The pursuit of hoppiness
by Dan Izzard
30 September 2017
There’s a brand new beer arriving in town for Bristol Beer Week, and it’s putting seasonality and provenance at the heart of brewing. Here’s what you need to know, and why the brew won’t be around for long...
The edible flower market may be blossoming (ahem), but it would be a huge oversight to forget the original form of culinary flower power: the hop. Okay, it may not be as pretty as a few rose petals floating on a Martini, or as colourful as nasturtiums peppered over a plate of food, but it’s been working bloomin’ (these gags are just writing themselves) hard behind the scenes at breweries for thousands of years.
The hop is the cone-shaped flower of the hop plant, and is one of the core ingredients of beer – alongside barley, yeast and water. Hops are stripped from the bine (the climbing vine-like stem from which they grow) at the very end of summer – meaning we’ve just seen the hop harvest here in the UK. The majority of these fresh hops will be dried in a kiln (just like the pottery projects of schoolchildren) and then can be pelleted, stored and used all year round to create beers.
These dried hops are added at the ‘boil’ stage of the brewing process, releasing their flavour into a lovely beery jacuzzi. They’re an integral part of the beer making process; hops provide the ‘body’ of the beer and that unmistakable bitterness. Beers jam-packed with hops – such as India pale ales – have strong, distinctive flavours and, right now, are more popular than ever. Why? Perhaps it was the rude awakening from decades of fizzy lager that this lovely hoppiness gave us, smacking us in the chops and inspiring the craft beer movement...
With this strong hoppiness often comes citrus or tropical notes, which can overshadow other flavours in the beer. These big flavours are common in hops from New Zealand and the United States, where the climates produce a potent crop. The provenance of beer ingredients can often be overlooked – the product is seen to originate from the place it is brewed – but our penchant for New World hops is meaning that import levels are higher than ever.
That said, we’re seeing a resurgence in British hops too – led by breweries like Moor Beer in Bristol. Moor have been experimenting with native hops for a number of years, creating new strains that are more powerful than any previously. As well as helping to kick off the unfined beer movement in the UK, Moor worked with hop merchant Charles Faram on a hop development called Jester. This was an entirely new strain of hop that was created to try and impart a stronger flavour to beers, and create something closer to the New World varieties that are so popular. Moor were the first to use this turbocharged English hop in a beer fittingly titled Return of the Empire. Another beer, called JJJ, is also in the works, with this second iteration promising to be even better than the first.
(As it happens, another local brewery, Wiper and True , has also just launched a new beer brewed with entirely British ingredients too – check out its Yorkshire Square.)
Hops don’t have to be dried, though – and herein lies our reason for this timely litte foray into the world of this crop. In fact, some of this year’s harvest is bypassing the kiln altogether, as Moor take on a brewing project involving fresh hops, in order to create a unique bew for this month’s Bristol Beer Week (14-21 October).
In mid-September, the Moor team took a trip up the M5 to Herefordshire to pick up their fresh hops, and invited brewing friends and family to help make the beer itself on their return to the brewery. (And to share a few frothy ones afterwards, obviously.)
Getting as many hands on deck as possible turned out to be a very wise plan; with dry hops all the water and moisture has evaporated and you are left with a concentrated flavour in a handily transportable, easy-to-store pellet form. Fresh hops, however, retain all of those natural liquids and biomatter, meaning that the flavour is diluted. To counteract this, ten times the amount of hops were needed to make this fresh-hopped number, Envy, so it really was a case of the more the merrier at the brewery.
Fresh-hopped beers (also known as wet- or green-hopped) have a brighter flavour than their dry counterparts. The oils that normally disappear during the drying process come out to play, leading to a fresher, lighter beer, with floral elements of grass and grain. These beers act as a stage for showcasing the hop itself, and are perfect for homegrown varieties.
This way of harvesting and brewing brings an element of seasonality into beer production. As soon as you’ve picked the hops you’ll have around 24 hours before they start rotting and the natural oils start to oxidise, so you’ll need to be ready to brew as soon as the crop is good to go. Under that time pressure, the locality of the ingredients finally come into real focus, as we realised when speaking to Justin Hawke, Moor Beer’s owner and head brewer, and vice chair of the Society of Independent Brewers, who told us how much he loves going out into the hop fields, finding it “rejuvinating”.
Once brewed and bottled (or canned, of course), though, fresh-hopped beers can actually last a reasonable amount of time. Although, if you want to get the best flavour and quality from ’em, then drink them sooner rather than later, we’re told by the brewers.
Dried hops normally go into the brew kettle, but due to the sheer mass that had to be used in the fresh-hopping process, this just wasn’t possible on brewing day at Moor. So, the team had to adapt part of the brewery equipment to make it happen, repurposing the mash tun to become the hopback, to get the hops through the system. The whole brewing process takes around 30 days, fermenting for around two weeks, before going through a fortnight of conditioning.
If our calculations are correct, then, this new brew will be finished just in time for the start of Bristol Beer Week – we love it when a plan comes together.
Bristol Beer Week is 14-21 October, and will see Moor Beer’s Envy served at selected venues around the city on draught and in cans