Ahhh, the sweet cooling end of summer. A time when kids and teachers become restless as school looms ever closer, when the days are still hot & humid but the nights begin to cool, and when the hops growing in fields all over the country start reach full maturity. Hops, as used by brewers, are grown and harvested once a year. Usually when the hops are harvested fresh they are quickly transported to large dryers to have the moisture removed, at which point they are vacuum packaged, either in whole leaf or pelletized form, or used to make hop extracts. Hop harvest season has a once yearly benefit for brewers, Fresh Hops. When hops are picked fresh they are generally considered “wet” and will remain viable in this form for less than 48 hours at which time they either need dried or used immediately in brewing a fresh hop beer. Because of this extremely short shelf life, fresh hop beers are one of the last true seasonals in craft beer.
Every year seasonal creep seems to be inching closer and closer to us having Holiday and Christmas beers in July. Originally lots of beers were brewed in only a given season, usually the cooler months, because the weather was too hot for brewing in summer before the days of refrigeration, or because pumpkins and fruits weren’t available year round like they are today. This has had the added benefit of brewers being able to better express their creativity (seasons be damned!) but has the downside of us literally seeing pumpkin beers in July (I’m looking at you, Pumking). One bastion from beers being sold out of season are those brewed with fresh hops.
Traditionally, hops were harvested by hand, something Josh Elliott and I wanted to experience for Urban Artifact’s fresh hop beer. As soon as our brewery opened we got in contact with our local hop supplier and now friends, Dave & Nina from Ohio Valley Hops, local hop farmers, and made a plan for some fresh hop harvesting come late summer. With the wet then hot summer we have had this year the hops were ready in early August, so away we went for a day of fun in the sun. Several hours and one sunburn later, we left the hop farm with 60lbs of fresh hops destined to become a Belgian style Grand Cru fermented with wild yeast. The perfect beer to commiserate the ending of summer and celebrate a successful harvest season.
With a successful brew day behind us, we now impatiently wait as the yeast do their mycological thing. Many weeks from now, when the days are starting to cool and the nights are perfect for a bonfire, you can find us brewers outside in the beer garden, sitting next to a roaring fire, enjoying the fruits of our harvest in the only season possible.
Bret Kollmann Baker
Chief of Brewing Operations