series: Fresh Hop Fever!

This post was written by our resident Hop Head, Josh Howard. Josh has written a couple guests posts, and is keen on writing as part of his Hop Series. This is his first official, non-guest, post. Welcome to the team Josh!

Ahoy, hop lovers!  As we hit the end of summer and head into fall, a young brewer’s thoughts turn only to one thing…fresh hop harvests. Yes, the fresh hop beers are coming. Last weekend Pikes Peak Brewing held a hop harvest party and has a batch of America the Pale (and Beautiful) in the works. They certainly are not the only ones picking and brewing, as I have seen breweries nationwide posting on their Facebook and Twitter pages about their seasonal fresh hop ales. Full Sail’s Fresh Hop Pilsner is using hundreds of pounds of minutes-off-the-bine Cascade hops, and Surly’s Wet! uses 800 lbs. of Cascade and 600 lbs. of Centennial hops that arrived at the brewery within 15 hours of being picked in Michigan. Great Divide in Denver will soon have their Fresh Hop IPA available as well, which is using Colorado grown Centennial hops as pictured below.

What’s the big deal with ‘fresh’ hops anyway? Sure, we all know that fresh food and drinks taste better, but there has to be a good explanation for the magic of a fresh hopped ale. It’s celebrated most notably via the Fresh Hop Festivalin Washington state, near the Yakima Valley, which is well known for its hopyards. This is happening on October 5th, if you happen to have a trip planned to Washington in the coming months.
Hops, like most food items, have a shelf life. This shelf life is extended for year round consumption by drying the hop flowers and then vacuum sealing them for refrigeration. Typically the shelf life of dried hops is 1-2 years if kept under refrigeration. In an ideal world one uses up the hops they have within a year’s time or as soon as possible, and they should be cared for like any perishable item in the interim (i.e. Kept under refrigeration, and vacuum sealed if at all possible to minimize exposure to air.)
Photo courtesy of Great Divide's FB page
Why can they go bad? This has to do with the essential oils in the hop flowers. After a certain amount of time, they start to lose potency and in worst case scenarios can even start to go a bit rancid, changing the flavor. You definitely do not want the flavor of your beer to change, and this can be disastrous for brewers if they cannot get consistent results for their brews.
Consistent hop crop harvests (try to say that five times fast!) are essential to providing yearly hop amounts to brewers. Anything that could adversely affect the harvest could leave us with certain beers not being available if the hops needed cannot be obtained or a reasonable substitute found.  A prime example of this scenario is playing out in Germany where one of the ‘noble hop’ varieties, Hallertau, has had a significant part of the crop destroyed by intense hail storms in late June of this year.
I encourage you to seek out your favorite local (and national) brewery’s wet or fresh hopped offerings as they become available in the next few weeks. We'll be sure to make mention of them here, and on our FB page. They’re a true seasonal offering that cannot be easily replicated outside of the seasonal hop harvests, so get it while the getting’s good!

- - -Stay updated with our email updates and like us on Facebook. We're also on Twitter and Instagram at @focusonthebeer.

BeerJosh Howard