In the last while we’ve had a whole heap of limited release beers hit our shelves and while they have all been different (and awesome) to taste there has been one similarity across them – the use of wet (or fresh) hops.
What are wet hops? These are hops that are used in the brewing process and added immediately after harvest. This is different from the usual process where hops are dried in a kiln before use. The normal drying process and resting time on the hop farm helps concentrate the alpha acids and essential oils, whereas use of wet hops means that their oils and resins are still at their peak. Because there is limited time to run analysis on the hops prior to brewing, it can also mean it is a bit of a stab in the dark as to how the brew will taste, much like grapes when making wine, hops can vary from season to season.
Part of a wet hop beer's beauty is the challenge of making it. Hops are really fragile, and start to compost almost instantly. So why go to all this trouble? First and foremost, the flavour. Wet hops have a different taste than kiln-dried hops. The base notes are similar—floral, bitter, spicy, tangy—but there's less full-throttle intensity, and the fresh hops add a vibrancy, a fineness, a definition, and a chlorophyll-driven energy that you don't get in standard-hopped beers.
Below is a quick run down of two of the two wet hop beers we recently had in store:
Red Hill Brewery’s Hop Harvest Ale – an Extra Special Bitter (ESB) is copper in colour with a strong malt character that provides a full, rich & malty ale with hints of marmalade and lashings of hop resin flavours, finishing with a peppery spicy note.
Bridge Road / Mikkeller Dark Harvest – this used a research variety of hops that showed huge orange and mandarin characters in the paddock. The hops were picked from a local hop farm and delivered instantly to the brewery where the beer was brewed at night, hence the use of “dark” in the name. The beer is dark, rich and pretty darn hoppy to boot.