Fresh hops play a pivotal role in the world of craft beer, offering a unique and vibrant flavour profile that sets them apart from their dried or pelletized counterparts. These green, unprocessed hop cones are harvested during the annual hop harvest season, typically in late summer or early fall. Unlike their processed counterparts, fresh hops are often used within hours of being picked, preserving their volatile aromatic compounds and delivering a burst of fresh, earthy, and floral notes to the beer.
Brewers (and brew drinkers) eagerly await this short window of opportunity to brew with fresh hops, as it allows more wiggle room and opportunity to experiment with different hops and create seasonal one-of-a-kind brews.
One of the key factors in using fresh hops effectively is their proximity to the brewery. Brewers that have hop farms nearby can quickly scoop up these delicate ingredients, maximizing the freshness, and therefore intensifying the taste. We're lucky enough to have Maple Bay Hop Farm about 45 minutes from the brewery. Sure, closer could be nice, but a little field trip never hurt nobody!
To maintain the hops' peak flavour and aroma, they're usually added to the brewing process during the whirlpool stage or in the fermenter, totally bypassing the traditional boil. This is called wet hopping.
Wet hopping retains the hops' essential oils, resulting in a beer with a distinctive, grassy, and herbal character. The use of fresh hops has become a something of a tradition among craft brewers, leading to the emergence of seasonal fresh hop beers that capture the spirit of the harvest season.