Each August the beer world gathers and celebrates the harvest of one of its ingredients, the hop. That little plant that provides beer with such complex flavors and brings forth notes of pine, fruit, bitterness, and flowers. In celebration of the harvest, brewers will acquire as many fresh hops as they can and turn it into a beer known as a fresh hop, or wet hop, and it is something craft beer fans look forward to every year. Recently we had a chance to assist with harvesting hops and were able to follow the steps from harvest to beer, or farm to pint glass drinking with Copper Kettle Brewing Company in Denver, Colorado.
So on a Friday night, we ventured to Voss Farms in Arvada, Colorado and were greeted by rows of hop plants in all sorts of varieties including Mystery X, Cascade, Chinook, and a couple others. After cutting the vines down, they were carried over to a stripper which helped to separate the vine from the rest of the plant. Then, they were brought to a table and the picking could begin. With a pile of vines, leaves, and hops in front of you picking the hops was a labor of love and the citrus aromas filled the area as these tiny little cones were picked and filled into storage bins. The hops being picked on this particular evening were Chinook and Cascade, twenty pounds of each. After starting around 5:30 that evening the last of the hops were picked, weighed out, and bagged by 10:00 pm and now it was time to help turn these into beer.
After the drive back to Denver and a short night of sleep the brewery was alive by 5 am the next morning brewing the batches of beer with these fresh hops. With the 40 pounds of Chinook and Cascade, plus the Mystery X brewer Gordon Pencis harvested earlier in the week, there were plenty of beers on tap with these great, aromatic, and flavorful hops. From firkins to full batches, once all is said and done, there were five different beers made with these hops from Voss Farms. After the boil had been chilled, and the yeast had been pitched, there were two beers that came from all the hard work. First there was the Mystery Man, which was a Belgian Style IPA made with the fresh Mystery X hops, and the return of the Hoppa which utilized the fresh Chinook and Cascade hops.
The Mystery Man had a rich color and was full of flavor from aroma to finish. The Mystery X hops are an unknown varietal that were full of flavor and it started with a bright, citrus forward aroma that carried through to the beer. The beer was very light in body with a great citrus flavor full of complexities that is hard to point out. The malt flavor was present, but very subtle. The hops carried this beer’s flavor profile from beginning to end which was finished with a hint of sweetness from the yeast strain. The Hoppa had more of a pale appearance, but had just as much flavor. The Cascade hops brought a great floral aroma, and the Chinook brought an herbal note to the beer, but they worked in harmony and the flavors melded together into a complex balanced beer. The acidity was mellow and the beer finished very clean, making it very refreshing and light.
Although the amount of IPAs on the market are available in abundance the release of the fresh hop beers are still special and something craft beer lovers should always look forward to. It is the culmination of a year of hard work to keep these hops alive, allow them to grow, harvest them, and let them to shine with great beer made by the most skilled of brewers. Fresh hop beers are a reminder to respect the ingredients that go into each batch, and to respect the farmers who grow and supply these ingredients on a regular basis. To go along with it, the fact that these beers come and go so quickly is a reminder to craft beer lovers to enjoy every sip, because it is going to be a long year before they are available again. So for a brief moment of time take a break from the mainstream IPAs and enjoy the fresh hop beers available, and raise your glass to the farm to pint glass drinking.
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