What happens when a virus interrupts your harvest and your brews sit on shelves? HADYN GREEN reports on a very unusual but hop-laden beer year.
Hops. Those bitter little flowers that give beer its sharpness. Originally added as a preservative, hops are now one of the three main ingredients of beer and the one most closely associated with flavour.
In recent years, hop-forward beers have associated with hopheads and their love of “extreme beers” with high IBUs (International Bitterness Units). But sometimes you want all that flavour without searing your taste buds.
Enter the fresh hops.
Fresh hops have a totally different set of flavours to beers made with the dried version. They tend to be bolder, fruitier and grassier. The vibrancy of the flavours makes them incredibly attractive to brewers.
But there’s a downside: the hops don’t last as long.
After being picked the hops are usually dried immediately in kilns on the farm, to preserve the flavours before they deteriorate (usually in six hours). So, if you want to use fresh hops in your brew, you’re going to need to go to extremes.
In the past, brewers have set up temporary breweries out amongst the hop bines (yes, it’s a ‘bine’, not a ‘vine’), they’ve chartered planes, and they’ve set up instant freeze-drying facilities. All to get that fresh taste.
And the beer doesn’t last long either. Fresh hop brews aren’t keepers for your cellar. They are meant to be had fresh so you get all those punchy floral and fruity notes from the hops.
This all happens around March, predominantly in Nelson, New Zealand’s hop capital. The fresh hop harvest has become such a big event recently that fresh hop festivals have sprung up around the country, with eager drinkers clamouring for the one-time releases.
Usually, by this time of the year, the fresh beers have been and gone. But 2020 hasn’t exactly been a normal year.
The pandemic and subsequent lockdown came along just as breweries were getting ready to have their new creations hit the taps. This completely changed the dynamics of how these beers have been released and has made them both harder and easier to find.
Let’s take the example of Tuatara.
After an accidental equipment failure in the brewery last year meant the loss of 800kg of fresh hops, this year the pressure was on and everyone knew it. They chartered a plane from Air Chathams and timed the run down to the minute.
Hops don’t go straight into the brew, they’re needed a fair way in. So the fresh hops need to arrive just a wee bit before they need to be added to the boil. Too late and it’s all screwed up. See, the fresh hops need to go in at the end of the brew rather than the beginning, because otherwise their massive flavours will be over-extracted and make for a poor beer.
Paul Roigard, Tuatara’s head brewer, oversaw the mad dash down to Nelson and back, with one eye firmly on the clock. But it all turned out in the end and the beer, Green Eye – a 7.5% hazy IPA – emerged, tasting excellent.
And then the coronavirus happened.
Like many other breweries, Tuatara had hundreds of litres of fresh hop beer with nowhere to send it. A beer that was destined for bars but with no bars open. So it’s sat in the bright tanks and waited, until now.
Slowly, the fresh hop beers are making their way out to the public. At the time of writing, I’ve managed to sample a handful of beers. Some have been hastily canned and are available on supermarket shelves (where they hopefully won’t sit for too long), like Mac’s Brewjolais and Garage Project’s Fresh Hop IPA, both excellent fruity explosions. Others are eventually making their way onto taps around the country.
Tuatara’s Green Eye is one of the latter. It’ll be popping up around the usual haunts in the coming weeks. Not nationwide as they had hoped originally, but Wellington and Kapiti locals will get a chance to try it.
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