The Making of a Fresh Hop Ale

Continuing with the discussion of fresh hops, and delving into the archives again, here are excerpts from a connected pair of posts from 2013. I’m reposting them because there continues to exist a kind of fresh-hop fundamentalism in which the only “authentic” fresh hop beers are the ones made exclusively with fresh hops. There’s a reason this is ill-advised; when used to bitter a beer, fresh hops very often add a note of boiled vegetables (since that’s what they are) and can result in a note of decay, like compost. If you want the fullness of that fresh hop flavor and aroma, you need to use to use conventional hops to bitter a beer. From there, theories vary. Read on for more.

A Crystal Gayle Goschie, poured yesterday (Sept 29).

I inquired with a group of brewers that really seem to reliably produce excellent fresh hop beers to see what they had to say.  What were their methods?  My working theory is that using fresh hops throughout the boil–once seen as the only “true” method–added too much vegetable matter and created the compost note.  I couched my question from that perspective and found some agreement.  Here’s Laurelwood’s Vasilios Gletsos:

“When I moved to Mactarnahan’s/Pyramid/PBCo, I didn’t have the flexibility to use fresh hops on the hot side [the kettle], so I devised a plan to add them in secondary/conditioning tanks. We did this as whole flower breweries (Deschutes or Sierra Nevada before torpedo) do: stuffed into mesh bags and tied them to the bottom of the vessel (in our case, since we didn’t have tank hooks, we cleaned up heavy chunks of stainless and tied then to that). This gave the best, “Fresh Squeezed” flavor I have ever gotten from fresh hops. A beautiful mix of peach fruit cup with a touch of tea, and an unparalleled horticultural mouthfeel (if that makes sense).”

But wait–not so fast!  I also spoke to one of those “whole flower” breweries, Deschutes.  (Most breweries, especially larger ones, use pellets, which are more compact.)  Brewer Cam O’Connor does use them on the “hot side,” though only very late, for some of their fresh hop beers:

“This hop addition happens in the hot wort, usually in the kettle or in the hopback, where wort is transferred onto the hops. The impact we are looking for here is a nice juicy in-your-face hop aroma and flavor without a lot of vegetative flavors. Hop Trip and Chasin freshies are both made using the hot side hop additions.” 

But he agreed that “cold-side” fresh hopping has its place, as well.

“This method is very similar to traditional dry hopping except you are using fresh/wet hops to dry hop the beer in the bright beer tank. The impact from this method is usually potent in aroma and flavor and can pick up some of the vegetative qualities from the fresh hop. We make some of the pub beers using this method. It is very difficult to do on a large scale so the pubs work very well. Fresh Hop Mirror Pond is made using this method.” 

You note that Cam mentioned picking up a “vegitative note” even in the bright tank? Vasili agreed and offered a recommendation:

“Don’t leave it on the hops too long (48-72 hours seems good) before racking it off, which limits contact with the vegetal matter and may be contributing to the [unpleasant] flavors.”

Writing for Gigantic, Van Havig added a point I’d never considered–oil content.

I think it really all lies in hop choice. The higher oil hops seem to make better fresh hop beers.  This makes intuitive sense, of course. But it really is the case that you have to start with the right raw materials. After that, I think boiling is a bad idea. It extracts things you don’t want, and potentially drives off oil.  So late additions – hop back generally – is where it’s at. When we make them, we add a little bit of a known Bittering hop at the start of boil, and then ALL of the wet hops go in the hop back.  We use a lot – 200+ lbs for 15 BBLs. If we need to “touch it up” with dry hops, we use a light hand (1/4 lb / bbl or so).”

Another factor Double Mountain’s Matt Swihart points out is how dangerously perishable fresh hops are. 

I think it is those situations where the stinky, vegetative, musty aromas pop up in some wet hop beers. From my perspective, you simply can’t use non-dried hops more than 12-24 hours after picking, unless you can spread them out in a cooler, and keep ‘em cold.

One of main issues, he points out, resonates with Van’s point about oil content:

Unfortunately the high moisture and oil content at harvest also starts to breakdown and physically compost once the vine is cut.

Which suggests that the sooner they get into the wort/beer, the better.  (This gives Oregon brewers a real advantage–Portland-area breweries are 45 minutes from the hop fields.)  I’ll have a full guest post from Matt tomorrow that gives one of the best descriptions of the care and tending of fresh hops I’ve ever read.

As with all things brewing, there are different methods and approaches.  Matt recommends using traditional kilned hops in the conditioning tank along with wet hops, while Vasili cautions against it.  (For Matt, the combo is “pleasing” while to Vasili it’s “distracting.”)  Your experiences may vary.  A consensus seems to be forming around adding the hops later rather than earlier.  In addition, use the freshest possible fresh hops and hops with high oil content. 

After that?  Probably pray to Ninkasi that the crop was good and the oils rich and vibrant.  There’s a certain bit of alchemy in the process that makes fresh hop beers a bit of a mystery. 

from Beervana

On the Nature of Fresh Hop Beers

 Mt Tabor Brewing held a media event unveiling their new, inner-Southeast location, and as things began dissipating, a dispute broke out about fresh hop beers. I thought I’d settled all this already, but I see there’s still work to do. As such, I’m reposting comments from September 24, 2014–“You Know a Fresh Hop Beer By Its Taste.”

Let us consider the fresh hop beer. A seemingly simple beast, it is made from the addition of undried hops rushed sun-warm from field to kettle (or tank). In recent years this simplicity has been obscured by off-topic etymological and existential discussions about what “fresh” really means. It has come to mirror–or rhyme with–the debates about gluten and organics, as if the best way to ascertain the true nature of a fresh-hop beer is to check your conscience. Can it be a fresh hop beer if some dried hops are used?  Can it be a fresh hop beer if none are used? These inquiries lead in the wrong direction, to ethics, and away from the thing that is so blindingly obvious. The “fresh” in the fresh hop comes from the living plant and anyone who has tasted that life in a beer appreciates it through the proper instrument, her senses.

This is not rocket science.  What we should be looking for in a fresh hop beer are those very obvious flavors and aromas that ooze out of the [pick one: fresh, wet, unkilned, undried] hop. We know a fresh hop beer not by querying the brewer about his methods, but by tasting it. I recognize that a lot of people in the world haven’t had the chance to try these beers, so Pacific Northwesterners must act as envoys to tell of these wondrous creatures from afar. The first lesson is: they’re about as easy to distinguish from normal beers as a porter is from a pale. If you’re sniffing and swishing and cocking your head trying to figure out if the beer was made with fresh hops, it’s not a good example no matter how it was made. If you’re getting lively, feral, sometimes unsettling flavors, that’s a fresh hop beer.

I am all for truth in labeling, and I endorse Bill Night’s long crusade to expose breweries who call their beer “fresh hop” when they’re nothing of the kind. But it obscures the far more relevant and important inquiry into the joys and wonders (and mishaps and disasters) that are to be found in those that are manifestly fresh hop beers. They are their own thing, and their thing is obvious by the way they taste. We should go forth and discover.

from Beervana

Vignette #4, Adam Brož (Budějovický Budvar)

“It depends on the beer category you are producing.  If you try the lager type, the decoction is very important.  We compared decoction versus infusion on our  small-scale brewery; always the beer brewed by the infusion process was emptier in its taste—the body was not correct for the lagers.  Also the color changed.  If you boil during the decoction, you prepare the compounds which cause golden color.  So the infusion lagers were yellowish, not so full in its taste.”

“Always there is a discussion of the definition of pilsner lager.  We are a bit different [than Pilsner Urquell].  It is not so bitter, and a bit deeper fermented.  It’s really difficult to compete with Pilsner Urquell because I think that it’s really the style.  It became the style of the pilsner type.  We are a bit different in this category because bitterness is really fine, the alcohol is a bit higher than the pilsner has.  The Budweiser beer is really different.”

from Beervana

A Post-Wild Garden Revolution

"The Hermit's Garden" by Kate Frey and Ben Frey at The Late Show Gardens

“As our climate changes, so must our gardens”.  So begins the description of the upcoming garden symposium in Santa Rosa, California, Changing Times, Changing Climate: Summit 2016 sponsored by Pacific Horticulture.

"The Hermit's Garden" by Kate Frey and Ben Frey at The Late Show Gardens

“The Hermit’s Garden” by Kate and Ben Frey

Whether in California or anywhere in the world that we garden, this message must be heard. Whether or not we agree on the causes, or the timetable, it is hard for anyone to deny the climate is changing, rapidly. We are not going to stop it, and there is no going back.

We already live in a post-wild world.  Humans have so altered every part of every continent it is hard to define natural communities. The earth itself has become an inadvertent garden that we haven’t yet realized needs to be tended.

California Coastal Range with Oak trees (Quercus lobata) and rolling hills on Mt. Burdell State Park, Novato, California

California Coastal Range with Oak trees at boundary to Novato, California

Native American burned the prairies, subsistence swidden farming (slash and burn) has long been practiced throughout the world, and rain forest deforestation continues. Native plant communities have so many alien plants in them it is hard to define what is natural or what is wild.

Oak trees (Quercus lobata) on Mt. Burdell State Park, Novato, California

Non native grasses under Oaks in California landscape

Thomas Rainer, the author (with Claudia West) of Planting in a Post-Wild World (book review) will be a speaker at the Changing Times symposium, argues persuasively that we need to acknowledge that the world is no longer wild, that designed plants communities are better adapted to changing times, and most importantly that gardeners can be considered ecological warriors,  that we “need to embrace the reality that nature in the future will require our design and management”.


So, if gardeners are to be considered warriors then surely there is a war going on, and Garden Revolution  is the title of another new book, this one by Larry Weaner (with help from Thomas Christopher) with the subtitle: “How our Landscapes Can be a Source of Environmental Change”. While it is hardly revolutionary to look to nature for garden inspiration, to have a garden book essentially ask us not to garden, not to pull weeds, not to till the soil, not to add amendments, is in indeed pretty revolutionary.

While both of these books have an important messages of ecologically driven design they sidestep dealing with the urgency of climate change. By almost all standards mankind’s unprecedented alteration of the earth has led to an entirely new geological Epoch, the Anthropocene.  Yet it seems me we have ushered in a Period of climate change and mass extinctions so much that we have created a new Era.  Shall we call this Era the Catastrophozoic ?


The Cenozoic Era has lasted 65 million years.

For anyone hiding from such thoughts I urge you to read The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert, the calmly written Pulitzer Prize winning book about the climate train wreck unfolding every day.sixth-extinction If you are a gardener, you might actually be prompted to action to help us save us from ourselves.

We must do something. We must change.  Really, there is no choice.  We cannot wait for government action, scientific solutions, miracles from God, or hope it will go away and we will awaken from the nightmare.  Time has run out to prevent climate change, now we must plan for an uncertain future.

By “we” I mean gardeners.  Gardens are proof of climate adaptability.  While not necessarily comfortable with change, gardeners understand that gardens always change, that plants can adapt, that we can shape the land with the designed plant communities that Rainier refers to.

A trio of manzanita Arctostaphylos ‘Dr. Hurd’ in the background and a deep blue/purple pool of Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ and Penstemon ‘ Catherine de la Mare’ in the foreground of garden bee-friendly border. A few Crimson Salvia darcyi blooms enliven the scene; Kate Frey mixed border Garden

Designed plant community in bee friendly mixed border garden by Kate Frey

Gardeners tend to be optimists. You sort of have to be to think you can grow something. Gardeners will even try to grow things they can’t grow, several times, often denying the climate zone to try something for the sake of proving we can do it.

Yet this optimism has allowed some gardeners to ignore the apocalyptic implications of climate change. Things will certainly work out “in the end” – whether humans are part of Earth or not. So come on gardeners, let us become the Action Committee on Climate Change. Let’s apply our acceptance of change into actions.

Perennial border with pollinator plants - Frey Garden

Perennial border with pollinator plants – Frey Garden

We must involve all gardeners more actively promoting new ecological landscapes and promoting sustainability, a word I hope we never tire of using. For however lightly it might be used by marketers, greenwashers, and cynics, in a single word it encapsulates the only way we can manage our future.

Naturalistic gardens are already reservoirs of biodiversity for the surrounding degraded habitats and we need to think of them as oases, with every garden helping. I am afraid it is only too true that we have to look at the whole world as one garden and help nature along, as we had been “helping” all along before we underdstood the consequences.

Grasses and succulents in California summer-dry meadow garden

Grasses and succulents in California summer-dry meadow garden

All climates are changing and gardeners everywhere need to work with local challenges, try new things, and report actively on successes. We have no choice but to adapt, so let us be proactive about gardening and actively seek gardens that will support changing times.

After the revolution the earth will still be here.  How will we inhabit it in a post-wild world ?

Modern home with stone patio overlooking Pacific Ocean with California native plant garden and Carex pansa lawn substitute in late afternoon light, Santa Barbara,

California native plant garden overlooking Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara.


from Gardening Gone Wild

Presidential Debate Drinking Game

Before the debate, pour yourself a stiff drink. If you have a back porch, take it out there and regard the crisp autumn air as the liquid slowly warms your belly, noting how a country just before revolution is infused with a strange calm.

What to Drink
This is a beer blog, sure. I know there are a few wine drinkers who read it as well. This is, however, no time to fool around with dainty potables that have only been lightly fermented. An event like this requires distilled beverages, strong and brutal. America eventually found its love of beer and wine, but it was founded on the hard stuff. (Beer Bible: “By 1763, New England alone housed 159 commercial distilleries; there were only 132 breweries in the entire country in 1810.  By 1830, the US had 14,000 distilleries, towns tolled a bell at 11 am and 4 pm marking ‘grog time,’ and the per capita rate of consumption was nearly two bottles of liquor a week for every drinking-age adult.”) Democracy, apparently, cannot be trusted to the delicate caress of IPA or pinot noir. The revolution is coming and, like our founders, you should be sloshed to the gills when it arrives.

Game On
In this game, the first ten minutes is a no-drinking zone. You’ll require your senses to take in the sweep of Trump’s hair, the drape of Hillary’s pant suit. There are things you need to see with clear eyes to reassure yourself that they’re actually happening. There’s the billionaire Mark Cuban in the front row, selected by Clinton to provoke Trump. There’s Gennifer Flowers, Bill’s one-time mistress, sitting nearby–Trump’s earthy riposte. Note the optics of the moment: the first woman in 240 years to be nominated by a major party debating a proud sexist who cheerfully and regularly retweets white supremacists while the debate is moderated by a black journalist. Only in America!

Once you’ve situated yourself in the moment, it’s time to start drinking heavily. Most drinking games revolve around the mention of certain key words or phrases, such as “believe me,” “Benghazi,” or “small hands,” but they are unsuitably frivolous for this year’s debates. Instead, pour out another drink when the pangs of doubt peek over the edge of your subconscious and startle you, that moment when you first think, “Sure, this is amazing television, but I wonder if it’s good democracy?” As the fire of alcohol burns down your throat, comfort yourself with the fact that there are no plans for a wall north of the country and, anyway, the border is too vast to keep out fleeing Americans, anyway. Oh Canada, our (future) home and native land…

Drink again when you notice the superficial nature of the moderator’s questions. If you happen to wonder why actual policy issues are not being discussed, ponder the degenerate state of journalism in the United States. How is it that presidential elections went from being moments when journalists carefully vetted the candidates who would control a nuclear arsenal to one in which they so came to resemble a reality show that they actually starred a reality show personality? Pour another drink while you consider whether there’s a satiric screenplay in all of this.

Drink every time the distaste of nepotism and dynastic politics crosses your palate. Consider the ramifications of sexual politics in a country that had two and a half centuries to nominate a woman who wasn’t the wife of a president … and failed. Drink when you think of Bill Clinton serving as the first gentleman, and take note of the glimmer of joy that brings. Joy will be in short supply throughout this ordeal, so take it when you can.

Drink every time the camera cuts to a Republican or Democratic official and you find yourself pondering our two-party system. Surely we can do better than two parties. Surely we can do better than these two parties. And yet, it’s also true that Great Britain has multiple parties and still inadvertently voted to leave the European Union. Drink when you consider democracy. Are we really sure it’s the best system? 

Drink when you notice the anxiety that this election seems to be a metaphor for … something. Drink when your mind lapses back to earlier elections (2008 for Dems, 1980 for Republicans) and you remember thinking, “Is America the best damn country in the world, or what?” Drink when you grow irritated they’re not talking about the issues you care about. Drink when you realize they’re not talking about those issues because Americans don’t care about them. Drink to douse your gnawing apprehension, drink to encourage your hope. Drink for liquid courage. Drink for comfort. Drink for good old Teddy Roosevelt–man, we could really use the old Rough Rider right now. Drink to drink.

And remember, enjoy the debate!

Picture credit: Drew Angerer / Getty Images

from Beervana